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Covered bridges source of pride, heritage

| Sunday, Sept. 28, 2008

Jerry and Sue Ingold live in a modified 170-year-old log cabin on a 12-acre farm in West Deer.

So, when their 100-year-old barn started falling apart, it made perfect sense that Jerry Ingold would recycle the good wood to build a covered bridge in their driveway.

"I tore down the barn and that's what most of this wood is from," he said, showing the covered bridge he built with his son in 1990.

Tourists and bridge buffs stop by ever so often to take a picture or walk through, crossing Cunningham Run beneath the wood planks and peeking downstream through its window-like openings. The bridge is used as a marker for giving directions along the Saxonburg Road corridor.

Ingold's bridge is one of about 60 scattered across the Pittsburgh region that carry cars and pedestrians over streams, rivers and ravines. Some are old and some are new.

A few covered bridges in good condition remain in Sewickley Hills, Upper St. Clair and near the Plum-Upper Burrell border. Dozens more exist across the metropolitan region.

Upper St. Clair's public works department built a covered pedestrian bridge about 10 years ago over McLaughlin Run in Marmion Field park. The bridge replaced a covered bridge that had been swept away by flooding.

"We just thought it gave a nice flavor to the area," said Public Works Director Kyle Robinson. "This is kind of our central park here."

The bridges are an attraction in Pennsylvania as the state claims 210 of the 750 that remain nationally, according to the Greater Pittsburgh Convention & Visitors Bureau. The first covered bridge in the United States was built in Philadelphia in 1805, called the Permanent Bridge.

About 12,000 were built through the next century.

Most covered bridges were built by local municipalities or private owners, not state government, said Dave Anthony, PennDOT's historical preservation specialist. During the period when most covered bridges were built, state government was not building bridges and roads -- local municipalities had that responsibility.

"As far as I know, the state didn't build any," he said. "Bridges really were a local responsibility, and local communities have taken them on as a symbol of their area. They've done a good job maintaining them."

The large number in Western Pennsylvania are an attraction for some tourists, history buffs and bridge fanatics. The Convention & Visitors Bureau promotes the region's covered bridges and lists their locations and histories on its Web site.

The history of covered bridges dates to the early 1800s when residents looked for ways to cross rivers and streams to open up trade lines and general travel. Covering bridges became the preferred building method because it protected the material used from the harsh elements, meaning the bridges lasted longer.

Many of the region's covered bridge fans attended the 38th Annual Covered Bridge Festival that was held last weekend in Washington County at the sites of 10 covered bridges.

Each location has its own festival with an individual focus. Some sites are crafts-oriented while others focus more on the bridge's history.

"We get our share of folks that come in from out of the county and out of the state, but it is a huge community event," said J.R. Shaw, executive director of the Washington County Tourism Promotion Agency. "People absolutely love it."

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