Humpback Bridge near Covington, Va
My first glimpse of the oldest covered bridge in Virginia did not disappoint. Framed by fall foliage, the bridge looks like something you’d see on a postcard. If you want that to be your lasting impression of this historic site, then I suggest you view it from a distance, because if you get too close you’ll be stunned at what you see on the inside of the covered bridge.
It’s always been a bucket list item of mine to see a covered bridge in person. It may sound strange and I can’t explain why, but it’s always been something I wanted to do.
I had heard there is a covered bridge in Allegheny County (just west of Covington, Virginia) about an hour and 15 minutes north of Roanoke. After a quick google search, I learned the bridge is called Humpback Bridge. It is Virginia’s oldest covered bridge, built in 1857.
According to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), it is the fourth bridge in the same spot. The three prior bridges, built in 1820 – then 1837 – and 1842, either washed away by a flood or just collapsed.
They must have done something right when building the bridge that still stands to this day more than 160 years after it was built.
“The 100-foot-long, single-span structure is four feet higher at its center than it is at either end, thus the name, “Humpback”. Traffic across the bridge ceased in 1929 when it was replaced with a “modern” steel truss bridge.” -VDOT
In the 1950’s, the bridge got some love and was fixed up and reopened as a place for tourists and locals to visit. Only 4 years ago, in 2013, VDOT put some money into the bridge to restore it using funds from the National Historic Covered Bridge Program.
One of the highlights of the bridge is the giant letters spelling out “LOVE”. Sure you see the LOVEwork structures across Virginia as a social media campaign by the Virginia Tourism Cooperation (VTC) to “share the message that love is at the heart of every Virginia vacation”, but this one is something special and incredibly unique.
According to the VTC, each of the materials chosen for the sign has special significance to the area.
“The “L” was created with historic bricks from the area. The “O” is a gear from one of the old paper machines at MWV, representing the history of manufacturing in the area. The “V” is the natural feature created by a tree in the creek bank. The “E” was created with railroad ties representing the history of the railroad in our community.” -VTC
Naturally, after taking a lot of pictures of the LOVE sign and bridge from afar, I wanted to go take a walk through the bridge. Before my eyes even had a chance to adjust from the light of the Autumn day to the darkness cast by the covered bridge, my impression of the beautiful historic bridge completely changed. It’s like walking out of a dream come true into a nightmare.
Why? Nearly every inch of the inside of the bridge is covered in graffiti and all kinds of it too. There are names etched into the wood, neon spray paint on the walls, sharpie and pen marks everywhere you look. The handwriting scrawled on the bridge isn’t just names, there are also very vulgar and crass words from ceiling to floor. Even the wooden fence leading to the bridge on the other side was not safe from the vandalism. The inside of the bridge is so marked up, I didn’t feel safe anymore visiting this landmark. Instead of feeling like I was looking at a treasured piece of history, I more-so felt like I was standing in a long forgotten abandoned building.
The bridge is listed on Virginia’s Tourism site as family friendly but it sure as heck didn’t feel like a place I would recommend to families, the way it looks it seems more like a place where drug deals happen.
The bridge is also described as “lovingly preserved” but there is nothing “lovingly preserved” about the inside of that bridge.
It really is a shame that officials have allowed this to happen. Apparently, this issue is not a new one, in 2014, the Roanoke Times wrote an article about the vandalism. In the article, local officials were tossing around ideas to deter the vandals. One idea was to set up a webcam that streams live just like at Roanoke’s Mill Mountain Star. But three years later, it is apparent nothing has been done.
I can’t believe there isn’t more outrage about the condition of the inside of the bridge. The lack of action to protect the bridge makes me believe that preserving the historic structure is not a priority for local and state leaders, which is incredibly disappointing.
All in all, if you want to visit this bridge view it from the parking lot, take pictures with the LOVE sign, and don’t go anywhere near the nasty porta-potty (like the bridge, it’s also severely neglected and not maintained).
Check out a slideshow from my visit: