Few things capture the wistfulness and charm of centuries past in the way that the covered bridge does. Today, there are not many of these special wooden creations left. But there are still many remaining covered bridges in Pennsylvania that you can experience and enjoy in person.
The Keystone State has the most remaining covered bridges in the United States, with just over 200 left standing. Many of those are recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, showing a reflection of how important they were and still are. Of the 85 Chester County covered bridges that once existed, there are only about a dozen covered bridges remaining. This isn’t too surprising considering it is one of the oldest counties in the state.
With this self-guided driving tour, you can experience all of these Chester County covered bridges.
Why Covered Bridges?
They are fun to drive through and they are enjoyable to look at. But there is a more practical explanation for the use of covered bridges: longevity.
In the 19th century, when most of these bridges were being built, wood was the primary construction material. But exposure to sun, rain, snow, and wind would cause the timber to degrade relatively quickly. A roof offers the bridge a little respite. With a roof, the bridges are said to be able to last a century; without a roof, they have a lifespan of a mere two decades.
Most of these remaining covered bridges use a Burr arch truss. Connecticut inventor Theodore Burr patented the design in 1817 which combines an arch with a truss of multiple kingposts. The use of both the arch and the truss means that the bridge is not only rigid but is able to support greater loads that were only one element to be used.
The Chester County covered bridges (as well as those that aren’t covered) were all built by the county. As a result, even though they are centuries old, records still exist documenting details like the builders and the cost.
Tips for Visiting Chester County Covered Bridges in PA
First and foremost, remember that most of these bridges are working pieces of roadway infrastructure. They also tend to be narrow one-lane bridges where traffic has to take turns and can quickly back up. It is worth noting a few are pedestrian-only or closed to traffic of all kinds.
Most of the bridges do not have parking lots nearby, sidewalks or walking paths, or observation spots. Drive carefully and be aware of your surroundings. If you decide to explore on foot, be sure to wear high-visibility clothing.
The oldest remaining covered bridge in Chester County, Sheeder-Hall Bridge dates to 1850 and is 100 feet long. Historically, it was used for transportation by nearby fur traders and iron furnaces. The impressive two-span bridge crosses French Creek and unites East Vincent and West Vincent Townships.
Sheeder-Hall Bridge, 10 Hollow Rd, Spring City, PA
Bartram’s Covered Bridge
Uniting Chester and Delaware Counties, Bartram’s Bridge was built in 1860 by Ferdinand Wood. The red-painted bridge is the only one in the state to feature slanted wooden slats on the entrances. At one time, it was one of 30 covered bridges in Delaware County but today it is the only remaining one standing.
In 1941, the bridge was closed to traffic; today the road runs parallel to the bridge.
Bartram’s Covered Bridge, 4298 Goshen Rd, Newtown Square, PA
Rudolph and Arthur Bridge
The Rudolph and Arthur Covered Bridge spanning Big Elk Creek in Elk and New London Townships was built in 1880 and named for the paper firm of the families of the same names that were nearby. The stone and wood bridge cost more than $2300.
Rudolph and Arthur Covered Bridge, Camp Bonsall Rd, Elk Township and New London Township, PA
Linton Stevens Covered Bridge
Built in 1875 and then rebuilt due to flooding less than a decade later in 1884, Linton Stevens Covered Bridge spans Big Elk Creek in Elk Township and New London Township. The 102-foot-long bridge was originally named for the local postmaster.
Linton Stevens Covered Bridge, 1051 Kings Row Rd, Oxford, PA
Larkin Bridge (Thompson Bridge)
Larkin Bridge, also known as Thompson Bridge, is one of the most unique of the Chester County covered bridges. When it was built in 1854, it spanned the Marsh Creek in Milford Mills. It was then rebuilt in 1881.
But in 1972, Pennsylvania acquired the bridge and moved it one mile. The move was required as the area was to be flooded to create Marsh Creek Reservoir in what is now Marsh Creek State Park. At that point, the bridge solely served pedestrian traffic.
In 2006, the bridge again moved. Having been acquired by Upper Uwchlan Township in 1998, a group of housing developers rebuilt the bridge on a trail parallel to Graphic Mine Road. Because the bridge is now a feature of a recreational trail, it gives you a great opportunity for an up-close look at the bridge and at the engineering within.
Larkin Bridge, near the corner of Graphite Mill Road and Station Blvd, Chester Springs, PA
Pine Grove Covered Bridge
The Pine Grove Covered Bridge was built in 1884 to replace a bridge on the same site from 1846 that was destroyed by flooding. It was built by Lancaster builder and Civil War veteran Captain Elias McMellen, who had built nearly three dozen bridges in the region. The two-span covered bridge crosses a branch of the Octoraro Creek and connects Lancaster and Chester Counties. And at 190 feet long, it is one of the longest in this self-guided tour of Chester County covered bridges.
Pine Grove Covered Bridge, Forge Road, Nottingham, PA
Glen Hope Covered Bridge
Built in 1889 by Menander Wood and George E. Jones, Glen Hope Covered Bridge spans Little Elk Creek in Elk Township near the Pennsylvania-Maryland border. The 65-foot-long bridge cost less than $2000 to build.
Glen Hope Covered Bridge, Hickory Hill Road, Oxford, PA
Harmony Hill Covered Bridge (Gibson’s Covered Bridge)
Tucked along the edge of Harmony Hill Nature Area and M. John Johnson Nature Center is the Harmony Hill Covered Bridge. Also known as Gibson’s Covered Bridge, the 78-foot-long bridge dates to 1872 and stands out with its stepped entry face and whiteboard siding.
Because of its proximity to the green spaces and the nearby East Branch Brandywine Trail, there is parking nearby where you can stop for a look at the bridge.
Harmony Hill Covered Bridge, Harmony Hill Rd, West Bradford Township, PA
Knox Covered Bridge
Valley Forge is known for a few things, but its covered bridge is probably not the first thing that comes to most people’s minds. Far on the other side of Valley Forge Park, away from General Washington’s headquarters and the recreated log cabins that dot the rolling meadows, is another one of the Chester County covered bridges.
Also known as Valley Creek Dam Bridge, Knox Covered Bridge is a 50-foot long bridge that was built in 1851 of white pine for a reported $843. But it was washed away by a flood and replaced in 1865 for $1179. The new bridge gained 15 feet over its predecessor.
Unfortunately, the replacement bridge was also damaged. A fire in 1958 required the bridge again to need repairs. This time, steel girders were added to offer an upgraded support system.
As the bridge is located in Valley Forge Park along the Valley Creek Trail, it is easy to park your car and walk to the bridge for closer inspection. While it is along busy Route 252, it still offers a rather picturesque setting over the creek.
Knox Covered Bridge, 300 Yellow Springs Rd, Malvern, PA
Rapp’s Dam Covered Bridge
Just off Route 23 on the edge of French Creek Heritage Park in Phoenixville is the Rapp’s Dam Covered Bridge. The 105-foot-long bridge dates to 1866 and is one of the county’s longest and most expensive covered bridges. It was built by Benjamin Hartman for nearly $3600.
While the bridge has weathered many a storm in the more than two centuries in which it has been in place, it has a bit of extra help: the bridge has been reinforced with steel beams.
Because the bridge is on the edge of the park, there is a parking lot to allow you to park and then safely marvel at the bridge.
Rapp’s Dam Bridge, Rapps Dam Road, Phoenixville, PA
Mercer’s Mill Covered Bridge
The Mercer’s Mill Covered Bridge crosses the Octoraro Creek between Chester and Lancaster Counties, Mercer. The single-span bridge features oak decking and the exterior is painted red, like so many of the bridges in this guide. It was built in 1880 by B.J. Carter and is 85 feet long.
Nearby Wolf’s Hollow County Park even features a trail with an overlook for viewing the covered bridge.
Mercer’s Mill Covered Bridge, 3771 Bailey Crossroads Rd, Atglen, PA
Speakman Bridge #1
The Speakman Bridge was built in 1881 to serve the Johnathan Speakman Gristmill, a former papermill in East Fallowfield Township. Crossing the Buck Run, the bridge is 75 feet long.
A twin bridge, Speakman Bridge #2, sits about a mile-and-a-half away, also spanning Buck Run. This bridge is, however, not accessible to the public.
Speakman Bridge #1, Frog Hollow Road, East Fallowfield Township, PA
A wooden plaque inside of 96-foot-long Kennedy’s Bridge dates it to 1856 when it was built by Alex Kennedy and Jesse King to span French Creek in Kimberton. Flooding caused damage that was repaired in 1884 before it was reinforced in the 1950s for modern traffic. The following decade, the bridge received a new shingle roof.
Kennedy’s Bridge, Seven Stars Road, Kimberton, PA
While not technically one of the Chester County covered bridges, Smith Bridge is only just over the state border in Wilmington, Delaware. Consider this a bonus bridge. The one-lane bridge was built in 1839 and spans the Brandywine Creek. In 1961 on the night before Halloween, Smith Bridge was set on fire. As a result of the damage from the fire, the bridge remained without a roof until it was renovated in 2002.
Smith Bridge, Smith Bridge Road, Wilmington, DE
Save this post for later on Pinterest!
All photos, as well as opinions, are my own.