Between the mid-1800s and early 1900s, covered bridges began to appear over Maine’s mighty rivers, allowing travelers in horse drawn carriages to forge rivers without getting swept downstream, with roofs to protect both the bridges and their passengers from the elements. At one time there were 120 covered bridges in the state of Maine, but fire, flood, ice, redevelopment and the great freshet of 1896 have removed all but eight. Two other covered bridges, Babb's Bridge and Lowe's Bridge were lost to fire and flood in the last few decades but were reconstructed because of their historical importance. On March 26, 1983 the Morse Bridge in Bangor was destroyed by fire; there are no plans to rebuild it. The remaining covered bridges—Artist's Bridge, Bennett Bridge near Rangeley Lakes, Hemlock Bridge, Lovejoy Bridge in South Andover, Porter Bridge, and Robeyvlle Bridge—are scattered throughout the state, serving as beautifully historic Maine attractions.
The roof and siding of a covered bridge—designed to protect it from the elements—give this structure its familiar outline. Some are thought to be more picturesque than others—Artist’s Covered Bridge over the Sunday River in Newry has always been a favorite. Some have said that artists have daubed more paint on their canvases depicting the structure than was ever slapped on its venerable sides. Other bridges look a little like barns unexpectedly left stranded across a stream.
The bridges were covered for one reason—to keep the rain and snow from the massive working timbers. The alternate wetting and drying out of uncovered wooden structures would have resulted in rot and failure decades sooner.
Many people think of covered bridges as quaint relics of the past. Others become expert in describing the manner in which they were built. But, in either case, they represent the inventiveness and know-how of our forefathers, and it seems fitting that they should be saluted for their engineering as well as their charm. In several cases, modern steel and concrete structures have been built nearby to serve the traffic formerly carried by these bridges. These "retired" covered bridges serve as reminders of the skill of Maine's early bridge builders, including Palmer, Paddleford, Burr, Town, Long and Howe.
More information about Maine's covered bridges is available at the Maine Department of Transportation.