The covered bridge over the Tygart Valley River in Philippi was completed in 1852 by the noted bridge builder Lemuel Chenoweth. He was assisted by his brother, Eli, and stone mason Emmett J. O’Brien. The bridge is one of only six remaining two-lane covered bridges in the United States and the only such bridge carrying a federal highway, U.S. 250. It is a major West Virginia landmark.
Chenoweth chose the Stephen Long truss-arch configuration for his design of the Philippi bridge. Except for the loss of siding and roofing materials during the Civil War, the original design and shape of the bridge remained nearly intact until the late 1920s. Curves of the arched portals were squared at that time and knee braces changed to permit passage of large trucks. In a 1938 renovation the wooden deck was removed and replaced with a new concrete deck supported by steel girders and two new intermediate concrete piers.
Originally, the bridge was an important component of the Beverly and Fairmont road, a major connector to the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike. The turnpike was an important link between Western Virginia and Richmond and Norfolk. These transportation links became the focus of both sides during the Civil War. On June 2 and 3, 1861, there was a brief skirmish between Confederate forces under Col. George Porterfield and Union troops commanded by Col. Benjamin F. Kelley, considered to be the first land battle of the Civil War.
The bridge, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, was seriously damaged by fire in the winter of 1989. Immediately after the fire, the governor issued a statement promising restoration. Soon after the declaration a public meeting was held in Philippi during which the people voted to restore the bridge to its 1861 appearance.
Because the bridge continues to carry modern heavy loads it was necessary to retain the steel girders and concrete deck. The approaches were completely redesigned. In addition to structural analysis there was a field study including measured drawings and recording of original details and features. Archival information included record drawings published in 1934, construction documents from the 1938 reconstruction, and the original specifications discovered in the archives of the Virginia Department of Public Works. All information both technical and archival led to a scholarly restoration of the Philippi Covered Bridge, completed in September 1991.
Read the National Register of Historic Places nomination for the Philippi Covered Bridge.
This Article was written by Paul D. Marshall
Last Revised on January 23, 2013
Cohen, Stan. West Virginia's Covered Bridges. Charleston: Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, 1992.
Kemp, Emory L. West Virginia's Historic Bridges. Morgantown: West Virginia University, 1984.
Carnes, Margaret. Centennial History of the Philippi Covered Bridge. Philippi: Barbour County Historical Society, 1952.