, West Virginia
July 22, 2005
In case I am worried about authenticity, my informant at Barbour County Historical
Society Museum assures me that most of the charred wood was simply scraped away,
leaving enough thickness to be sturdy--after all, original local lumber was extra
think! Mostly roof and siding were replaced, but not much structure this time.
Philippi residents let the Road Commission hear their Rebel Yell in the 1930’s, when
some supports rotted away and a boy fell through and drowned. Locals wouldn’t have it
replaced with iron. They wanted this bridge and no other!
The Road Commission offered to set it up at another site as a monument, but residents
didn’t want a monument. They wanted to continue driving through it. The only answer
then was concrete supports, and the only answer to the fire was to restore the upper
two-arch wooden span. (Philippi-2: Road Commission-0) Now, it is more like the
original than at any other period in its cat-like history.
West Virginia still has seventeen covered bridges, but this is the only one in the nation
that operates as part of a federal highway.
It is a symbol of strength, we learn from one Philippi resident, who narrates with pride
how its designer, Lemuel Chenoweth, presented his two-part model at a contest before the
Virginia Assembly in Richmond in order to win the contract to build it. Hauled over the
mountains in two saddlebags, the model was strung between two chairs, and Chenoweth
jumped up onto his "bridge" and dared other designers to do the same with their
Chenoweth built many bridges for Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike. This stretch
of road was Beverly-Fairmont Pike, eventually expanded to Wheeling-Staunton Pike.
Because it followed the B&O Railroad, it was a strategic focus of North and South in the
Civil War. The bridge housed soldiers and supplies for both sides, depending on who
occupied Philippi at the time. With its double-barrel construction and its long span across
the Tygart River, there was plenty of room inside!
One must admit that it’s the perfect bridge for this little town. With forests all around
and old-time craftsmanship the pride of the area, perhaps Philippi will keep its bridge
forever. Originally a Central European concept, covered bridges are an aesthetic
complement to West Virginia’s ancient streams. More authentic, more attractive red
poplar roofing shingles replaced the not-so-authentic green tarp, and Olivia Sue leans
forward to confide, "We didn’t need that anyway." Artists who draw and paint it
agree. Parks on both sides offer excellent views.
From journal The State Born of the Civil War, Part I: Philippi