By Mandi Kindhart-White
The Union Covered Bridge celebrated its 150-year anniversary on Monday, Sept. 6. Residents from all over the State gathered during the afternoon to observe the real-life artifact and historical landmark in Monroe County.
Missouri State Parks served refreshments, which included cupcakes and water for those in attendance, which saw approximately 126 guests.
Park Superintendent Rachel Hoemann, of Mark Twain State Park and Birthplace Historic Site, said, “Lots of folks yesterday were sharing their stories and it was great to hear them.”
There were educational boards available for guests to learn about the Union Covered Bridge’s history. Families were seen walking throughout the site, gazing at the skill and design of the arched wood on the bridge and splashing in the water below.
Covered bridges are a reminder of days gone by, representing slower-paced times and an era of fine craftsmanship. The Union Covered Bridge, one of only four standing covered bridges in Missouri, is an example of these nostalgic structures.
In 1870, the Monroe County court ordered a covered bridge to be built across the Elk Fork of the Salt River on the Paris-to-Fayette road, replacing a failed open bridge there. The county had allocated $5,000 to build it, as well as another bridge in the county.
There are several reasons why communities began opting for covering their bridges. It kept the water out of the joints, where it might freeze during winter or cause rotting during the summer. Covering the bridge also strengthened the structure by making it more solid. The barnlike appearance of a covered bridge made it easier for farm animals to cross the river without becoming nervous. One unexpected result of covering bridges was that it provided a place for early entrepreneurs to advertise their products with signs painted or glued to the sides of the bridge, often done without permission.
Contractor Joseph C. Elliot completed the bridge in 1871, using the Burr-arch design. The Union Covered Bridge, named after the nearby Union Church, is the only surviving example of this type of arch design in Missouri. The bridge is built of local oak wood, is 120 feet long and 17.5 feet wide and its entrance is 12 feet high. It was built high enough for a wagonload of hay to pass.
Nearly 100 years after it was completed in 1970, the bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. This is also the year vehicle traffic was banned from crossing the bridge, but it was still left open for pedestrians.
Preservation, damage control and restoration on the bridge are ongoing. In 2018, the bridge underwent a substantial restoration project costing $913,000. The project included a number of repairs, including a security system to deter vandalism and graffiti.