Jericho Covered Bridge, Kingsville Maryland

Date added: March 01, 2024 Categories:
Upstream view (1977)

While not one of the engineering marvels of its class, the Jericho Covered Bridge is the last such span in either Baltimore or Harford Counties, and its basic structure is an authentic survival of the 19th century horse-drawn era.

A bridge had been requested by citizens of both Harford and Baltimore Counties in early 1864. At a session of the General Assembly on February 24th of that year, Mr. Hitchcock of the House of Delegates "presented a petition from citizens of Harford County praying for a law to authorize the commissioners of Harford and Baltimore Counties to make an appropriation for a bridge over the Little Gunpowder Falls."

Mr. Pearce of Baltimore County presented a petition from D.S. Gittings and forty persons of Baltimore County, "praying the passage of an act to build a bridge across the Little Gunpowder Falls, between Baltimore and Harford Counties."

A bill was drawn up under the title; "An Act to Authorize the Commissioners of Baltimore and Harford Counties to construct a bridge across the Little Gunpowder Falls, between Jericho and Jerusalem Mills, and to levy a sum of money therefore."

The bill was read twice, ordered to be engrossed for a third reading, read again, and passed on March 4th, 1864.

Dr. David Sterett Gittings, whose name headed the list of petitioners was a prominent citizen, a graduate of Edinburgh University (1818) and a resident of Roslyn estate on Joppa Rolling Road (since renamed Bradshaw Road) at Upper Falls. Possibly the persons who dwelt between two toll roads, as did Dr. Gittings, wanted a free crossing somewhere nearby so they could avoid paying tolls on the Jerusalem Pike or Philadelphia Turnpike. The 1850 map of Baltimore County by J. C. Sidney and the 1857 map by Robert Taylor showed a road crossing Little Gunpowder Falls upstream of Jericho; possibly that crossing was a ford, or else a bridge had stood there and washed out.

The Little Gunpowder Valley was in the 18th and 19th centuries the scene of several industries, with a flour mill at Jerusalem, a spade factory and wrought iron works at Franklinville, and two cotton factories: Jericho and Franklinville. Each mill town spawned a cluster of workers' houses, various outbuildings, sheds, stores, dams, races, sluices, forebays, and tailraces. The area was also noted for its series of Biblical names, which included Joppa and Egypt along with Jerusalem and Jericho already mentioned.

The records of the county commissioners trace the history of the bridge. The estimated account for 1865 showed a $2,000 "special appropriation" for the bridge between Jerusalem and Jericho.

On June 17th, 1865, the first advertisement for proposals appeared in the local papers.

The commissioners' records for July 5th show that Hugh Simms was appointed to superintend the building of the bridge and the contract was awarded to Thomas F. Forsyth.

Simms was owner of the Franklinville Cotton Factory downstream of the proposed bridge site. Houston's 1867 city directory listed Thomas Forsythe as a "machinist" at 116 North Bond Street, and he was listed in the 1877 patron list in Hopkins' atlas as a resident of Pikesville and still a machinist; he had moved there that year from his native Baltimore City.

The contractor for the filling operation was a Mr. Haskins. The Maryland Journal contains no reference to the completion in the weeks and months following the payment of the contractor.

The bridge was strengthened in 1937 to handle automobile traffic.

The repairs were most likely carried out in 1937, as the annual report of the county roads engineer shows nothing spent over 1934-1935, and only $47.75 in 1936. In the year ending December 31st, 1937, a total of $1,969.72 was spent on the bridge, followed by nothing in 1938.

As the number of such bridges dwindled--there was once a total of fifty in Harford County, Jericho Bridge attracted more attention from photographers and writers. When it was featured in the Washington Star in 1952, it was painted white; it was a deep green when photographed in 1964, and later became a deep orange-red, much splotched by names, mottoes and personal messages now dignified by the name graffiti.

The bridge is often spoken of as historic, although no specific events are associated with it. There have been erroneous stories that James Mahool, owner of Franklinville Cotton Factory, died when his horse bolted in the covered bridge; but that fatal accident took place ten years before the bridge was built, and on the Philadelphia Turnpike. Harry Gilmor's Confederate raiders reputedly galloped across the bridge, but they were more than a year too early; they did indeed raid the Jerusalem Mill on July 11th, 1864. There have even been legendary visits from George Washington.

Bridge Description

The Jericho Covered Bridge carries Franklinville Road (formerly Jericho Road) across the Little Gunpowder Falls .24 miles southeast of Jerusalem Road between Baltimore and Harford Counties, Maryland. It is a Burr arch through truss, named for the inventory of the support design, Theodore Burr of Pennsylvania. Burr began to develop the style in 1803 and patented it in 1804. He later practiced bridge building in Maryland, constructing a notable span over the Susquehanna at Port Deposit. In Burr's technique, a series of king-post trusses was combined with a long wooden arch, a mixture that resulted in a stronger bridge. Single king posts had been used since the Middle Ages for short crossings. The pioneering and innovative bridge builders of the nineteenth century learned that it was possible to combine a series of structural triangles, king posts or queen posts, into a unified span.

Burr's "truss," the arch, upper chord, and the diagonals of the truss withstand forces of compression; the vertical members of the truss and lower chord withstand the forces of tension.

By combining the rectangular frame or truss with the arch. . . Burr was being somewhat cautious. As Ithiel Town demonstrated with his lattice truss, wood trusses of reasonable span could stand alone.
Theodore Anton Sande, Industrial Archaeology (Brattleboro, Vermont, 1976), p. 94

Bridges of this type were strong, but the wood tended to weather rapidly, and builders adopted the European technique of roofing them over and boxing them in to protect both structural members and the deck.

Jericho Covered Bridge was built some 61 years after the Burr truss was invented. It is 87 feet 6 inches long in its truss portion with an additional six feet of length devoted to the overhanging entrance roofing at each end, making a maximum length of 99 feet 6 inches. The bridge flooring is 15 feet above river level. Internal width is 17 feet, with 14 feet 10 inches clear road width. Overhead clearance is 12 feet 4 inches at the centerline of the roadway and 10 feet at the curb line.

Functionally, each of the two trusses consists of ten king-post panels, including the half-panels at each end. Four wooden arches are bolted to the upright members of the multiple king-post system, two arches on each side of the roadway, one arch on each side of each truss.

Both trusses and arches rest on stone-masonry abutments.

Several steel tie rods were added as part of the repairs carried out circa 1937 to link the upper chord to the vertical members. These elements would not change the classification of the bridge from a pure Burr arch through truss. (Note: One published article erroneously calls this span a Burr-Howe Truss, but a Howe Truss incorporates iron or steel vertical members.)

Flooring is timber of 3 by 10-inch size, full dimension. The flooring is supported by six steel I-beam stringers with timber nailing strips attached, the steel members added circa 1937 after the beginning of the automobile era. (The stringers are members that run lengthwise through the bridge.)

The floor beams supporting the stringers are of steel.

The lower chord of the bridge is 12 by 12-inch timber. The bridge is roofed with one inch of sheathing and shingle; sidewalls are of vertical board. The "unusual" features of the bridge, according to Jane Plant, in 1954, were the sloping portals and the narrow-strip flooring; that decking, of one-inch by two-inch oak strips, has since been replaced by heavy plank, laid transversely to the principal axis.

The 1973 structural report stated that the bridge was unsafe for bus or truck traffic because of cracked and rotting timber. A 6-foot length of one timber-arch member was found to suffer from cracking (downstream side). This and the heavy repairs to the lower chord of the truss nearby indicate possible failure damage. The downstream arch was found to be affected by rot at the bearing on the south abutment. Whether by mistake or design, the vertical board siding does not extend down far enough to afford protection to the arch bearing.

Jericho Covered Bridge, Kingsville Maryland Upstream view (1977)
Upstream view (1977)

Jericho Covered Bridge, Kingsville Maryland Downstream view (1977)
Downstream view (1977)

Jericho Covered Bridge, Kingsville Maryland Straight through view (1977)
Straight through view (1977)

Jericho Covered Bridge, Kingsville Maryland View of bowstring arches (1977)
View of bowstring arches (1977)