About two miles from the Susquehanna River inside of Conestoga Township along the banks of the Pequea Creek was the small hamlet of Colemanville. This former town once boasted an ironworks, rolling mill, and forge as well as the homes of many workers.
You can still see the foundations of several of these structures today. The locations are highlighted below in the maps from 1875.
This section of the creek had two bridges servicing the town and surrounding areas. The first is long gone, but the stone abutments are still visible.
After that are the remains of a dam that was used in conjunction with the forge and rolling mill, the second bridge is still standing, much as it did in 1856. The Pequea Trolley, on its way from Millersville to the summer resort town of Pequea, traveled past Colemanville and its covered bridge between 1903 and 1930. Click here to learn more about Lancaster’s Trolleys.
Colemanville Covered Bridge
Colemanville Covered Bridge was originally built in 1856 by James C. Carpenter for $2,244 (or $66,733 in today’s money). At 170 feet, it is the second longest covered bridge in Lancaster County. The longest is Hunsecker’s Mill Covered Bridge at 180 feet, built in 1843 by John Russell.
The aptly named Carpenter, in fact, built six of Lancaster’s 29 covered bridges. His other five bridges include Leaman’s Place Covered Bridge (built in 1845), Kauffman’s Distillery Covered Bridge (built in 1857), Herr’s Mill Covered Bridge (originally built by John Russell but later rebuilt by Carpenter in 1875), Neff’s Mill Covered Bridge (rebuilt in 1875), and Siegrist’s Mill Covered Bridge (built in 1885, but destroyed in 2011).
The bridge has been partially rebuilt twice due to flood damage, first in 1938 and again in 1973. In 1992 it was completely rebuilt six feet higher and a few feet west to avoid future flood damage. The bridge is also known as the Martic Forge Covered Bridge and Pequea 12 Bridge.
Brief History of Covered Bridges
Modern-style timber truss bridges were pioneered in Switzerland in the mid-1700s. It wasn’t until 1805 that the country’s first covered bridge was built to span the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. Between 1820 and 1900, about 1,500 covered bridges were constructed in Pennsylvania. Since then, that number has decreased to just over 200 bridges. Interestingly enough, Lancaster County has more covered bridges than any other county in the state.
Lancaster County was once even home to the world’s longest covered bridge during the 1800s. The Columbia-Wrightsville bridge was 5,620 feet long with 27 piers as the mile-plus long bridge crossed the Susquehanna River. Union forces burned the bridge on June 28, 1863, to prevent the Confederates from crossing to the eastern side of the Susquehanna, which would have given them swift access to Harrisburg and eastern Pennsylvania. The bridge’s destruction forced the Confederate army to change direction, setting the stage for what would become the three-day battle of Gettysburg. The loss of the bridge also significantly damaged trade within the state by cutting a major transportation artery.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: But why build a bridge out of wood?
Answer: Cost. Covered bridges date back to a time in the country when almost everything was made of wood because of its abundance and low cost. However, just because getting the lumber was easy didn’t mean building the bridge was. It still required skill, effort, and time.
Question: Why cover a bridge?
Answer: Not because horses used them. Today, many people believe that bridges during the time before automobiles needed to be covered so a horse would use it. It was thought that the sight of rushing water or the height of the bridge in the air would startle the animal preventing it from going over the bridge. This belief was further cemented by the fact that many covered bridges are painted red with white trim much like a barn. The thinking being a horse would willing walking into a barn.
The real reason again goes back to cost. Uncovered wooden bridges have a 20-year lifespan, but if you covered a wooden bridge with a roof it could last upwards of 100 years.
Question: Why paint it red and like a barn?
Answer: Cost again. Red paint is cheap. Really cheap. The pigment that makes cheap red paint is red ochre, which is just iron and oxygen. But before paints became common and affordable, early farmers still needed a way to protect their barns.
To solve this problem, they mixed together three things they had plenty of skimmed milk, lime (see the Lime Kiln Adventure for more information), and iron oxide (i.e., rust). This mixture created a red, plastic-like coasting that protected the wood and helped warm the barn in the winter. As manufacturers began producing paint with chemical pigments, most farmers continued to buy red due to tradition and its low cost.
Therefore, covered bridges are typically painted red because it’s less expensive to do so as for the white trim that was to improve visibility, especially at the bridge’s opening.
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1875 map of Conestoga Township, Lancaster County, PA$27.99 – $29.99
1864 Map of Conestoga Township, Lancaster County, PA$24.99 – $25.99
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- The Conestoga Area Historical Society: Conestoga Township
- The National Geologic Map Database: McCalls Ferry, PA 1912
- Lancaster County, Pennsylvania 1911 Map
- Map of the Public Roads in Lancaster County 1905
- Covered Bridge
- List of covered bridges in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
- Dams located from historic atlases of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
- History of Conestoga Township
2 thoughts on “Covering a wooden bridge has nothing to do with the horses that use them. Learn why when you visit Lancaster’s second-longest.”
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