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Bridge builder Lemuel Chenoweth (June 25, 1811-August 26, 1887) was born near Beverly, Randolph County. On June 23, 1836, he married Nancy Ann Hart, the great-granddaughter of John Hart, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Chenoweth built churches, houses, sideboards, poster beds, buggies, wagons, a model of a reverse-cutting sawmill, and even dominoes. The Huttonsville Presbyterian Church built by him celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1983. Chenoweth obtained his greatest recognition for building covered bridges in Western Virginia. When bids were being received in the 1840s for the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike bridges, Chenoweth constructed a model of a covered bridge. Legend has it that the backcountry carpenter arrived at the state capital in Richmond with his bridge model packed in his saddlebags. His plain design attracted little attention until he placed his model between two chairs, stood on it, and challenged the other bidders to put their models to the same test. The story has been disputed, but the contract was awarded to Chenoweth to build all the main river crossings for the center section of the new turnpike.

In 1850, after Chenoweth had completed many bridges on the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike, bids were taken for bridges on the Beverly-Fairmont Turnpike which had been authorized in 1848. One of two bridges was to cross the Tygart Valley River at Philippi and the other to cross the West Fork River at Hunsaker’s Ferry near Fairmont. He received the contracts for these bridges.

His many bridges also included the earliest covered bridge at Beverly (1846– 47), the famous Philippi covered bridge (1852), and the Barrackville covered bridge on the Fairmont-Wheeling Turnpike (1853). His Beverly bridge was badly damaged by burning by Confederate General Rosser’s forces on January 11, 1865, and rebuilt by Chenoweth in 1872–73. Chenoweth’s major bridges all employed the Burr arch-truss structural design. This framing system, developed by Theodore Burr, improved bridge strength dramatically. Simple truss framing used triangular bracing to stiffen the structure. Burr’s design integrated an arch into the truss framework, increasing strength and rigidity for longer spans.

Chenoweth died at his home in Beverly and is buried in the Beverly cemetery.

This Article was written by Donald L. Rice

Last Revised on October 31, 2023

Related Articles


Rice, Donald L. Randolph 200. Elkins: Randolph County Historical Society, 1987.

Downey, Virginia Y. "Lemuel Chenoweth - Bridge Builder," in Eva Margaret Carnes, ed., Centennial History of the Philippi Covered Bridge, 1852-1952. Philippi: Barbour County Historical Society, 1952.

Jackson, Debby Sonis. Lemuel Chenoweth. Goldenseal, (Summer 1988).

Maxwell, Claude W. Lemuel Chenoweth. Magazine of History and Biography, (Dec. 1954).

Cite This Article

Rice, Donald L. "Lemuel Chenoweth." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 31 October 2023. Web. 23 April 2024.


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