For those looking for a pandemic outing that offers a healthy dose of social distancing, we’ve got you covered with your own self-guided covered bridge tour.
It’s generally easy, as I recently discovered when I took advantage of Visit Bucks County’s online covered bridge tour guide.
With a quick printout and a full tank of gas, my wife, Liz, and I were on our way through fall foliage on a trek we’ve talked about for years.
We were also thinking aloud about the original purpose of a covered bridge and why there were so many in Bucks County.
The purpose is simple. The covering protects the wood of the bridge from weather deterioration, collapse, and rebuilding.
Bucks County seems to have benefited from its location relative to the first documented American covered bridge built in Philadelphia.
Political leaders started a push in the early 1700s for a covered span on Market Street — then known as High Street — to cross the Schuylkill River.
But action was slow even though prominent Philadelphia designers had offered designs.
Those offering ideas included Robert Smith, who created Nassau Hall in Princeton, and Charles Willson Peale, the artist who painted the Washington at Princeton painting at the Princeton University Art Museum.
City leaders eventually crossed their own metaphorical bridge at the dawn of the 19th century when Newburyport, Massachusetts, architect Timothy Palmer was selected to create of the nation’s first documented covered bridge. That was 1805.
The next year saw the first covered bridge connecting two states — with the Lower Ferry Bridge in Trenton connecting Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Then they kept coming, aided by such innovations as Connecticut architect Ithiel Town’s patented safe and affordable “Town Lattice” design, which is represented in all the bridges on the tour.
Flash forward 100 years to when Pennsylvania boasted more than 1,500 covered bridges, the most in the nation, and Bucks had an estimated 50.
Then flash forward again, and the 20th century’s need for improved bridges and a thirst for modernization reduced the number of covered bridges.
Now, 21st century Pennsylvania has an estimated 213 and Bucks County just 12 — with seven owned by the county, four owned by the state, and one owned by an historic group.
Our first stop is the Van Sandt Bridge situated over the Pidcock Creek on the appropriately named Covered Bridge Road in Solebury — not too far from Bowman’s Tower — and near where our guide directions started at Washington Crossing Historic Park.
Van Sandt was built in 1875 after county commissioners called for such a bridge to be built over the creek near Edward Van Sandt’s farm.
Like others built during the same time period, the 86-foot-long span was built with a combination of white oak and white pine and had a hemlock roof.
It also happens to have the signature paint style — a mixture of barn red and bright white — seen on most of the bridges on the tour.
After parking on the shoulder of the road, we took a stroll through and over the bridge unaware of something I discovered later — the bridge was supposedly haunted.
According to several sources, the bridge is allegedly a “cry baby bridge” where a young woman killed her child and then herself. Local legend says people still can hear her.
But perhaps they’re hearing the victim of the one known fatal accident on the bridge. That happened on April 3, 1918, when the span collapsed under Edward C. Lewis and Charles Armstrong’s seven-ton trailer and water tank. Lewis saved himself by clinging to the bridge’s siding, but Armstrong died in the wreckage.
Back in the car we consulted our guide and headed towards Loux Covered Bridge. And although the bridge was approximately nine miles away, we clocked more mileage thanks to poor road signage, some ambiguity in the directions, and the labeling of the bridge.
While its full name is John A. Loux’s Cabin Run Covered Bridge, a marker calls it Cabin Run Covered Bridge, which made us think we missed our destination and backtracked to find one with the name “Loux” highlighted (it isn’t).
The printout guide’s reference to “for foot traffic only” also confused us because we drove through twice.
Eventually we figured it out and got some background on the completely white-colored bridge. Loux’s was built in 1874 over Cabin Run Creek, is 60 feet long, and is built of hemlock. Its namesake had operated a mill near the spot and had the distinction of being Bucks County’s longest-tenured justice of the peace.
Thanks to the 1996 state renovations uncovering a couple’s initials carved in the frame decades before, the bridge was also classified as “A Kissing Bridge” — the romantic spot where couples would go undercover to profess their love and seal it with a kiss.
Back on the road and confused about two bridges with the same name spanning the same creek, we spun our wheels until we arrived at the other Cabin Run Covered Bridge.
Just about four miles downstream from Loux in Plumstead Township, the 82-foot span was built in 1871 and named for the log cabins and stone houses that stood near the creek.
Local lore says that a notorious gang of Revolutionary War-era outlaws, the Doane Boys, lived nearby and that a UFO hovered near the bridge in 1959.
Based on my visit to this bridge, I would not be surprised that aliens would make a visit this picturesque beauty spanning a rocky stream on a bucolic back road.
Our next stop, about four miles away, was Frankenfield Bridge, a 130-foot span built in 1872 that reaches over the Tinicum Creek in Tinicum Township.
The bridge is named after the Frankenfields, an established family in the area — with speculation that it honored influential carpenter and contractor Henry Frankenfield. However, historians are intrigued by the fact that the original announcement to build a bridge called it Hillpot’s Bridge, after another prominent area family.
Now with several bridges behind us, my wife and I felt warmed up for the challenge and started running down the list.
About five miles away is the 1832 Erwinna Covered Bridge. At only 56 feet long, it is the shortest of Bucks’ covered bridges.
The bridge takes its name from the town Erwinna, named after Continental Army Colonel Arthur Erwin, who owned most of the land in Tinicum Township and, upon George Washington’s request, rallied his militia to take part in the 1776 Delaware River crossing.
Uhlerstown Covered Bridge is next on the list. About three miles away, the oak wood bridge has the distinction of being the only one that crosses the Delaware Canal.
While historians agree that its length comes in at around 101 feet, there is a disagreement about the bridge’s birth year. Although signage says it went up in 1832, historical records and newspaper articles say it was built in 1856 and names the carpenter, Mahlon Lear.
No matter the date, the bridge deviates from others already seen on the tour. It has two sets of windows at mid-span that lighten the inside and makes it seem lighter from the outside. It is also close to a cluster of old dwellings that conjure the town’s heyday when entrepreneur Michael Uhler set up businesses that included stores, grist mills, hay presses, and lime kilns.
Knecht’s Covered Bridge — named after a local county commissioner — is a 110-foot-long bridge over Crossing Crooks Creek in Springfield Township, about 10 miles from Uhlerstown.
The hemlock wood structure built in 1873 sits pretty amid farms and is said to be part on the route of the infamous Walking Purchase of 1737 — where fast-footed ringers were recruited to outmaneuver Native Americans in claiming territory by walking.
Sheard’s Mill is one of Bucks’ longest bridges at 130 feet. Located on another Covered Bridge Road, it spans the Tohickon Creek near Lake Nockamixon in East Rockhill and Haycock townships.
The name comes from Levi Sheard, who purchased the property and an existing mill in 1844 that still stands.
With a camp ground and parking area adjacent to the bridge and its quintessential red and white look, the bridge seems to be a hotspot for romantic photo taking — as indicated by a photographer posing a couple who recreated their own kissing bridge.
Moods Bridge — 6.5 miles away from Sheard’s Mill — combines past and current interest in covered bridge building. That’s because it uses beams and the original tress salvaged from a 2004 arson fire as part of its current incarnation.
Located just outside Perkasie, the original bridge was built in 1874 to span the northeast branch of the Perkiomen Creek. Its name comes from the nearby farm owned by Samuel Mood, who had gone west as part of the 1849 Gold Rush, worked on the Union Pacific Railroad, and ended up being one of Bucks County’s wealthiest citizens.
Today the bridge is noted as being the busiest bridge in Bucks County.
The South Perkasie Covered Bridge can be found just two miles away but not on any water.
One of the nation and county’s oldest existing covered bridges, it was built in 1832 and originally spanned the Pleasant Spring Creek in the town of Perkasie.
But by the mid-1900s the bridge had already raised concerns regarding traffic and was relegated to foot passage.
So in 1956 the township asked the county to remove the bridge as a traffic hazard while the local historical society began a successful campaign to save the bridge by having it moved to a park next to the river.
Today it serves as a museum with a small outdoor display showing photos of the bridge’s historic move and a sign over its portal that warns, “$5.00 fine for any person riding or driving over this bridge faster than a walk or smoking a segar.”
Pine Valley Bridge, six miles away in New Britain, is the second oldest in the county, built in 1842. The 81-foot length extends over the Pine Run Creek, obviously named for area trees.
Pine Valley is also connected to heavy road traffic, with some related to the popular Covered Bridge Park next to the bridge.
The park provides a great place to park away from the road and find a lovely and safe view of the hemlock and pine bridge away from the road. There is also a picnic area and seasonally operated restrooms.
The final bridge is Schofield Ford Bridge about 16 miles away in Tyler State Park near Newtown.
The 170-foot bridge over the Neshaminy Creek is the longest covered bridge in the county. Yet like Moods, it is a reincarnation of an 1873 original destroyed by arsonists in 1991.
The original bridge located at a place known as both Schofield Ford and Twining Ford — after two prominent farming families — was publicly used until the land on which it stood was purchased by wealthy Philadelphians George and Stella Elkins Tyler for their estate.
This current bridge was built by 800 volunteers who used the original abutments and piers and built the structure from nearby native hemlock and white oak.
The bridge is distinct from the others in several ways. It is the only Pennsylvania bridge using a queen post truss system. That design uses two side posts situated a third of the way from the end rather a central support post. It is the only unpainted weathered wood bridge in the county. And it can only be seen by walking to it — with the shortest route from the northernmost lot near Bucks County Community College.
We arrived at sunset and were able to take a few photos before the light diminished, then stood quietly looking at the bridge, the water, and the fall background.
And while I’d like to say it was the end of our regional covered bridge tour — it wasn’t.
We had also thrown in a quick visit to New Jersey’s only remaining 19th-century covered bridge, the Green Sergeant’s Covered Bridge in Hunterdon County.
Approximately 12 miles from where we began our trip, the 84-foot bridge is named for local mill operator Richard Green Sergeant and was built in 1872 to cross the Wickecheoke Creek.
The one-lane light gray structure had fallen into disrepair in the mid-1960s and was dismantled to create a new passage.
But the lobbying efforts of area residents saw the state initiate a project that used the original bridge materials to rebuild and strengthen the bridge.
It now serves as one-lane of a two-lane road (the other portion is uncovered) and — along with the bridges of Bucks County — provides us with a bridge to our past — and an easy and safe outing during a challenging time.