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North America's most charming covered bridges

By: Matt Hickman on Oct. 23, 2015, 10:30 a.m.
A covered bridge in Michigan during early autumn

Photo: jai Mansson/flickr

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Detour-worthy marvels

In addition to their postcard-perfect looks, covered bridges are marvels of 19th century structural engineering — veritable showcases of architectural ingenuity, not to mention economy and old-fashioned craftsmanship.

Sprouting up in the thousands across rural North America, covered bridges were a big deal for a relatively short time. It didn’t take long for materials that didn't require covering, like metal, to replace wood or for automobiles to replace horse-drawn carriages. And with that, the covered bridge fell out of vogue during the first half of the 20th century. Thanks modernity!

Countrified charm aside, covered bridges serve a practical purpose. The longevity of early wooden bridges was, well, not very long. Wood — abundant and affordable — was an ideal bridge-building material. However, when left exposed to the elements, the lifespan of these handsome spans tended to be brief. Covering wooden bridges with utilitarian structures, also built from wood, extended their lives and enabled them to serve rural communities without needing to be repaired every 10 years or so. With proper care, a covered bridge could last well over 100 years.

Once numbering more than 14,000 in the United States with many more in Canada, the current number of North American covered bridges is significantly lower, with most extant structures clustered in a handful of states and provinces. In some states, they've vanished.

With an eye toward historical significance and classic good looks, we've rounded up 13 exceptional covered bridge specimens.