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Philippi Covered Bridge

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1852, Lemuel and Eli Chenoweth (superstructure), Emmett J. O'Brien (masonry). 1934–1938. 1989–1991, Emory Kemp, Paul D. Marshall and Associates, R. R. Houston. U.S. 250 at the junction with U.S. 119, crossing the Tygart Valley River
  • Philippi Covered Bridge

Philippi's best-loved landmark is significant on many counts. Dating from 1852, it is one of only a handful of two-lane (“double-barrel”) covered bridges in the nation, and it is the only one still carrying a U.S. highway. It was built to carry the Beverly and Fairmont Road, a feeder to the Staunton and Parkersburg Turnpike, over the Tygart Valley River. The oldest and longest of West Virginia's covered bridges, it is the most important work of Lemuel Chenoweth, western Virginia's noted mid-nineteenthcentury bridge builder.

The bridge is constructed of yellow poplar and consists of two spans with arches 138 feet long. Chenoweth used Long trusses, a system of crossed diagonals designed and patented by Stephen Long in 1830. Similar to the more familiar Howe trusses, except that they do not use iron, Long trusses are especially effective in long spans. In the 1930s, the foundations and flooring were strengthened with concrete, and two intermediary concrete piers were added for support. A covered walkway was added to the south side, and the portals at each end, originally rounded, were squared to accommodate large trucks.

On February 2, 1989, the bridge caught fire when a gasoline overflow at a nearby service station was ignited by the catalytic converter of an automobile. The fire consumed the siding and roof and severely charred the structural members. Emory Kemp, chief engineer, Paul D. Marshall, preservation architect, and R. R. Houston, senior preservation specialist, planned and directed the restoration, using the original specifications as a guide and following the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Preservation. The goal was to return the bridge as closely as possible to its condition on June 3, 1861. West Virginia University's Institute for the History of Technology and Industrial Archeology provided drawings and prepared specifications. The West Virginia Forestry Association contributed yellow poplar, sawn in nearby Belington, and mortise-and-tenon joints were prepared on site. Reopened during the summer of 1991, the bridge continues to carry U.S. 250 and is poised to provide service for another century and a half. A new walkway attached to its south flank allows pedestrians a close view of its ancient timbers. With the restoration, the bridge gained a further distinction: it may be the world's only covered bridge with a sprinkler system.

Writing Credits

Author: 
S. Allen Chambers Jr.
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S. Allen Chambers Jr., "Philippi Covered Bridge", [Philippi, West Virginia], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/WV-01-BA1.

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