Here’s an oxymoron: “new covered bridge.” Yet here this one is. It was built in 2000 as a replica of an 1832 bridge that once stood here.
You’ll find it just west of Greenup, Illinois on the original alignment of US 40 and the National Road. It spans the Embarras (EM-ba-raw) River. That original covered bridge washed out in 1865. A steel replacement, I believe a Whipple truss, constructed in 1875 washed out in 1912. A girder bridge was completed in 1920 and served until flooding damaged a pier in 1996, rendering the bridge unsafe.
By this time, US 40 had long been rerouted around Greenup to the south. This crossing no longer carried a significant amount of traffic — 225 vehicles a day, at last count. The county got a grant to build this bridge as a tourist attraction.
We drove our car on asphalt pavement into Greenup, Illinois. But it would have seemed somehow more fitting if we had ridden in on horseback on a dusty dirt road, so much did the town remind us of the wild, wild west. We expected to see Jesse James, having just robbed the bank, jump off a balcony onto a waiting horse below and gallop away.
The people of Greenup prefer to call these balconies porches, and they modeled them after New Orleans, not some faraway western town. There’s nothing like them anywhere else on the National Road.
Greenup, established in 1834, was primarily platted by and fully named for William Greenup, who surveyed the National Road across Illinois. When Cumberland County was formed in 1843, Greenup became its first seat. But the town never quite found the prosperity its founders imagined. The county seat was even moved to nearby Toledo in 1857. When the St. Louis, Vandalia, and Terre Haute railroad was built along the National Road corridor in 1868-69, the people of Greenup hoped for a resurgence, but it never came.
Optimism during the early railroad years led to the building of most of downtown Greenup as it stands today. I gather that porches have always fronted these buildings. Are these well-maintained originals, or were they rebuilt at some time? They look to be built pretty much alike, and are in fine condition.
Here’s the bank Jesse James would have robbed, at least in my imagination. I know this because on my last visit, in 2007, the sign above the door read “Greenup National Bank.” Even without that sign, I would have guessed that this was the bank, because it was very common for bank buildings to have doors on the corner like this.
The porches’ grand scope makes you want to stop and look. I’m sure this is just what the businesses in Greenup count on.
I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.