The Bridges of Schuylkill County

… covered bridges, that is. Like Clint Eastwood’s character in the 1995 movie of a similar name, I decided to photograph the historic bridges of my own county. The two differences are that he had a much wider scope of subjects in Madison County than I do here and I very much doubt I’ll be having an affair with Clint anytime soon. At one time there were over fifty covered bridges in the county, but now there is only two.

The idyllic Rock Covered Bridge is quite picturesque and epitomizes the typical covered bridge of rural America.

These two bridges are just two miles apart, so it’s a goal that can be accomplished in an afternoon. In many ways they are quite comparable: both are located in Washington Township in the southwestern part of Schuylkill County, are the typical covered bridge color of red, span the Lower Little Swatara Creek, and both were built using the Burr arch truss design.

“One of the earliest and most prominent bridge builders in our country was Theodore Burr from Torringford, Connecticut. His career began in New York where he built a bridge spanning the Hudson River in 1804. Burr’s truss design soon became one of the more frequently used systems. The Burr arch truss, as the design became known, used two long arches, resting on the abutments on either end, that typically sandwiched a multiple king-post structure. There are more bridges in Pennsylvania using the Burr truss design than the total of the other truss designs-123 located in or between thirty different counties.”

The Theodore Burr Covered Bridge Society of Pennsylvania

Where they differ is in aesthetics and maintenance. I hate to judge a book by its cover, but one it just a heck of a lot prettier than the other. One is much more accessible and inviting than the other.

The Zimmerman Covered Bridge sits just off route 895 on a small mountain road called, interestingly enough, Covered Bridge Road. It was built in 1875 (some sources say 1880) and supposedly restored in the late 1990s. I had a lot of trouble getting a good shot of this bridge. The wooded area surrounding it is terribly overgrown. Granted, it’s the summertime and everything is in full bloom, but even the little path along the creek seemed to have vanished into the thicket. I’ve been here before (about three years ago) and at that time many of the vertical side boards were missing. Those, at least, have been replaced.

The Zimmerman Covered Bridge crosses the Lower Little Swatara Creek.

The downfall on this visit was the amount of litter that was everywhere. Woodsy the Owl would have had a heart attack. I’ve said it before, where there are idiots there is graffiti. Luckily, there is not as much as I see on other historic structures, but it definitely spoils the inside of this once fledgling bridge. There is a dirt bike track in close proximity to the bridge. Perhaps the heavy traffic of partying spectators can explain away the trash and mischief.

Some photos that exhibit the Burr arch truss design.

The Rock Covered Bridge is located on Newswanger Road and is quite visible from route 895. The bridge was built in 1870 and completely restored in 2014. This notable trestle spans the creek east of the village of Rock. Photographer Robert Kincaid, Clint’s character in The Bridges of Madison County, would have appreciated this model. The bridge and the grounds are charming and well maintained.

The Rock Covered Bridge is only a five minute drive from the Zimmerman Covered Bridge. Both bridges were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

A quaint, yet small recreation area accompanies the bridge. There is parking, a covered picnic table and a fishing platform; all handicap accessible. There is also the “Braggin’ Board,” a kiosk, of sorts, in memory of Stewart Zerbe. Fishermen (and women) are encouraged to post a picture of their catch on social media by following the links posted on the board. The whole enclosure is thoroughly cared for and pleasantly landscaped. Clint would like this bridge… and you will too.

There are some great photo opportunities at this bridge, especially on a beautiful day.

Why cover a bridge anyway? Ages ago, before steel and iron, bridges were made of wood. Uncovered they would only last about two decades. Once covered they can last for a hundred years before needing repairs. It was much easier to fix the roof of the bridge than the structure underneath. Fun fact: the oldest covered bridge in the world is the Kapellbruke Bridge in Switzerland. It was built around 1360 and was restored after a fire in 1994.

Happy exploring!



  1. There’s a covered bridge in New Baltimore PA near the “church on the turnpike” (where numerous Miller, Sure and Rifle ancestors are buried).


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