Last time I shared photographs of iron and steel truss bridges my friend Dawn and I found as we explored Putnam County, Indiana. This time, it’s the wooden covered bridges.
Neighboring Parke County is quite famous for its covered bridges. Putnam County is rich in covered bridges, too, but it’s not quite as well known. Maybe Parke County just has better PR. Well, I’m here today to help Putnam County’s cause!
Also, if you search for covered bridges on the Internet, you will find thousands of bucolic photographs. I find them to be cloying! So while I’ll include a small photo of each bridge so you can recognize it should you make this trip yourself someday, I’m going to show you some of each bridge’s beautiful engineering and construction details. Hubba hubba!
The Dick Huffman covered bridge was built in 1880 and is the longest covered bridge in the county. Its two spans cross Big Walnut Creek. It was first known as the Webster bridge but was renamed after the Huffman family bought the property next to it. This bridge could use some love, as it seems to lean to one side a little bit. The bridge seems solid, though; as we stood on it, a passing car barely disturbed it.
The photo below shows its no-nonsense Howe truss design. When you see the wooden Xs with the vertical iron bars between them, you know it’s a Howe.
Check out this massive stone abutment.
The Houck covered bridge was also built in 1880 and is also of Howe truss design. It was built by the Massillon Bridge Company of Massillon, Ohio. It is so similar to the Dick Huffman bridge that I suspect it, too, was built by Massillon, but I can’t find any sources that back up my hunch. As you can see in the photo at right, this bridge was built up pretty high over the surrounding terrain.
It’s possible to walk underneath this bridge on its west end, so we did, and I got this interesting shot of its understructure.
J. J. Daniels built the Oakalla Covered Bridge. Daniels is probably the most prolific builder of Indiana covered bridges; 17 of his bridges still stand in Indiana. This bridge has been carrying traffic over Big Walnut Creek since 1898.
Daniels’ signature design element was the Burr arch, the curved beams in the photo below. Just because you see a Burr arch doesn’t automatically mean Daniels built the bridge; his contempoary J. A. Britton, who was almost as prolific as Daniels, also favored the Burr arch.
Speaking of J. A. Britton, he built the Dunbar covered bridge. Britton was known for building single-span bridges, so the Dunbar bridge with its two spans is a bit unusual. But its Burr arches are typical.
We had heard that this bridge was closed, but when we arrived we found it busy carrying traffic. It turns out that the bridge was just undergoing renovations and had recently reopened. The deck planks had been replaced. Little labels were still affixed to the ends of the planks, and they carried 2010 dates.
At some point, the Dunbar bridge’s one pier had gotten some work – check out all the concrete. I’m not sure whether this was part of the recent renovation, though.
The Bakers Camp covered bridge is a bit of a latecomer, having been completed in 1901. If this bridge looks familiar, it’s because I’ve written about it before. It stands on the original alignment of US 36 through Putnam County. As you can see from the photo, it probably has the prettiest setting of all the covered bridges we saw on this trip.
Being a J. J. Daniels bridge, of course it features Burr arches.
Covered bridges are rightly revered in Indiana, but I sure wish the old iron and steel truss bridges were as loved. County officials sure seem eager to replace them when they fall into disrepair. I’ve learned that it can be more attractive for counties to replace a bridge than to maintain it properly. You see, federal matching funds are often available for replacements, while maintenance is entirely on the county’s dime. To spark preservation efforts, maybe someone in Putnam County can organize an iron bridge festival!
I got an unusual opportunity to see a covered bridge’s structure recently as it was undergoing restoration. Check it out.
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Last updated on 21 February 2020 by Jim Grey