Doe River Bridge, TN, 1884. Photo by Jet Lowe.

 

Archived exhibitions are no longer available for booking but are maintained as a virtual record of past Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) programs.

“There is no country of the world which is more in need of good and permanent bridges than the United States of America.”
— Thomas Pope, A Treatise on Bridge Architecture, 1811

Covered wooden bridges have long captivated the American imagination. More than quaint relics of horse-and-buggy days, these remarkable achievements in civil engineering helped forge the physical and economic growth of the United States for over a century. By the 1870s, more than 10,000 covered bridges spanned the American landscape. Today, roughly 750 remain, with the majority located in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Vermont, Indiana, New Hampshire, and Oregon.

Developed with the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), a division of the National Park Service, Covered Bridges highlights the innovators who advanced the design and construction of covered bridges; the decline, disappearance, and preservation of these structures; and their pervasive influence in popular culture. The exhibition includes reproductions of a number of stunning photographs and drawings produced by HAER to document America’s surviving covered bridges, models of bridge trusses, and other objects.

Covered Bridges was funded in part by the Federal Highway Administration.

 

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Exhibition specifications

Contents 5 freestanding units with reproductions of photographs, illustrations, memorabilia, and fine art with text, panel-hung vitrines, 11 objects
Supplemental Docent material, educational and promotional resources, speakers list, bibliography
Participation Fee $3,500 for an 8-week booking period
Square Feet 1,000 square feet (95 square meters)
Crates 17
Weight 1,410 pounds
Category History & Culture
Security Limited
Shipping Outgoing; host museum arranges shipping and pays carrier directly
SITES Contacts Minnie Micu, 202.633.3160 (Scheduling)
Katherine Krile, 202.633.3108 (Content)
Toured Through 2009
   
 
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Tour Itinerary

Dates   Host Institution Status
3/4/06 7/16/06 The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, PA Booked
8/5/06 10/15/06 Montshire Museum of Science, Norwich, VT Booked
11/4/06 1/7/06 Museum in the Park, Chief Logan State Park, Logan, WV Booked
1/27/07 3/25/07 Chico Museum, Chico, CA Booked
4/14/07 6/10/07 Bennington Museum, Bennington, VT Booked
6/30/07 10/7/07 Preble County Historical Society, Eaton, OH Booked
10/27/07 1/27/08 The Barrington Area Historical Society, Barrington, IL Booked
2/16/08 4/13/08 Parke County Covered Bridge Festival, Rockville, IN Booked
5/3/08 6/29/08 Troy-Hayner Cultural Center, Troy, OH Booked
7/19/08 9/14/08 Lane County Historical Society and Museum, Eugene, OR Booked
10/4/08 11/30/09 River Life Interpretive Center, Skamokawa, WA Booked
12/20/08 2/15/09 Altoona Heritage Discovery Center, Altoona, PA Booked
3/7/09 5/3/09 Jefferson County Museum, Clancy, MT Booked
5/23/09 7/19/09 The Gallery at 48 Natoma, Folsom, CA Booked
8/8/09 10/4/09 Legacy Museum on Main, Troup County Historical Society, LaGrange, GA Booked
       
     
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Related publications
None listed at this time. Please check back later.  
 
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Press Release

2.1.06
New Smithsonian Exhibition on Covered Bridges Set to Cross the Country

Media only: Stephanie Montgomery (202) 633-3120
Public only: (202) 633-1000

Few structures in America combine architectural ingenuity, economic necessity and romantic idealism better than the covered bridge. A new Smithsonian exhibition, Covered Bridges: Spanning the American Landscape, will celebrate these iconic structures and the individuals behind their development through photographs, architectural schematics and models. The exhibition will debut at The State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg on March 4, 2006 and continue on a multi city national tour thereafter.

Covered Bridges is being developed by the Historic American Engineering Record, a division of the National Park Service, and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES); it is funded in part by the Federal Highway Administration.

Though they first appeared in Europe during the Middle Ages, covered bridges flourished in the United States in the 19th century, where they helped encourage the country’s economic development by way of a growing network of roads. The first covered bridge in the country appeared over the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia in 1805, and by the 1870s more than 10,000 covered the American landscape as part of the country’s westward expansion.

From the beginning, individual inventiveness played an important role in the proliferation of covered bridges. As the industry grew, individual builders experimented and adapted each other’s designs in hopes of finding a means to build stronger bridges with the least amount of materials. In addition to being visually appealing, the resulting structures were engineering masterpieces—both important factors in their survival today.

Covered bridges grew in popularity among the general public in the early 20th century and became attractive subjects for artists and advertisers. They appeared in advertisements for everything from tires to thermal underwear, feeding the nation’s desire for nostalgia. In some cases, advertisers took their messages to the bridges themselves, creating enormous billboards on both the interiors and exteriors.

Despite their appeal, between 1870 and 1970, 90 percent of the country’s covered bridges were destroyed by arsonists, natural causes and progress in transportation. Today only about 750 remain, concentrated mostly in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Vermont, Indiana, New Hampshire and Oregon. Community leaders in these states have recognized their value as a tourist attraction, and they have become symbols of community pride and history. Perhaps no single person did more for the covered bridge in recent times than author Robert James Waller, whose 1992 book “The Bridges of Madison County” stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 150 weeks.

The Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C., for more than 50 years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history, which are shown wherever people live, work and play.

Since its founding in 1969, the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) has been a key component of the Cultural Resources Division of the National Park Service. Like its sister programs, the Historic American Buildings Survey and the Historic American Landscapes Survey, the HAER program produces detailed documentation of historically significant sites and structures for a national collection hosted by the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress. This documentation serves as a record of the nation’s built environment and as a valuable tool for the preservation and stewardship of some of the most important and most fragile cultural resources.

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