Experience the romance of America’s covered bridges
Iowa can boast about its bridges of Madison County, but the lesser-known Parke County in west-central Indiana still proudly maintains its unofficial role as the covered bridge capital of the world. More than 10,000 of the roofed wooden structures were built in the U.S. by 1885; more than 90 per cent of them are now gone. Thirty remain here, listed on the National Register of Historic Places (22 others were lost to natural disaster or arson, or dismantled before the days of preservationism).
Although covered bridges such as Bridgeton—which, with its companion mill and waterfall, is perhaps the most photographed bridge in the entire Midwest—are admired today as idealised reminders of bygone times, they were quite practical in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They provided shelter from the elements and comfort to horses skittish about crossing rushing water. They often served as outdoor settings for picnics, parties and even wedding receptions. Most romantically, they were especially convenient for courting couples back in the days of horses and buggies—the nickname ‘kissing bridges’ was born from the rare bit of privacy they offered.
The town of Rockville’s courthouse square serves as headquarters for the Covered Bridge Festival in October. Small towns throughout the county each stage their own arts and crafts activities and entertainment. Take a colour-coded bus or self-guided driving tour for an overview, and then pick your favourite area and explore it in detail. The oldest, Crooks Bridge (c. 1856); the newest, Nevins Bridge (c. 1920); and the shortest, Phillips Bridge (43 feet), all span Little Raccoon Creek. At Sugar Creek, the West Union Bridge is the longest, measuring 315 feet.
On the last weekend in February and the first weekend in March, the county celebrates a time-honoured tradition with the Parke County Maple Fair. Maple trees are tapped, and syrup is made at ‘sugar camps’ throughout the county. Hearty winter breakfasts of pancakes and sausage add to the festive atmosphere.
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Trip idea text ©Patricia Schultz. For contact information about the places mentioned and many more USA trip ideas, see Patricia Schultz's blockbuster book.