Covered Bridges in Indiana West Union Covered Bridge, West Union Indiana
In the early nineteenth century, several important patent designs had proved the strength and resourcefulness of covered wooden trusses. Timber bridges quickly became more popular than stone bridges since they were less expensive to construct, called for materials that were easy to come by, could span greater widths, and required skills that local builders and carpenters already had. Roofs and siding covered these bridges to protect the wooden truss members and joints from the elements, thereby considerably increasing their life spans. The height of the covered wooden bridge era was the 1870s.
Between 1820 and 1922, at least 600 covered wooden bridges were built in Indiana. A handful of bridge-building companies and individuals were responsible for most of the covered bridges in the state. J. J. Daniels and J. A. Britton were each prolific builders in and around Parke County, west of Indianapolis. On the other side of the capital, three generations of the Kennedy family reigned in this industry. Daniels, Britton, and the Kennedys built at least 158 bridges in Indiana. Ohioan Robert W. Smith and his Smith Bridge Company worked out of Toledo, but built several bridges in neighboring Indiana.
In 1930, state highway engineers and covered bridge enthusiast Robert B. Yule organized the Covered Timber Bridge Committee under the auspices of the Indiana Historical Society. At that time, the committee members gathered statistics, took documentary photographs, collected news clippings, and corresponded with bridge builders' families and local historians to create an archive on the covered bridges in the state. The result of this project is "The Covered Bridge Collection" in the Indiana Historical Society Library, divided into two sets of folders, one for photographs and the other for documents. The effort has left an important archive of Indiana's bridges at mid-century, especially since many of these bridges have disappeared.
Although various organizations around the state have been active in preserving the bridges, most of them have been lost to replacement metal spans, floods, arson, and/or neglect. In 1998 there were only ninety-three covered wooden bridges left in the state. In 2002, "Indiana's Historic Bridges" (including concrete, metal, and wooden spans) made the National Trust for Historic Preservation's "Eleven Most Endangered Structures" list.