Road Trips

The covered bridge over the Embarras River

Covered bridge west of Greenup

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.

GreenupTrussBridge

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.

GreenupConcreteBridge

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.

greenupMap

Imagery and map data © 2014 Google.

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.

Covered bridge west of Greenup

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.

Covered bridge west of Greenup

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.

Covered bridge west of Greenup

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.

Travel companion


See also the bridge near Clark Center with its wooden cover here.

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14 thoughts on “The covered bridge over the Embarras River

  1. Lone Primate says:

    What a plethora of bridges (and ferries) all on the same site. Hard to believe you could run a ferry across that… it almost looks like you could ford it in dry weather. Kind of a shame the concrete bridge was removed, but I suppose if it comes down to one or the other, and having something that keeps the road open or turns it into abandoned nubs where people dump tires and old couches at two in the morning, this is a far, far better option. And a covered bridge is certainly charming and, yeah… will probably draw more tourists than the concrete one from 1920. At least a couple. Sail on, o National Road.

    That turn-of-the-century iron truss bridge photo kind of lit me up… but that’s just me, right? :)

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    • I don’t lament the loss of the concrete bridge at all; it was an ugly duckling. The iron bridge was much more interesting! I’m encouraged that the folks in Illinois want to keep the old National Road as travelable as possible, even on the old alignments that really serve little practical purpose now.

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  2. I remember being surprised when I came across this bridge some years ago. I suspect it wouldn’t have been possible with Jim Edgar, who is a native of the region, having been governor when the bridge was built. It seems like there was more money than usual going to that part of the state back. Still I do think it fits into the mix of other tourist stuff that is in that area. Have you visited the farm of Lincoln’s father? It is not too far from the bridge and it got a major upgrade back in the Edgar days.

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    • Whether through graft, political influence, or grassroots effort, I’m just glad the bridge was built!

      I’ve never been to the LIncoln farm. I didn’t know about it! Maybe next time I venture out that way.

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  3. Christopher Smith says:

    As wonderful and beautiful as it is I was just wondering what’s the point of a covered bridge as apposed to a
    ordinary non covered bridge surely it would be cheaper to build, maybe it’s and American thing being
    a Brit I’m trying to understand.Don’t get me wrong I think it looks amazing anyway and its a very interesting
    history about it and I enjoyed reading about it.

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    • There was a time in the this part of the US when covered bridges were commonly built. I’d say that period was about 1850-1910. The reason was that timber was a very available building material. The bridges are covered to protect the bridge’s trusses — replacing the wooden cover every so often is cheaper and easier than replacing rotted trusses. There are still several old covered bridges in use in Indiana and Illinois.

      Building this bridge as a wooden covered bridge was not done because it is the best or cheapest or most efficient bridge type for this crossing. It was done to hearken back to a different age in the US, and to be a tourist attraction.

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  4. Christopher Smith says:

    Well I certainly think it will attract the tourist and I understand now why its covered and I agree to much of the past is readily discarded and got rid of to easily.

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  5. Found your entry in a followup search in response to today’s Midwest Travel National Road piece…

    You suggest your research saw you finding a design or a truss type for the original bridge. ( I would likewise feel this incarnation bears little but a cursory resemblance to the example it follows ) Do you recall where you found this and point me at it if possible?

    Thanks,

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