Philippi Covered Bridge

The Philippi Covered Bridge, on the Tygart River, is the main local landmark and historical icon of Philippi, West Virginia, USA.

The celebrated bridge was commissioned by the General Assembly of Virginia and constructed in 1852 by Lemuel Chenoweth, a well-known Appalachian bridge builder, to provide a link on an important segment of the vital Beverly-Fairmont Turnpike between Beverly (Chenoweth's hometown) and Fairmont. The bridge has strong associations with the American Civil War, especially the Battle of Philippi (1861).

The Philippi Covered Bridge is the oldest and longest covered bridge in West Virginia and one of only two remaining in Barbour County. It is also the only covered bridge serving the US Federal Highway system (U.S. Route 250). It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on September 14, 1972.

Bidding, design and construction

The circumstances of the bidding on the contract for the bridges in western Virginia are given by Hu Maxwell:

The structure is 285½ feet (originally 312 feet) long and 26 feet (7.9 m) wide and was originally supported by three massive sandstone piers constructed by Emmett J. O'Brien. The bridge design incorporates the "Long" Burr Arch Truss and was built for $12,180.68. It is one of few surviving "double-barreled" (two lane) covered bridges in the United States.

Civil War

The bridge was used on 3 June 1861 by both Union and Confederate troops after the Battle of Philippi Races, by some reckonings the first land battle of the American Civil War. The bridge was the first to be captured in the war by either side and was used for a time as a barracks by the victorious Union troops.

The bridge narrowly escaped burning in April and May 1863 at the time of the Confederate raids on the B&O Railroad west of Cumberland, Maryland. Orders were issued by General William E. Jones for the burning of it and of the covered bridge at Rowlesburg, but the intercession of several locals of Southern sympathies (especially Elder Joshua S. Corder) saved both.

Structural modifications

The bridge has undergone a number of renovations after being severely damaged at least seven times over the years.

In 1934, increased motorized traffic mandated the addition of two concrete piers to the bridge's substructure (for a total of five) along with a new steel reinforced concrete deck (to replace the old wooden one) and an external walkway to better accommodate pedestrian traffic.

The bridge was damaged by a severe flood on 4–5 November 1985 and was virtually destroyed by fire on 2 February 1989. A gasoline tanker truck refilling underground tanks at a nearby filling station overfilled a tank, spilling gasoline which ran down into the bridge. A car passing through the bridge then sparked a fire when its exhaust system backfired. The bridge was then closed to traffic until a $1.4 million reconstruction was completed and the bridge reopened on 16 September 1991. The reconstruction, under the direction of the bridge historian and West Virginia University professor Emory Kemp, included replacing the damaged yellow poplar supports. Care was taken to restore the exterior to its original appearance: the rounded double arch entrances were restored, red-painted shingles (also of poplar) were affixed to the roof and new external wooden siding was replaced in a horizontal orientation.

Today, the original, burnt wooden trusses and supports can still be seen when driving through the bridge.

  • A local legend once asserted that US President Abraham Lincoln and Confederate President Jefferson Davis were witnessed by a small boy meeting secretly in the bridge late in the course of the American Civil War to discuss peace terms.