Covered Bridges

Red Covered Bridge, Princeton, Illinois (1863)

I live in a town that has two covered bridges – one that’s old and one that’s new.  I really enjoy these historic structures, so I look for covered bridges in other communities as I travel around.  Each one is unique, and it’s interesting to see all the different examples.

There’s a variety of stories on why a covered bridge was originally built.  Some say that horses and cattle did not like crossing an open bridge where they could see and hear rushing water.  The bridges were covered, and entrances were made to look like a barn.  The horses and livestock were then more willing to enter and make the crossing.

But most agree that the real reason for a covered bridge was to protect the structure from the ravages of weather.  They have an elaborate wooden truss system that deteriorates rapidly if exposed to rain, wind, and sun.  Compare the life span of an open bridge – about ten years – to that of a covered bridge – at least ten times longer.

The secret to a covered bridge is the truss system, which carries the weight.  There’s several variations on this basic style of support.  Some are named for the person who designed the system.


The Captain Swift Bridge in Princeton Illinois incorporates the Burr arch design.  This truss system was invented by Theodore Burr and patented in 1817.  The design uses a long arch on each side.  While this bridge looks old, it was built in 2006.


A few other bridges to visit . . .



Lake of the Woods (1965) covered bridge is in Mahomet, Illinois, in south central Illinois.  I like the retro-looking sign over the entrance.


Sachs Covered Bridge (1852)   Located in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the Sachs bridge was used by both Union and Confederate troops during the battle of Gettysburg in 1863.


Morrison Covered Bridge (2001) is new construction.  It was built over Rock Creek in northwest Illinois.


Wolf Bridge (1999) is an historic reproduction.  The original Wolf bridge was built in 1840 as an open bridge, and covered in 1874.  It was burned in 1994 by arsonists, but rebuilt and reopened in 1999.  The new Wolf Bridge is taller and wider than the original to better accommodate modern traffic.  It’s in Knox County, Illinois, near Galesburg.

Red Covered Bridge, Princeton, Illinois (1863)

Covered bridges are attractive in the winter months, too.  And here’s an interesting bit of history:  when sleighs were the mode of winter transportation, snow had to be shoveled on to the bridge floor to make a snowy surface for the sled runners.


Some of today’s covered bridges still have the original “warning” signs posted above the entrances.  Why was that necessary?  Experts say the pounding rhythm of horses’ hooves, trotting in step, could cause stress and structural damage to the bridge.  For that same reason, Civil War soldiers were required to break cadence when crossing through a covered bridge.


Henderson County Covered Bridge (1866) is in Oquawka, Illinois. Today it’s pedestrian only.

Covered bridges are wonderful reminders of by-gone days.  If you find one in your travels, be sure to admire the craftsmanship inside as well as the structure and setting outside.  Hats off to our ancestors for their ingenuity!


Mount Rushmore

If you’re making plans now for a summer vacation, you might want to consider a trip that includes a stop at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.  It’s a spectacular monument!


Gutzon Borglum was the sculptor who carved Mount Rushmore.  He wanted to honor our nation and chose four presidents who “contributed to the essence of democracy.”  George Washington represents the birth of America; Thomas Jefferson, growth (Louisiana Purchase); Theodore Roosevelt, development (Panama Canal, trust busting); and Abraham Lincoln, preservation of the country during the Civil War years.

Borglum started work on Mount Rushmore in August 1927.  Unfortunately, he died in 1941, just before the work was completed, and his son, Lincoln, finished the monument seven months later.


Washington is the most prominent sculpture in the group.  You can also view his profile if you drive behind the monument.  The perspective is unique and interesting.

It’s worth staying overnight in the area to see the Evening Lighting Ceremony.  The program includes a presentation by a park ranger, a video about Mount Rushmore, and the dramatic lighting of the monument. The ceremony concludes with the introduction of veterans in attendance who are then asked to help retire the flag for the day.  It’s all very patriotic and moving.


Even if you went there as a child with your parents, go back to Mount Rushmore and see it again as an adult.  You won’t be disappointed!

Bonus Stops:

Corn Palace


If you’re headed to Mount Rushmore from the east, on I-90, be sure to stop at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota.  It’s been a tourist attraction since 1892 and today has about 500,000 visitors a year.

The exterior walls of the Corn Palace are decorated with murals made from corn and grasses.  A local artist designs the murals with a different theme each year, and in late-August and into September, (as the crops are ready for harvest) a team of about 20 workers changes them out.  This year the theme was music legends.


It was amazing to see.  Growing up on a farm in Illinois, the most creative thing we did with corn was tie up a shock for decoration in the fall, or craft an animal from the stalks.   But here on the sides of the Corn Palace was Willie Nelson and Elvis, fashioned entirely out of ears of corn.  It’s called crop art.


Inside, the Corn Palace is an impressive facility and well-maintained.  They have a gymnasium for the Mitchell High School Kernels and Dakota Wesleyan University Tigers basketball teams (the murals on the gym walls are also made of corn), a gift shop, children’s activity area, and concert and banquet rooms.

Wall Drug Store


Continuing your travels on I-90, Wall Drug Store is another fun stop.  It’s about an hour from Mount Rushmore.

You’ll see signs along the highway advertising the business miles before you actually get there.  The drug store has been going since 1931.  It started out as just a small pharmacy, but now it’s grown to a full city-block tourist mall.

What put Wall Drug Store on the map was the offer of free ice water.  When the drug store opened in the Depression years, business was slow, so the owner’s wife suggested offering free ice water to the travelers heading West.  In the days before air conditioning, it was a big hit.  Today you can still get free ice water, but as you would guess, it’s not the main attraction anymore.


Walking through the many rooms, you’ll notice it’s a high-low place – handsome Stetson hats and expensive cowboy boots in one area, and China-made souvenirs in another.  Western props, like Annie Oakley, are stationed in hallways between shops. Amongst it all there is still an actual drug store!







I found Minnetonka moccasins in the shoe department.  I used to wear them as a kid and bought a pair for memories’ sake – the same Thunderbird style of years ago.  I love wearing them again.

You’ll enjoy a visit to the state of South Dakota, from the Mitchell Corn Palace to Wall Drug Store, Mount Rushmore, and all the open country in-between.