Zac McDorrNothing says “old New England” like a wooden covered bridge. Forget for a moment that Pennsylvania has more of them then all of New England: The trend started here. Maine itself used to have 120 covered bridges, but today we are down to nine, and two of these are reproductions.

The oldest still standing is Hemlock Bridge, built in 1857. It was once one of nine covered bridges in Fryeburg, but it is the only survivor.

Lowes Bridge in Sangerville was built the same year, but it washed away in a flood in 1987 and was replaced with a replica. A similar story happened in South Windham, where the original Babb’s Bridge (1864) was burned by vandals in 1973. Today a reproduction stands in its place.

Robyville Bridge, Lovejoy Bridge, and Sunday River Bridge are the other existing 19th-century covered bridges in Maine. The rest all date from the early 20th century.

Covered bridges were not designed with the comfort of travelers in mind. Normal wooden bridges only lasted 10-15 years in the elements. As with a house, putting a roof on a wooden bridge made it last much longer.

Besides transportation over a river, covered bridges served other purposes. The insides were often plastered with old advertisements for circuses, cure-alls, and other products. These lasted for years inside a bridge, protected from the elements.

Children used them for climbing, playing, and swinging from rafter to rafter. Lovers took advantage of the dark interior for a stolen kiss. Sometimes town meetings, and even church services, were held inside covered bridges.

Generations of graffiti were carved into the beams.

Weather was the enemy of the covered bridge. They were often destroyed by storms and floods, or even by other bridges that washed down a river. In 1921, an old covered bridge on the Saco River was blown up for a scene in a silent movie.

Source: “Covered Bridges of the Northeast,” by Richard Sanders Allen, 1983.