The Museum in the Park at Chief Logan State Park has unveiled a Smithsonian traveling exhibition, Covered Bridges: Spanning the American Landscape. The exhibition will remain on display through Jan. 7, 2007.
The exhibition celebrates covered bridges and the individuals behind their development through photographs, architectural schematics and models. Covered bridges first appeared in Europe during the Middle Ages, and began to flourish in the United States in the 19th century, where they helped encourage the country’s economic development by way of a growing network of roads. The first covered bridge in the country appeared over the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia in 1805, and by the 1870s more than 10,000 were spread over the American landscape as part of the country’s westward expansion.
Individual inventiveness played an important role in the proliferation of covered bridges. Builders experimented and adapted each other’s designs in hopes of finding a means to build stronger bridges with the least amount of materials. In addition to being visually appealing, the resulting structures were engineering masterpieces–both factors in their survival today.
Covered bridges grew in popularity among the general public in the early 20th century and became desirable subjects for artists and advertisers. They appeared in advertisements for everything from tires to thermal underwear, feeding the country’s penchant for nostalgia. Advertisers often installed billboards on both the interior and exterior of the bridges.
Despite their appeal, between 1870 and 1970, 90 percent of the country’s covered bridges were destroyed by arsonists, natural causes and progress in transportation. Today only about 750 remain, concentrated mostly in Indiana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Vermont. Community leaders in these states have recognized their value as tourist attractions, and they have become symbols of community pride and history. Their popularity can be readily seen in the success of the book The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller, which stayed on the New York Times best-seller list for 150 weeks.
Covered Bridges was developed by the Historic American Engineering Record, a division of the National Park Service, and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES); it is funded in part by the Federal Highway Administration.
SITES has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C. for more than 50 years. It connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history, which are shown wherever people live, work and play. For more information, including exhibition descriptions and tour schedules, visit www.sites.si.edu.
Since its founding in 1969, the History American Engineering Record (HAER) has been a key component of the Cultural Resources Division of the National Park Service. Like its sister programs, the Historic American Buildings Survey and the Historic American Landscapes Survey, HAER produces detailed documentation of historically significant sites and structures for a national collection hosted by the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress. This documentation serves as a record of the nation’s built environment and as a valuable tool for the preservation and stewardship of some of the most important and most fragile cultural resources.
For more information, call the Museum in the Park at (304) 792-7229.
The Museum in the Park is a regional cultural center showcasing the best in West Virginia history and the arts. It features changing exhibits and displays of artwork and historical items from the collections of the West Virginia State Museum and State Archives. One area of the museum is dedicated to local and regional history. It is operated and maintained by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History and is located four miles north of Logan on West Virginia Route 10 at Chief Logan State Park. Museum hours are 5 - 9 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, 10 a.m. - 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and 1 - 9 p.m. Sunday.
The West Virginia Division of Culture and History, an agency of the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts, brings together the state’s past, present and future through programs and services in the areas of archives and history, the arts, historic preservation and museums. Visit the Division’s website at www.wvculture.org for more information about programs of the Division. The Division of Culture and History is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.
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MEDIA NOTE: Photographs and captions are available for download in the Covered Bridges folder at ftp://sitesguest:firstname.lastname@example.org.
West Virginia Division of Culture and History
The Cultural Center
1900 Kanawha Blvd., East
Charleston, WV 25305
Phone (304) 558-0220, ext. 120
Fax (304) 558-2779