‘Cross this Bridge at a Walk’ is an instruction that appears over the arched entryways on most covered bridge that we saw last weekend. Since most of these bridges were built in either the second half of the 19th or the first decade of the 20th century, ‘a walk’ here refers to the speed of a horse drawn buggy. Even the Ford Model T, the Tin Lizzie, which we saw many of last weekend too, was only just coming into production as the construction of these covered bridges was beginning to fade. The covered bridges of Parke County, IN are relics of a bygone era. Of the thirty-one covered bridges in Parke County, the earliest one that we saw, the Jackson Bridge was built in 1861, during the Civil War. In addition to the admonition about speed each bridge’s builder and sometimes its commissioners, auditor and treasurer were listed. The latest built bridges were constructed in 1912. I’m sure that most of this signage is an artifact of the modern tourist trade.
The one exception to this tradition is the bridge pictured here, the Bridgeton Bridge. It is a replica that was rebuilt in 2006; the original 1869 bridge was burned down by arson. The Bridgeton Bridge is easily the most picturesque of the Parke County covered bridges, set above a waterfall, with its historic mill beside it, this bridge is usually on the front cover on any local tourist brochure. A grandfather was telling his two teenage grandsons the story of the fire as we walked up and as we were paying him more heed than his kin, he ended up telling us instead. It turns out that a sheriff’s deputy arrested the arsonist as he was about to burn down another covered bridge. Supposedly, his car was found with empty gasoline cans in it. The man was already a convicted arsonist and was the main suspect as soon as the fire occurred.