A Covered Bridge Turns 50

If you happen to be in Champaign, Illinois tomorrow, you can celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Lake of the Woods Covered Bridge. It strikes me as a testament to small-town America that this modest bridge is getting a party in its Jubilee Year.

 Image Credit: Steven Severinghaus (Creative Commons)

Image Credit: Steven Severinghaus (Creative Commons)

The bridge was designed by University of Illinois Professor German R. Gurfinkel, and construction began in 1965. Eighteen months and $55,000 later, a new covered bridge stretched 140 ft. across the Sangamon River. The bridge was constructed of southern pine, Douglas fir...and steel girders.

That's the little secret of this picturesque covered bridge. It's not...technically...a covered bridge. Rather, it's a steel stringer bridge with a faux wooden Pratt through truss on top. According to FHWA guidelines, that ixnays it as an "authentic" covered bridge.

 Image Credit: Gary Jazz (Creative Commons)

Image Credit: Gary Jazz (Creative Commons)

As I've mentioned before, I love bridges because all the engineering is on display, and it nettles me when a bridge pretends to be something it isn't.

Still, why do I care? Isn't "covered bridge" as much a visual aesthetic as a structural system?

And the truth is, when I visited the bridge a couple years ago, I didn't care at all. It fits in beautifully with its surroundings, is an icon of the park, and complements the nearby Museum of the Grand Prairie. (Where, if you wait patiently, you can pretend to be an 1800s blacksmith - loads of fun.)

Ultimately, authentic or not, there's still something nostalgic and wonderful about strolling across a covered bridge on a crisp autumnal day.