HISTORIC COVERED BRIDGES OF MISSOURI
In the days before Amazon and Walmart, covered bridges and mills played an important role for rural communities across the Ozark's region.
Missouri's four surviving covered bridges serve as a reminder of simpler times, when journeys down life's road, or any road, were taken at a slower pace.
There was an estimated 30 covered bridges spanning Missouri's rivers and creeks from the 1820s to the end of the century, but there are only 4 remaining covered bridges in Missouri today.
Burfordville Covered Bridge in Cape Girardeau County is one of four of these bridges that survive today and this bridge is part of Bollinger Mill State Historic Site. The side-by-side historic structures transport visitors back in time.
The three other covered bridges include Sandy Creek Covered Bridge in Jefferson County, Locust Creek Covered Bridge in Linn County and Union Covered Bridge in Monroe County.
Only 4 remnants of the covered bridges remain, so I am photographing them with my historic dry plate camera from the 1880's and making handmade archival platinum and palladium prints so generations in the future can see these amazing pieces of American history before they are gone forever.
NOTE: This page is being actively updated as I visit each covered bridge location and make the handmade platinum prints. You can follow along with me by subscribing to my Free Darkroom Diary where I provide weekly updates on the current state of the project and my latest prints that I am working on.
ABOUT MY PROCESS
I use a historic 1889 Eastman Dry Plate Camera made by the founder of Kodak while he was in London before coming to New York to create the Kodak film and camera company that we know today.
This all original camera and lens uses hand poured glass plate negatives to make the exposures.
I later develop each plate in my darkroom so I can use them to make my archival platinum and palladium prints of the bridges.
My historic camera renders light in a way that is impossible to duplicate by modern digital cameras. When you hold one of my historic covered bridge platinum prints in your hands it is like you are transported back to the 19the century.
I start the process by hand cutting glass plates to the proper size for my camera and preparing them for accepting a light sensitive silver gelatin emulsion.
The preparation process includes sanding the edges of the glass plates, filing a notch on one side so I know which side of the plate holds the emulsion, and then I use a subbing process where I chemically clean each plate and apply a gelatin and hardening solution to help the forthcoming silver gelatin emulsion stick to the plate.
Then, in my darkroom laboratory, I create an 1880's light sensitive silver gelatin emulsion from raw materials and chemicals using the exact same formulas as the 19th century photographers. The glass prep and emulsion making spans over 2 to 3 days.
Once the emulsion is tested and ready to go, I then coat each plate by hand with the light sensitive silver gelation emulsion that I made in the lab. This emulsion is the same type that was used during the 1870's and 1880's. It is only sensitive to blue and UV light as compared to full sensitivity of modern black and white film.
Once the plates are fully cured and dried, I load them into my camera's plate holders before heading out to the field and photographing each covered bridge the same way they would have in the 19th century.
As you can see, it is a lot of work and effort in order to have the opportunity to spend time in the field and photograph the bridges. I enjoy the entire process and benefit from the slower and contemplative workflow.
After exposing each plate, I return to my darkroom and develop each plate individually under red safelight in darkroom chemicals used for developing film and plates.
After the plate dries over night, I can then use the glass plate negative to make an archival platinum and palladium fine art print that can last for thousands of years.
|BURFORDFILLE COVERED BRIDGE|
Burfordville Covered Bridge is the oldest remaining covered bridge in Missouri. Joseph Lansmon began its construction in 1858, but it is unclear if the bridge was completed before or after the Civil War.
The bridge was not mentioned in St. Louis newspaper accounts of the 1861 burning of Bollinger Mill, located next to the bridge. After the Civil War, the bridge became a vital link, especially to farmers driving wagonloads of grain destined for the mill.
The bridge exhibits Howe-truss construction, named for William Howe, who patented the design in 1840. The essential feature of the design was its use of vertical iron rods to draw the diagonal wooden members tight against the top and bottom of the truss. The Howe-truss span was built mainly of yellow poplar. Burfordville Covered Bridge, which spans the Whitewater River, is 140 feet long and has a clearance 14 feet high and 12 feet wide.
The road going through the bridge was part of the toll-road system between Burfordville, Jackson and Cape Girardeau. At that time, toll roads and bridges were commonly operated as private businesses. Tolls were charged until 1906 when local farmers, tired of waiting for the courts to abolish the tolls, broke down the gates and used the roads without paying.
|SANDY CREEK COVERED BRIDGE|
John H. Morse constructed Sandy Creek Covered Bridge in 1872 as part of a countywide building program in Jefferson County following the Civil War.
Morse made a proposal in May of that year to span Sandy Creek with a "wood covered bridge" 74 feet, 6 inches long and 18 feet, 10 inches wide, with an entrance height of 13 feet. It was one of six covered bridges built on the Hillsboro and Lemay Ferry gravel road connecting the county seat of Hillsboro and St. Louis.
Just like the Burfordville Covered Bridge, Morse built Sandy Creek Covered Bridge using the Howe-truss design, named for William Howe. Howe patented his design in 1840, which featured the use of vertical rods to draw wooden members tight against the top and bottom of the bridge. Three of the four remaining covered bridges in Missouri were built using the Howe-truss design, including Sandy Creek, Burfordville and Locust Creek covered bridges.
Sandy Creek Covered Bridge remained intact until the spring flood of 1886 destroyed it. In August of the same year, Henry Steffin rebuilt the bridge to the original specifications and approximate configurations, using some of the original timbers and abutments. The project cost the county $899.
|LOCUST CREEK COVERED BRIDGE|
Locust Creek Covered Bridge was built in 1868 by the construction firm Bishop and Eaton. Originally known as the Linn County Bridge, Locust Creek Covered Bridge is the longest of the four surviving covered bridges in the state at 151 feet.
The bridge was built out of white pine using the Howe-truss system, named for William Howe, who patented the design in 1840. The essential features of the design were its use of vertical iron rods to draw the diagonal wooden members tight against the top and bottom of the bridge. The bridge features arched entrances with ramps sloping away from both ends.
Running parallel to the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad, the bridge was situated on the main east-west road in northern Missouri. Located midway between Laclede and Meadville, it served a local population that included the young John Joseph Pershing, who became the nation's highest-ranking military commander. As a boy, Pershing swam and fished in the creek near the bridge.
The bridge once served as a link over Locust Creek on America's first transcontinental road. Shortly before World War I, Route 8 was laid out as the first transcontinental road, crossing over Locust Creek Covered Bridge. Just as horse-drawn wagons and buggies were gradually replaced with cars, in 1930, U.S. Highway 36 replaced Route 8. Locust Creek Covered Bridge no longer would house a transcontinental road.
Today, the road across Locust Creek Covered Bridge is not the only thing you'll find missing. Most of Locust Creek's channel was straightened following World War II, leaving the bridge spanning a dry creek bed. Over the years, floodwaters deposited topsoil, filling the empty creek bed, and causing Locust Creek Covered Bridge to rest on the ground.
|UNION COVERED BRIDGE|
Between 1849 and 1870, two uncovered bridges across the Elk Fork of the Salt River on the Paris-to-Fayette road failed. In 1870, four months after condemning the second bridge, the Monroe County court ordered a covered bridge to be built on this location, allocating $5,000 for it and a similar structure across the North Fork of the Salt River.
Joseph C. Elliot built the bridge, which is the only covered bridge left in Missouri representing the Burr-arch truss system, in 1871. The Burr-arch design, which Elliot doubled, was named for its creator, Theodore Burr. Burr had built so many bridges using that design that he is called by many the father of American bridge building. The other remaining covered bridges in Missouri used the Howe-truss design. There were many different truss designs, but only these two types have survived in Missouri.
The timbers in Union Covered Bridge are fashioned from local oak and fastened together largely with treenails or trunnels, with a few bolts and nails added for strength. Hand-riven clapboard siding and wooden shingles enclosed the bridge. It was completed approximately a year-and-a-half after the project began. The bridge is 120 feet long, 17 1/2 feet wide and has an entrance 12 feet high - high enough to admit a wagonload of hay.
|WHY PLATINUM & PALLADIUM PRINTS?|
Although difficult and costly to create, platinum prints are the sine qua non of photographic art. Discerning art buyers and collectors value platinum prints because of their ethereal beauty, permanence, and rarity.
Once a platinum print is experienced in person, it is usually a visual revelation because of its tremendous tonal range and delicate characteristics.
The platinum print dates back to the mid 19th century when chemists and photographers were exploring ways to make more permanent photographs. It all started in 1842 when Sir John Hershel discovered an iron-based printing process. Fast forward about thirty years and William Willis Jr. patented the platinum printing process that builds upon the light-sensitive research of Hershel.
Platinum is a noble metal and is one of the most stable known to science. It is more precious than gold and because of its stability, a handmade platinum print that is made to archival standards can last for thousands of years as compared to 100 or 200 years for regular photographs. Palladium is less stable than platinum, but it certainly is considered to be an archival print by collectors and curators. Art buyers and collectors are well served by the archival properties of these noble metals.
In the 21st century, the vast majority of life and photography have been digitized. There are only a small number of dedicated platinum printmakers actively creating artist original work with platinum and I am one of them. Since platinum prints are made entirely by hand, each one is unique and this is important when considering original artwork.
In the right hands, platinum prints are unparalleled in their beauty and many people describe them as having a three-dimensional appearance. When a platinum print is made, the light-sensitive iron particles chemically react with the platinum to form fine elemental platinum particles into and on the top fibers of the paper. Because the resulting platinum is both woven into the fibers and sits on top of the paper, platinum prints have a depth about them unlike any other type of fine art photograph.