Covered Bridges — Synonymous with New England’s Rural Charm
While there are various theories for the popular question “why were bridges covered,” the simple answer is that roofs greatly increased the lifespan of wooden bridges by mitigating the effects of weather. Nowadays, they are highly valued as historic sites and tourist attractions. While many well-preserved structures remain today, these represent a small fraction of the more than 1400 that have been built across the region since the early 19th century.
Massachusetts Covered Bridges
Of nearly 270 covered bridges that were built in Massachusetts, only seven remain, all of which have been renovated or entirely rebuilt in recent decades. Most, including 69 in Franklin County alone, were built in the western and central regions where the winters are harsher, and the rivers more active due to the topography. Some of the massive structures that spanned the Connecticut and Merrimack Rivers were 800 feet or longer, including combination bridges at Montague City and Northfield that supported railroads across their roofs. Roughly one-third of the lost covered bridges were railroad bridges, which were privately owned and often short-lived due to fires.
Touring the remaining Massachusetts bridges takes some planning, as they are spread across the state. Here’s an overview to help you plan a safari. The four in Franklin County (2-5 in the list) can be viewed in a leisurely half-day tour; a detour to Sheffield adds an additional couple hours of driving.
Upper Bridge/Sheffield: Located on the east side of Route 7 north of Sheffield Center, this bridge spans the Housatonic River in the southern Berkshires. It was rebuilt in 1994 after the original, built around 1850, was destroyed by arson. (no picture)
Burkeville/Conway: Named for and located in a village west of Conway Center on Route 116, this bridge was originally built across the South River in 1870 and restored in 2005. The adjacent historic Catholic church makes for a classic photo op.
Bissell/Charlemont: This compact, 55-foot bridge spans the narrow valley of Mill Brook on Route 8A in Charlemont, just north of the Mohawk Trail (Route 2). The first covered bridge was built here in 1880; the present was rebuilt (along with a small viewing area) and opened to traffic in 2009. (no picture)
Arthur Smith/Northfield: Located in the scenic North River Valley off of Route 112 in Colrain (a short distance from Route 2 in Shelburne Falls), this bridge has an active history. Originally built at a different location, it was moved to Lyonsville village and survived the devastating 20th-century storms that destroyed the town’s other 10 covered bridges. It sat in disrepair in a farm field in the 1990s before being restored in 2005.
Pumping Station/Greenfield: Rebuilt in 1972 after the original was another casualty of arson, this bridge barely survived the floods of Hurricane Irene, which caused extensive damage in the Green River watershed. It is located on a side road off of Plain Road near the Vermont state line.
Ware-Gilbertville/Hardwick: Following renovations in 2010, this is one of three Massachusetts covered bridges that is now open to traffic. It was built across the Ware River in 1886 just south of the junction of Routes 32 and 32A in Gilbertville, a village of Hardwick.
Dummerston/Sturbridge: Originally built across the West River in Vermont, this bridge was moved to Old Sturbridge Village in 1955, where it is now part of the exhibits. Admission to the village, on Route 20 in Sturbridge, is required to view the bridge.
Pepperell: This is the third covered bridge that has been built at this crossing of the Nashua River (near the junction of Routes 113 and 111) since 1848. The original survived for more than 110 years before being replaced in the 1960s. A ceremony and town fair was held at the dedication of the present structure in September 2010.
~ John Burk
John Burk is the author of several books and guides related to New England, including Massachusetts Covered Bridges: Images of America. See his Amazon page for more information.