The Embarras (AM-braw) River doesn’t seem to want National Road travelers to cross. Its waters have damaged or destroyed three bridges. A wooden covered bridge was built here in 1832, but it washed out in 1865. A ferry carried travelers across the river until 1875, when this truss bridge opened. But it washed out in 1912.
Ferry service resumed until 1920, when this unattractive concrete bridge was built. Flooding damaged one of the piers in 1996. The bridge was judged unsafe, and it closed.
The Illinois Department of Transportation argued that a bridge was no longer needed, and proposed simply removing it. They had a point, because US 40 had long ago been rerouted to skirt nearby Greenup, and I-70 passed nearby too. Most traffic entering Greenup did so from these roads, not the old National Road.
By this time the Illinois National Road Association was working to have the road named a National Scenic Byway, and leaders in Greenup were trying to revive the town’s business district. Not having a bridge here would make the road discontinuous and thus harm both efforts. But the groups saw an opportunity to do something that would bring people to Greenup and this section of the National Road: build a wooden covered bridge. To make a long story short, this bridge was completed in 2000.
Some say that this is a replica of the 1832 bridge, but I have my doubts. Research did uncover the truss design used in the 1832 bridge, and it was used in this bridge, too. But my guess is that detailed plans and drawings for the original bridge are long lost. This bridge is almost certainly a new design around that old truss.
But who cares, really? This wonderful attraction evokes an earlier age. Every time I drive the National Road across Illinois, I look forward to lingering here for a while. The builders of this bridge were smart to place wide walkways on either side of its single vehicle lane. Every time I’m here, I find other people inside, studying the trusses or looking out over the Embarras. Nearby, a large interpretive panel (from which I took photos of the 1875 and 1912 bridges above) tells the story of this crossing.
My travel companion, Margaret, asked some passersby to take a photo of us together on the bridge. I imagine this is a common occurrence here, because the scene is picturesque, time spent here is enjoyable, and it’s great to have a photographic memory of it.
See also the bridge near Clark Center with its wooden cover here.