Covered Bridges Become Icons (1940-1959)

After World War II, public and governmental attitudes toward covered bridges, especially in Bucks County, changed significantly. In 1943, Richard Sanders Allen began publishing the magazine Covered Bridge Topics, which led to the formation of the National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges, based in New Hampshire, in 1949. Groups within Bucks County also promoted covered bridge tourism. The Bucks County Historical Tourism Commission, Bucks County Traveler magazine, and the Delaware Valley Protective Association wrote about covered bridges, including suggestions about how to take photographs.

In a study for the National Park Service, historian Lola Bennett explained the emergence of covered bridges as national cultural icons at the start of the Baby Boom era. “Covered bridges began to appear regularly in American popular culture as nostalgic, romantic, or mysterious elements. Bennett said.

“As affection for covered bridges blossomed nationwide, public officials realized that these structures could be a real asset for tourism. Some local and state governments created wayside parks around bypassed structures or moved them to sites where they could be preserved as historic landmarks and tourist attractions,” Bennett added.

This was no different in Bucks County, which faced its own conflict between government policy and the preservationists in the late 1950s. On May 7, 1956, Perkasie Borough Council asked the three Bucks County commissioners to condemn the South Perkasie covered bridge as a traffic hazard. In October 1957, the commissioners condemned the bridge, but they delayed its removal to the summer of 1958. (A commission clerk told the Allentown Morning Call the commissioners had wanted to demolish the bridge in 1953 but faced strong objections from “local historians.”)

Soon after the announcement, the Perkasie Historical Society led an effort to move the covered bridge to Lenape Park, about one-half mile northwest of the bridge’s original South Perkasie location. A county court decision in July 1958 cleared the way for the Perkasie Historical Society to move the bridge during a four-day period in August 1958, in time for Bucks County to start building a replacement bridge that month.

The move didn’t go as planned for the Perkasie Historical Society or the Bucks County commissioners. It took eight days, instead of four, as the bridge movers struggled to navigate around a residential neighborhood, using cranes and trucks to move the bridge. The bridge’s struggles, which had been discussed in regional newspapers for months, made national headlines. On August 23, 1958, an Associated Press picture of the bridge became a national wire photo that appeared on many front pages across the country. Other national stories reported on the bridge’s successful move by Perkasie’s citizens, and not the county.

After the 1958 Perkasie bridge move, more groups voiced their opposition to any government action to remove covered bridges in Bucks County. In 1959, the Theodore Burr Covered Bridge Society of Pennsylvania, a statewide organization, formed and then announced it would oppose the state’s plans to demolish the Sheard’s Mill Covered Bridge in East Rockhill Township. The Bucks County Parks Board and the Bucks County Township Officials Association then joined efforts to block future covered bridge demolitions.

On August 15, 1959, Covered Bridge Day commemorated the reopening of the South Perkasie covered bridge to the public. Bucks County was one of the event's sponsors, along with the groups that saved the bridge and the Burr Society. The Bucks County commissioners also attended the event, signaling their support.