Recently, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission collaborated with the Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village to preserve one of the oldest covered bridges in Washington County.One of the most important goals of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s Keystone Historic Preservation Grant program is to provide critical funding to support our museum community with necessary capital projects. Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village recently completed a project supported by a Keystone Grant; with the help of this grant program, an important interpretive element within the Village was retained.
Nestled in the rolling hills near Avella in Jefferson Township, the Pine Bank Bridge was built in 1871 with a unique kingpost truss design. The bridge is imperative not only for educational interpretation but is important to the circulation through the site for visitors.
Originally constructed over Tom’s Run in Gilmore Township, Greene County, the bridge was moved to the interpretive site in 1962 as part of the newly developing Meadowcroft Historic Village. Guests experience recreations of a 16th century Eastern Woodland Indian Village and two 18th century structures as well as a collection of original 19th century Upper Ohio Valley Village buildings including a one-room school house.
The bridge serves as the only pedestrian access to the 19th century interpretive area for visitors. Likewise, since the bridge was not reinforced and adapted for modern vehicles use, it retains integrity as an intact resource. The bridge was listed in the National Register of Historic Places as part of a multiple property nomination for covered bridges extant in Washington and Greene Counties in 1979.
After 50 years of use at its new site, the Pine Bank Covered Bridge began to show signs of deterioration and structural deflection in its lower timbers. Pittsburgh-area architects Pfaffman + Associates completed a Conservation Assessment in 2012 and recommended that a heavy timber frame expert further assess the existing deficiencies and develop a plan to address them.
Fitzgerald Heavy Timber Construction, Inc. of Thurmont Maryland was engaged for a comprehensive preservation project on the 146-year-old Pine Bank Covered Bridge. All existing structural deficiencies were corrected including repair of structural members at areas of extensive rot.
The most important component of the project was to correct the severe decay at all four lower corners of the wooden trusses by carefully splicing new material to return the truss system to proper, load-bearing function. This repair allowed the later inappropriate, non-historic diagonal bracing underneath the span to be removed.
To improve storm water drainage along the pedestrian pathway, the bridge elevation was raised to allow the approaching grade to slope away from the structure and the 1960s abutment design was modified to prevent soil from contacting the structure and provide an air gap for necessary ventilation around the wooden members.
And finally, the bridge was returned to its 1871 appearance by replacing the historically inappropriate asphalt shingle roof with a period standing-seam metal roof; extending the vestibules or wall extensions on either end to match the original appearance as evidenced in historic photographs of the bridge at its original location and leaving the oak board and batten siding unpainted.
The Pine Bank Covered Bridge was completed in time for the 2017 season at the Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village. At a special ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 3rd, the historic site was already bustling with area school children enjoying their educational field trip to the site.
This important historic site that includes the National Historic Landmark Meadowcroft Rockshelter site is visited by over 18,000 people every year, including 10,000 area school children. The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (Photo 8 – Pine Bank Bridge) pleased to support this carefully planned and executed project through the Keystone Historic Preservation Grant program.
Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village and the Commonwealth’s investment ensures that guests can learn about the significance of covered bridges in the context of Pennsylvania’s history. Meadowcroft is a part of Washington County’s vital tourism industry that generates $760 million annually in direct spending. With the appropriate restoration of the Pine Bank Covered Bridge, this economic impact is continued with the safe, public access to the museum’s 19th century village.
If you go: Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village is open during the summer months Noon until 5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and 1 – 5 p.m. on Sunday as well as weekends in May, September and October. For more information, visit www.heinzhistorycenter.org/meadowcroft.