The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Bridge to the past

One evening this past week, for some reason, the topic of covered bridges came up among a small group of monks during our after-dinner recreation period. Someone mentioned that there is a historic covered bridge not too far from St. Meinrad. I recalled having seen a highway marker along Indiana 545 south of St. Meinrad between New Boston and Fulda (on the way to Troy along the Ohio River) announcing "Historic Covered Bridge," but I had never ventured off the highway to take a look (I don't get out a lot, you know).

As it happens, the following evening I was headed to Tell City (just beyond Troy along the river) for an oblate conference, so I decided to leave a little early and get a look, finally making the turn east off of Indiana 545 onto Huffman Mill Road, which I followed several miles until coming to the bridge over the Anderson River. As you can see from the photos I took, it is a beautiful rural area, with much of the fall color just on the verge of fully appearing (still a bit green, though).

Later, I did a little online sleuthing, and discovered this nifty little article (click here for PDF file) from the Indiana Historical Bureau about the history of covered bridges in Indiana. According to the article (originally published in 1998), there are 93 covered bridges in Indiana (down from 202 in 1930). The Huffman Mill bridge, which was built in 1864 (during the Civil War!) is the only remaining covered bridge in this area of the state (the 150-foot-long bridge connects Spencer and Perry counties). It is listed on the National Register of Historical Places.

One interesting historical footnote (gleaned elsewhere, though I forget exactly where): the Huffman Mill at one time was located near where the bridge was later constructed, and it was to this mill that young Abraham Lincoln and his father Thomas would bring grain from their farm to be ground. Lincoln grew up in this area (near what is now Santa Claus, Indiana), from the age of 7 until he turned 21 and left for Illinois to begin his law and political careers. (By the way, there is a national park on the site of the former Lincoln homestead, which is not all that far from St. Meinrad. You can visit the park's website here. A Lincoln fan since I was a young boy, I have visited the park several times since coming to St. Meinrad).

The bridge--constructed of yellow poplar according to the Burr-Arch Truss design--is no longer open to traffic. It was replaced by a more modern bridge in 2004 (they are located side by side, as you can see in one the photo below). Incidentally, during our conversation the other evening, the question was asked why such bridges were built with coverings (the article cited above states that perhaps 10,000 covered bridges were built throughout the United States between 1805 and 1885). One monk opined that it was to provide shelter from the elements for passing travelers and their horses. However, according to the Indiana Historical Bureau article, the primary reason for the coverings were to protect the floorboard timbers from rot due to the elements (that certainly makes sense). The article also mentions that such bridges were "often the largest covered area in a community and were sometimes used for revival meetings, weddings, and political rallies.

These days, of course, with our modern transportation and highways, we travel much more frequently and for much longer distances than those who lived during the 19th Century in small communities like Huffman Mill. And we usually do so at top speed, often bypassing little roadside gems like this one, which provide a glimpse of our heritage. I'm glad I stepped off the beaten path for a little while.

The old and the new (just to the right).

Some of the roof support beam handiwork.

The Anderson River, seen through a small opening in the side of the bridge.

The surrounding scenery.


  1. I grew up in Huffman's Mill and well remember frequent visits in the 1950's and 60's from several of the brothers from St. Meinrad abbey, including Father Bertram and Brother Benno (sp?). They would walk to our house (about 6 miles from St. Meinrad), often staying to share a meal with us or enjoying a cold glass of spring water before returning back to the abbey. We obtained many of our garden plants in the spring from the abbey, and my grandfather (John Huffman) used to take produce and eggs from our farm to the abbey. Huffman's Mill and the covered bridge played a small but significant role in the history of the abbey. So your side trip to visit the bridge helps to complete this circle of life! Nancy (Huffman) Breininger

  2. Thank you, Nancy.

    I'm glad I stopped by!

    Br. Francis