Evidence of Change
Covered bridges are nostalgic reminders of days gone by. Locust Creek Covered Bridge not only reminds us of how "life's highway" has changed, but also how traveled highways and creek channels can change.
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.
In 1967, nearly 100 years after its completion, the Missouri Legislature passed a bill authorizing the Missouri State Park Board to take possession of, repair and preserve the then-five remaining covered bridges in the state, including Locust Creek. Two years later, after restoration, it was placed in the National Register of Historic Places. In 1991, the bridge was raised six feet to give it once again the appearance of a bridge and to protect the floor from wet ground below. Adjacent to the bridge is a kiosk sheltering panels that interpret the history of the bridge.
Today, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources preserves and protects the four remaining covered bridges in the state. Burfordville Covered Bridge is part of Bollinger Mill State Historic Site in southeast Missouri. Sandy Creek Covered Bridge and Union Covered Bridge state historic sites are located in Jefferson and Monroe counties respectively. A flood destroyed the fifth bridge, Mexico Covered Bridge, shortly after the state took possession.
Originally built to provide strength and shelter to the bridge structure, covered bridges also provided shelter from wind, snow and rain for riders in uncovered buggies and carriages. Missouri's surviving covered bridges are precious examples of fine craftsmanship using simple but effective engineering techniques.
While in the vicinity of Locust Creek Covered Bridge State Historic Site, visit Gen. John J. Pershing Boyhood Home State Historic Site and Pershing State Park to capture more of the area's cultural and natural history.