From the collections at the Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum. Reprinted with permission from The Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum and the Leavenworth Times. Donated by Debra Graden.
How many old covered bridges are there left in Leavenworth county? The last we knew there was one out near Jarbalo and another not far from Springdale on the Lecompton road. The latter, however, is no longer in use. The Mail and Breeze recently printed an interesting sketch of the former. These bridges should be carefully preserved as relics of a day that is gone. Time and floods are taking heavy toll of such bridges in this county but in many communities, they are being given utmost care that they may be kept for posterity to see. The states of Missouri and Indiana have built state parks around some of their covered bridges while other states have set theirs aside as museums.
So interested have many people become in old covered bridges and their preservation that a number of interesting books with descriptions and histories have been written about those still standing. In some communities the people have regretted the passing of such local bridges so greatly that theypetitioned authorities to build replicas of those that had been washed away in heavy floods, but as iron is cheaper than wood in these later days, only in one case was the request granted.
Whenever people stop to consider covered bridges at all, they begin to wonder why bridges were ever built like long, dark wooden tunnels or windowless barns. There have been many explanations offered from time to time. Some will tellyou that they were for the encouragement of local lovers; others so that barefoot boys might enjoy the cool, soft, dry dust, squoozy on their toes; for the posting of bills; or for the benefit of water-shy horses. The theory that they were first donstructed to act as a snow shed is blasted by their prevelance in southern states where snow is a great rarity.
Aldelbert M. Jakeman, author of the book "Old Covered Bridges; The Story of Covered Bridges in General; the Description of the Remaining Bridges in Massachusetts and Connecticut" has an explanation of their reason for being that is given more credence than any other ideas advanced. "The fact is," says Mr. Jakeman "that they were built for the same reason that women's skirts were long in those modest days--namely to protect the underpinning."
The idea was according to him, to keep the heavy and expensive main trusses dry. An unprotected wooden bridge rotted quickly. The famous old Tucker Toll Bridge at Bellow's Falls Vt., was first built without a roof in 1875 (sic 1775). It was rotten and was replaced 1799 with a covered bridge which lasted until 1831, proving that the roof was a protection to the trusses. The newbridge then erected was also covered, but had open sides to give a view of the river, a type of bridge quite common in the south but unusual in New England. Whether this lasted as long as the one with closed sides, we do not know.
We still have our two bridges. They are interesting survivals of a day that is no more. It is to be hoped that our people will be interested enough in them to preserve and keep them in repair instead of letting them fall into decay only to regret them when it is too late to save the original structure.