Saturday, March 6, 2010

Perche Creek Covered Bridge

Following are several newspaper articles detailing the "life" of the once famous Perche Creek covered bridge.  The bridge was located nearly directly under present Interstate 70 where it crosses Perche Creek west of Columbia.

Even before the covered bridge was built, we find this notice from the Missouri Intelligencer of June 8, 1833, p. 2/col. 5, announcing the intent to build the first bridge on the Columbia-Rocheport road across the Perche creek.

The undersigned Commissioners will, on Tuesday the 25th day of June, 1833, in the Town of Columbia, let to the lowest bidder, by public outcry, the BUILDING of a
across Perche Creek, at or near Burrough's Mill.  The plan of the building, and terms of payment, will be known on that day.  Bond and good security will be required of the undertakers.

The above reference bridge lasted until it was destroyed by a flood in 1849.  The loss of the bridge was a major blow to travel west from Columbia.  The disruption reached westward and was commented on in the Liberty [Missouri] Weekly Tribune of April 12, 1850, p. 2/col. 5:

Why don't the Boone county court build a bridge across Perche in that county.  We are informed by the mail agent that one fourth of the mail failures have been caused by this creek.


The Missouri Statesman answer to that question was published in the Liberty Weekly Tribune of May 2, 1850, p. 2/ col. 4:

BRIDGE OVER PERCHE. --- The Liberty Tribune asks why the Boone County Court don't build a bridge across Perche and thus prevent frequent failures of the mails westward.  In this part of the State neither Courts nor Kings can build bridges in the winter time, but if our friends above will be patient we will soon have a bridge across Perche that will be a bridge.  $3,000 have been appropriated for the purpose, and it is the design of the Court to span the creek with a first class bridge --- stone abutments, covered in, and all that. --- Missouri Statesman.


A broader history of the bridge was reported in the Columbia Missourian newspaper, March 14, 1925, p. 1 of the Missourian Magazine section.

COVERED bridges, once a common sight on Missouri roads, are rapidly becoming a thing of the past.  This is especially true since the state highway program has been inaugurated and construction of hard-surfaced roads is going on all over the state.

The covered bridge on the Rocheport gravel through which thousands of tourists have passed in the past few years is one of the few remaining in the state which will not be on the new highway when it is completed.

The bridge built in 1851 and '52, is the product of Boone County energy and resources for it is built of native oak which was sawed in a mill on Perche Creek where the Gillespie bridge now stands.  The dam of the old mill can still be seen under the bridge but only the marks of the drills show where the stone quarry, which furnished the mill with rock, still stands.  The iron posts which hold the large cross sections of the bridge together were forged in Columbia.

Miss Annie Burroughs and George Burroughs of 109 Hitt street are children of Travis Burroughs, the man who built the bridge.  They feel that the bridge is a monument to the honesty of their father, who was paid $2,500 by the county court to erect the structure.  Mr. Burroughs, in speaking of the erection of the bridge tells how his father suffered a mishap when the Perche creek, which the bridge spans, rose and swept away the platform used by the bridge constructors.  According to Mr. Burroughs, the only living person who was employed in the construction of the bridge is C.C. Boggs, who was the water boy and who is still a resident of Boone County.

The real purpose for covering the bridges was not to keep horses from getting scared, as many people believe, but to preserve the bridge from the weather, according to Mr. Burroughs.

Whereas bridges of today are constructed by calculations, that is, the builder figures out how much strain the bridge will have to bear, and then uses timber or steel whose strength has been tested by machinery designed for the purpose, the covered bridge was built by what is known in engineering language as "judgment."  The builder would put a piece in place and then, if he judged it not strong enough, would use a larger and stronger piece of wood.

An interesting legend centers around this covered bridge.  According to old-timers here, a farmer happened to catch another man making love to his wife under the bridge one day.  He became so angry that he decided to kill the man, so one night he climbed up on to the roof of the bridge.  When his supposed victim came riding through the bridge on his horse the farmer jumped down on him, stabbing the rider to death.  Upon investigation the farmer found that he had killed the wrong man in the dark.

A covered bridge on the road between Boonville and Bunceton figured in an amusing incident last summer when the road for ten miles was lined with cars returning from the Bunceton barbecue where the Democratic candidate, John W. Davis, had delivered a speech.  A light ran was falling, which made the long strong of automobilists anxious to get home, when for some reason or other the whole line of cars stopped.  Upon investigation it was found that one of the cars had stopped on the covered bridge to change a tire and escape the rain, thus holding up some thousand or more cars for fifteen or twenty minutes.


The old bridge was in a bad state of repairs at this point and was closed to vehicle traffic.  The Columbia Missourian of February 1, 1926, reported on a hopeful effort to preserve the bridge:

Historical Society Still Planning to Preserve Old Covered Bridge

The Boone County Historical Society has not given up its plan of having the old covered bridge on the highway west of Columbia preserved as an historic relic.

"We still hope to devise some plan whereby this interesting example of pioneer bridge work can be preserved," says Prof. Jesse E. Wrench, who has been particularly interested in the movement.

Site Selected 65 Years Ago.

Prof. Wrench has hunted up, in the Courthouse records, the report of the committee which selected the site and made the estimate on the bridge more than sixty-five years ago.  The report was filed with W. Woodson, county clerk, Nov. 16, 1849.  The following is a literal rendition of the report as filed:

"To the County Court of Boone County, we the undersigned commissioners appointed by the court to select a site, Draft a plan, and make an estimate, for a Bridge across Perche-creek, on the Road from Columbia to Fayette, Do report than in pursuance of said order, we have proceeded to view the premises, and have selected a point on said creek, where there is a small Hickory, or Black Oak Bush, on the East Bank, marked H.B. and a leaning Burr Oak Tree, on the West Bank, near the review of the State Road, To be built on the plan of the self suspended Bridge, The plan and specifications to be hereafter filed, and we have estimated the value, at Twenty-Five Hundred Dollars.  All of which is respectfully submitted. Given under our hand this 13th day of November 1849.
Estimated Cost $2,500.
The specifications for the bridge, filed with the county court two days later, stipulate an amazing amount and quality of lumber for an estimated cost of $2,500.

The stone work of the abutments was to be 22 feet long, 8 feet thick at the bottom and tapered so as to be 4 feet thick at the top.  The height to be 30 feet.   The foundation for these abutments was to be made of oak timbers "12 inches thick, 18 feet long running from the water's edge into the bank, and 24 feet long up and down the creek."

The string timbers were specified to be of white oak, 12 by 14 inches square and the floor planking of white oak, 2 by 10 inches.  The bridge was to be weatherboarded with "good black walnut plank, dressed, and shingled in with good white pine shingles."

The hand railing and studding for the roof and sides was "to be put up of good sound timber in a strong, substantial, workmanlike manner."


The reporter and editor of the last article in the Columbia Missourian seem to have been math-challenged.  The bridge was 75 years old at the time of this article, not 65 as reported twice.

Unfortunately, the plans by the Boone County Historical Society of the time did not materialize and the bridge was not saved for future generations.

The Jefferson City Daily Tribune, April 27, 1887, p. 4/col. 3, included an article attributed to the Rocheport Commercial newspaper that incorrectly said the covered bridge was built in 1854, and that it was "probably he oldest bridge in the state."  The article also claimed the bridge "is the most substantial bridge in the county, and from all appearances is good for thirty years yet."

According to a Missouri Historical Review article (Vol. 36, April 1942, p. 336), the bridge was built in 1850-1851.  The state improved the road and made it the first cross-state highway in 1912, later callilng it Highway 2.  In 1925, the route became US Route 40.  "Then the wooden structure, though which covered wagons once headed to California, saw sleek transcontinental buses crossing the Perche on a new bridge."

The Columbia Evening Missourian of August 5, 1921, p. 2/cols. 2-3, carried an article about the covered bridge titled "Hundreds of Auto Tourists Now Cross Old Civil War Landmark."  The article adds a few things to our knowledge of the bridge.  For example, it says that: "Before the Missouri, Kansas and Texas railroad was built a large hack with a white canvas top, driven from Rocheport to Columbia for twenty-five years by 'Uncle Billy' Ridgeway of Rocheport, crossed te bridge twice daily with passenges, produce, and the Columbia, Midway and Rocheport mail-bags."  It also tells us that the old bridge had been washed away in 1849.
An article by Dorothy  J. Caldwell in the Missouri Historical Review (Vol. 61, January 1967, pp. 229-236) added that the bridge was "closed to utilitarian traffic in the 1920s with the opening of U.S. Highway 40" and that it was razed in 1931.

 It is interesting to note that Mr. Burroughs' occupation in the 1850 and 1870 Boone County, Missouri, census was "farmer."  In the 1860 census, Mr. Burroughs was a "renter," presumably of a farm, and lived as a neighbor of Ishmael Van Horn in the vicinity of the covered bridge that he had built.  The editor wonders if Mr. Burroughs had ever built a bridge before he was contracted by the County to build this one.

The State Historical Society of Missouri has a number of photographs of the Perche Creek covered bridge in their photograph collection, all of which seem to be from late in the bridge's life.  They show that the bridge was situated very close to the high east bank of the creek but had a very long approach over the Perche creek bottoms at the west side.

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