Historic Structures

Barrackville Covered Bridge West Virginia

Date added: December 1, 2017 Categories: West Virginia Bridges

The Barrackville Covered Bridge across Buffalo Creek was built in 1853 as part of the Fairmont-Wheeling Turnpike, a branch of the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike authorized in 1823 by the Virginia Legislature and Board of Public Works. The route surveyed for the turnpike extended from Staunton to the mouth of the Little Kanawha River. The legislature hoped the access provided by such a road would encourage the commercial development of the already settled farming areas between the James River & Kanawha Turnpike in the south and the Northwestern Turnpike in the north. In 1848, the legislature authorized the construction of the Beverly-Fairmont Road, and in 1850, a northward extension from Fairmont to Wheeling. Under the direction of Col. Austin Merrill, this 71 1/2 mile turnpike was constructed between 1852 and 1854.

Engineer Luther Haymond undertook surveys of the proposed Fairmont & Wheeling Turnpike in 1850. Haymond's surveyor's field book, "Notes of the location for the Fairmont & Wheeling Turnpike Road, June 11, 1850, shows a sketch of the Burr arch truss covered bridge to be built at Buffalo Creek. The notation says 122' span, but Supt. Austin Merrill later increased this to 130'. Several secondary sources indicate that the bridge was not sided until 1872, nearly twenty years after its construction.

Construction of the road began at Fairmont in 1852. Contracts were let for individual sections and for bridges. The Barrackville Covered Bridge was let under two separate contracts in 1852, one for the superstructure and one for the abutments. The Board of Public Works received proposals from many local builders and farmers, including one from Lemuel and Eli Chenoweth of Beverly, Randolph County, West Virginia.

The contract for the superstructure was let to Lemuel and Eli Chenoweth, and the contract for the masonry was let to John and Robert McConnell.A few days later, on July 19, 1852 Supt. Austin Merrill wrote to the Board of Public Works: "The Buffalo Bridge on the lowest bids supposing there will be 500 perches of masonary [sic] will cost about $3626.00. Supposing the superstructure or wood work to be 142 feet. I have increased the span of the bridge 8 feet above that given by the engineer as it must necessarily be built lower than is desired to conform with the railroad. Therefore I thought it best to give ample space for the water as it is a rapid stream, and as it will also afford some advantages in the excavations for the Butments [sic], ...As it will require a considerable expenditure to construct this bridge, it is very important that we should have an experienced mechanic or bridge builder."

The Barrackville Covered Bridge was constructed during the summer and fall of 1853.

The Barrackville Covered Bridge was an important link in the overland route from Fairmont to the Ohio River at Wheeling and is one of only a few wooden covered bridges in Virginia and West Virginia to have survived the Civil War. Railroads and highways were so vital to the strategic movement of troops and supplies that both Union and Confederate armies attempted to disrupt transportation along the railroads and turnpikes by destroying each other's bridges. According to bridge historian Richard Sanders Allen, many Civil War battles were fought at, or near, the covered bridges along those established corridors.

According to local legend, William Bayles Ice (owner of the grist mill adjacent to the Barrackville Covered Bridge) and his wife Dolly are credited with saving the bridge during the Civil War, when Confederate Gen. William E. Jones arrived with his troops in Barrackville on April 29, 1863.

The Barrackville Covered Bridge carried traffic until 1983, when a temporary bridge was installed alongside it. The bridge underwent a major rehabilitation in 1998-99, at which time an Acrow panel bridge was installed inside it so rotting beams and posts could be removed, repaired with epoxy, and reinforced with fiberglass. The floor system was replaced and most non-original material, including the 1930s sidewalk, was removed to decrease the dead load on the bridge. The bridge was reassembled and covered with new clapboard siding (painted white), and re-roofed with a corrugated metal roof.