Philippi Covered Bridge

Site of the first land battle of the Civil War

 

March 2009

The Philippi Covered Bridge was completed in 1852 to a design by West Virginia’s pioneer covered bridge builder, Lemuel Chenoweth. The bridge is an outstanding example of a modified Burr truss with two spans totaling 308 LF. It is historically significant in its own right as one of the finest examples of the timber bridge builder’s art. In the mind of the public, however, it is identified with the first engagement of the Civil War following the shelling of Fort Sumpter.

Originally a toll bridge on the Beverly-Fairmont Turnpike, the Philippi Bridge has since carried the traffic of US250, making it the only covered bridge in America on the US primary highway system.  The bridge also holds a special place in history.  This is the site of the first land battle of the 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.

Lemuel Chenoweth of Beverly responded to an 1850 advertisement for bids to build a new bridge at Philippi. He was an associate of Claudius Crozet, a noted civil engineer who oversaw the design and construction of Virginia's transportation infrastructure of turnpikes, canals, and roads during the 19th century prior to the American Civil War. Already an accomplished bridge builder, he made an exact scale model of his design. He tied the model to his saddle and rode over the mountains to Richmond, hopeful of winning the contract.

Although other engineers scoffed at him and his crude wood model, Chenoweth had the last laugh. To demonstrate the strength of his design, he placed the model between two chairs and then stood on it. The model did not so much as bend under his weight, prompting one official to quickly calculate that the actual bridge would support a man some 600’ tall! Chenoweth won the contract, the final cost of the bridge being $12,181.24.

All of the structural timber is yellow Poplar. In 1851, Chenoweth found a nearby grove of Poplar with trees as large as 60” in diameter. “Tulip” Poplar is light, clear-grained, very strong for its weight, and insect resistant if kept dry.

Froes were used to split the approximate 20,000 roof shingles—most likely split from Chestnut Oak or American Chestnut. In this era, shingles were of irregular width but would have averaged 6” wide and 18”-24” long. The shingles overlapped so that only the bottom third or fourth of each shingle was exposed.

The very large logs were halved and then quartered with a 2-man saw. This made them easier to drag. Also, quarter-sawn lumber is preferred for strength because the grain runs nearly perpendicular to the plane of the board.

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.

http://www.appaltree.net/aba/images/bridge/fire.jpg

1989 fire aftermath.  Photo from Appalachian Blacksmiths Association Website

Certain modernizations, such as a fire suppression system, were included in the project to prevent a future catastrophe. The actual modernization and restoration work took about a year to complete and cost $2 million.

Notes from:

 Appalachian Blacksmiths Association Website  http://www.appaltree.net/aba/bridge.htm

http://www.appaltree.net/aba/bridge2.htm 

and Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philippi_Covered_Bridge

 

 

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View of the bridge from the Philippi side looking west.

 

 

 

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West Virginia State Historical Marker at the bridge.

 

 

 

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View entering the bridge westbound from Philippi.

 

 

 

 

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View inside – old and new timbers from restoration after 1989 fire are evident.

 

 

 

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While you’re visiting the Covered Bridge, take time to walk around historic Philippi.

 

 

 

 

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Lots of interesting shops in downtown Philippi.  The covered bridge is just to the left of the church at the end of this street. 

Alderson-Broaddus College sits on the hill straight ahead.

 

 

 

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Barbour County Courthouse in Philippi. 

Hope you enjoyed visiting the Philippi Covered Bridge

 

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