State officials have estimated that in the 1800s, Missouri had as many as thirty covered bridges. On May 25, 1967, only five remained, and the state legislature authorized the Missouri State Park Board to take over the repair and preservation of these bridges. One of the bridges, the Mexico Covered Bridge, was destroyed in a flood soon after. Today, the four remaining historic wooden covered bridges are now listed as State Historic Sites and remain under the protection of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
1. Burfordville covered bridge near Bollinger Mill
The Burfordville covered bridge is part of the Bollinger Mill State Historic Site. The oldest of the four remaining bridges, construction began in 1858, but was then delayed by the Civil War. The bridge was finally finished in1868. The bridge is 140 feet long and 12 feet wide with a clearance of 14 feet. The truss bridge made of locally cut yellow poplar began as part of the toll road and included a toll booth on the east end.
The bridge underwent repairs in 1908, and a restoration with a metal roof in 1950. After being added to the Natural Register of Historic Places in 1970, the park service was able to restore it once again, replacing the metal roof with wooden shingles. It was damaged by a flood in 1986 and was closed to all traffic until 1998. At that time, significant repairs were made, and the bridge was opened to pedestrians year-round.
2. Locust Creek covered bridge
Locust Creek Covered Bridge in Linn County has also been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1970. The Howe truss bridge made of white pine was constructed in 1868 to cross Locust Creek. Over time, the bridge became a hangout for locals. Carvings of those proclaiming their love or to mark their presence were all along the bridge's internal walls. It was used only for wagon, horse, and foot traffic until the early 20th century. At that time, the bridge became available for automotive traffic as part of Missouri Route 8.
The completion of U.S. Route 36 in 1930 bypassed the bridge, and decreased its use. The course of Locust Creek was changed sometime after World War II, causing the bridge to span a dry creek bed. When the creek bed filled with silt, it left the bridge sitting in mud a lot of the time.
After the state acquired the bridge in 1968, the Locust Creek Covered Bridge State Historic Site was created. They repaired the bridge, replacing much of its structure. In 1991, the Missouri Department of Conservation raised the bridge by six feet to protect the wooden frame and flooring from the muddy, wet ground.
Also called the Linn County Bridge, it is the longest of the four remaining Missouri covered bridges. It is 151 feet long, and 16 feet 8 inches wide. It is located about 3 miles west of Laclede.
3. Sandy Creek covered bridge
Sandy Creek Covered Bridge is also protected by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources as the Sandy Creek Covered Bridge State Historic Site. The Howe truss bridge is named for the creek which it crosses, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.
It was one of six bridges built in 1872 along the Old Lemay Ferry Road in order to connect the county seat of Hillsboro to St. Louis County. Destroyed by flood in 1886, it was rebuilt using half of the original construction materials. It underwent a major restoration project in 1984, returning it to its original appearance. The bridge is 74.5 feet long, 18 feet 10 inches wide and 13 feet in height. It is open to pedestrian traffic.
4. Union covered bridge
The final of the four remaining covered bridges in Missouri is the Union Covered Bridge in Monroe County. Like the others, it is also a state historic site maintained by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. This bridge was built in 1871 to cross the Elk Fork of the Salt River. It served as a link in the Paris-to-Fayette road, and was named for the nearby Union Church.
After the Mexico Covered Bridge was destroyed by flood in 1968, a partial restoration was completed using materials from the demolished bridge. The Union bridge was closed in 1970 when structural timbers were damaged by overweight trucks. A total restoration was completed in 1988. This bridge is 120-feet-long with a Burr Arch span that is 17 feet 6 inches wide and 12 feet high.
In 2008, the bridge was threatened by severe flooding. As a precaution, some of the lowest siding was removed allowing the stream to flow freely through, sparing the structure the full force of the current. The bridge was saved, but is still missing the removed siding awaiting funding for repair.
It is a wonderful thing that these four bridges have been saved and preserved, but it’s sad how many of these bridges didn’t survive. They are beautiful in their simplicity. Everyone who has a chance should visit these remnants of the past. Have you seen them?