History Lost at White’s Covered Bridge
July 12, 2013
Today’s photographer, Michael Koole wrote to let me know that last Sunday (July 7, 2013) the oldest continuously operating covered bridge in Michigan burned and collapsed into the Flat River. Arson is suspected, and you can also see mLive’s coverage and history of the bridge. Michael noted that it was one of less than a dozen in Michigan (see also this page) and the oldest covered bridge still in use in Michigan.
The West Michigan Tourism Association says White’s Covered Bridge:
…was the third bridge built across Flat River at or near the same site, originally called White’s Crossing in honor of a prominent pioneer family. The first was a primitive log-corduroy bridge built in 1840. A second bridge, built around 1856 for a mere $250, was demolished by an ice jam in the spring of 1869. Residents of nearby Smyrna decided they must erect a more substantial structure, despite having no means of immediate payment. The current White’s Covered Bridge was built in 1869.
Jared N. Bresee, who built the covered bridge at Fallasburg, along with Joseph H. Walker, were contracted to build the 120- foot long bridge for a deferred payment of $1000 due in 1870, plus $700 due in 1871. They planked the floor with second-hand lumber in an effort to finish the job quickly. When the townspeople discovered auger holes in the planks, they deducted $25 from the first payment. The bridge was built in just 84 days with only man, ox and horse power.
White’s Bridge is a frame structure with a gable roof. Its construction is of the through-truss type, and the trusses are completely sheeted over with rough pine boards. The floor is 14 feet wide and 116.5 feet long. All of the truss members and dimension lumber are hand hewn and secured with wooden pegs. The sheeting and roof boards are fastened to the rafters with hand cut nails. The abutments are made of local fieldstone. After repair of the abutments in the fall of 1955, White’s Bridge was reopened to automobile traffic.
Except for occasional siding replacement and a new cedar shingle roof, White’s Bridge is much the same today as it was a century ago. It is built with the Brown truss, a type of construction which enjoyed a brief popularity, only in Michigan.
Invented and patented in 1857 by Josiah Brown of Buffalo, New York, the Brown truss resembles the Howe arrangement of “X” bracing and counter bracing, but uses lighter and less timber. It contains no upright members and no iron except for bolt connectors at the timber intersections. Bresee and Walker used the Brown truss successfully in at least four covered bridges in Michigan, three of which are still in existence.
White’s Covered Bridge was listed with the Michigan State Register on February 17, 1965 and awarded a Michigan Historical Marker on July 2, 1965.
Michigan in Pictures has profiled a few of Michigan’s remaining covered bridges – they are filed (predictably) under bridge.