A previous trip to Iowa took me to Madison County to explore the covered bridges made famous by Robert James Waller’s popular book The Bridges of Madison County and the subsequent movie of the same name. The following year, I spent an afternoon visiting his six covered bridges in Rush County, Indiana, where David was born and raised.
In my youth, these structures were nothing special. They were where we went fishing, disturbed frogs, skipped stones, and stopped for a date kiss. This changed when I became an adult, where views of covered bridges inspired childhood memories and now an appreciation for the architectural beauty of these old wooden structures that seem to bring smiles.
A few years ago, I learned that there was an annual festival celebrating Indiana County’s 31 covered bridges. After pausing travel during the pandemic, in October I finally got off my dime and drove north to enjoy the festival.
It was a little cool and windy, but the sunlight on the bright foliage brought back memories of my early days living in the Midwest.
In Park County, Indiana, west of Indianapolis, Route 36 once claimed 51.5 covered bridges, half representing the eastern portion of the covered bridge over the Wabash River leading into neighboring Vermilion County. rice field. Park County’s unusual collection of covered bridges is due to the fact that they crisscross numerous streams with relatively steep banks. It is a tribute to county residents who appreciate the history and beauty of these structures that many of the bridges survive and continue to entertain visitors like us.
In the 1800s and early 1900s, wood used in exterior construction was not treated, and many bridge builders added covers to protect the wooden trusses and decks from the elements.
Covered one-lane bridges often lasted four times longer than uncovered bridges. By the mid-1800s, the use of metal trusses reduced the need for a roof. An additional benefit of metal trusses was a stronger bridge that could handle the heavier loads of the additional lanes.
Park County hosted its first Covered Bridge Festival over a weekend in 1957. This has since been expanded to two weekends and is now so popular that the festival runs on his 10th consecutive day.
Most of the small towns and villages in the county participate in booths offering arts, crafts, antiques, food and more. We interviewed craftsmen who come to sell their products every year.
Festivals tend to be fun, partly because of the variety of foods available. In Indiana, the pork tenderloin sandwich has long been a specialty.
A few locals told me to visit Mecca Tavern, which has been serving breaded tenderloin since 1899. The battered and fried tenderloin filled the entire plate and fed me for two days. At $10 a pop, it might have been the festival’s best deal.
A free county map lists tour routes that provide access to the bridges, 22 of which are accessible by car. One of these, the 54-foot-long Catlin Bridge, was moved from its original location to a local golf course in 1961, where it crossed Bill Diddle Creek and was accessible only by golf cart. I can’t drive. Covered bridges are often off the main road, so a map is a must. The Rockville county seat serves as the festival’s headquarters and is the starting point for bus tours for visitors who don’t want to drive their own vehicle. We spent three days walking around the county and were able to visit most of Park County’s covered bridges.
The two-span, 235-foot Bridgton Bridge, the most scenic bridge in the county, was rebuilt in 2006 after being destroyed in an arson attack in 2005. A bridge destroyed by arson. Built in 1876, the West Union Bridge is the longest span in the county at 315 feet.
Driving the scenic back roads, enjoying the fall foliage, and lounging by Park County’s historic covered bridges proved to be a fun way to spend a few days in Indiana. Plan to visit on a weekday when the country roads are less busy. During the festival, local accommodations can be overwhelming and we spent three nights at a hotel in Terre Haute, about 30 miles south of Rockville.