Old Covered Bridge over the Tygart River
Philippi, Barbour County, West Virginia

Covered Bridge, Philippi WV

submitted by Noel E. Chenoweth.

The following information about the covered bridge and its architect Lemuel Chenoweth comes from Hu Maxwell's History of Barbour County published in 1899:
The Valley River at Philippi is crossed by a double bridge of two spans, each span supported by four wooden arches, rising from either bank and resting on a span in the middle of the river. The structure is 312 feet long, and is of wood throughout.

A number of these old wooden structures were destroyed during the Civil War; and the two longest yet remaining, that above Rowlesburg and that at Philippi, narrowly escaped burning at the time of the Jones raid in 1863. Orders were issued for burning both of them by General Jones, but he retreated from the Cheat Bridge in such a hurry that he could not set it on fire; and the Philippi bridge was spared through the intercession of citizens with Southern sympathies, chief among whom was Elder Joshua S. Corder.

The Philippi bridge was built in 1852, the stone work by Emmett J. O'Brien, and the wood work by Lemuel Chenoweth of Beverly. Mr. O'Brien was then a citizen of Barbour, but afterwards of Lewis County. Mr. Chenoweth was a bridge architect by profession, and his designs were original with him, and every principle was worked out with mathematical accuracy. He knew beforehand the shape and size of every piece of timber used in the frame work of his bridges. Nearly half a century has shown that his work was of a superior order. He was born in 1811, son of John I. and Mary (Skidmore) Chenoweth, of Beverly. He took an active part in politics, and was a man in many ways superior to ordinary men, both in education and natural endowments.

The contract were let at Richmond for the bridges which Virginia was then building in the western part of the State, and had been extensively advertised. Bidders were present in large numbers from the East and the North, with all sorts of models and plans, including iron structures, wire cables, cantilevers, stone arches, and wooden bridges of many kinds. Mr. Chenoweth was there with his model made of hickory wood, as strong as it could possibly be made, not to exceed the required size. So far as appearances went, some of the New England Yankees had models of perfect form and beauty, painted and enameled in the highest art. On the appointed day the bidders all assembled before the Board of Public Works, and each showed his model, and set forth his claims of what weight his bridge would sustain. Mr. Chenoweth was one of the last called forward to show what he had. His plain wooden model did not attract much attention; but he created consternation among the other bidders when he placed his model on two chairs, one end resting on each, and then stood on his little bridge, and called on the other architects to put theirs to the test by doing the same. Not one would do it, for they knew their models would be crushed. If the Philippi bridge were as strong in proportion to its size as Mr. Chenoweth's model, it would sustain the weight of a man six hundred feet high. The test decided the contest, and Mr. Chenoweth was given the contract for the bridges. He built one at Beverly, at Middle Fork, at Buckhannon, at Weston, at Philippi; and many smaller ones. The one at Philippi, and a small one across Stone Coal Creek near Weston are believed to be the only ones built by him before the war that are still standing.

The covered bridge on the Middle Fork River can be seen in the photograph of the Sandridge Farm at Audra. The Sandridge Farm was owned at one time by the O'Brien family.
Margaret Lew

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