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Past Consultants Historic Preservation and Cultural Resource Management


Issue #1:
Mood’s Covered Bridge (1874-2004)
Perkasie, Bucks County, Pennsylvania
by Paige J. Swartley

On June 22, 2004, part of my personal history went up in smoke. Early that morning, six 20– and 21–year–old college students decided to set Mood’s Covered Bridge ablaze. The fire department could not save it and it burned down to the decking. Until then, this much-loved community treasure had managed to survive for 130 years in Perkasie, Pennsylvania.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, the bridge was an integral part of my youth. I crossed it on my way to school. It marked the route to the grocery store, library, and my part-time high school job. Generations of my family used the span, dating back to its construction in 1874. Mood’s Bridge was just one of the many local historic structures that led me to become a professional historic preservationist. The tragic fire caused an outpouring of grief from the community, with many urging the state to build a replica (plus a number of letters urging the state to build a “modern” two-lane bridge).

After the men confessed and pleaded guilty to arson and conspiracy, the judge imposed a creative sentence. Each man served 18 days in jail over the December and New Year’s holidays, writing letters of apology to the community and family members on New Year’s Eve. The judge also ordered each man to pay $66,666 in restitution (to help finance a replica of Mood’s Bridge on the original site), perform 1,000 hours of community service and serve five years of probation. Fittingly, the community service will likely include working for the Perkasie Fire Company and helping the Perkasie Historical Society repaint a second covered bridge in town.

One month after the fire department extinguished the embers of Mood’s Bridge, the Federal Highway Administration hosted a seminar to coincide with the release of its new Covered Bridge Manual. The federal Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (1998) established the National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation Program, which focuses on preserving bridges listed on or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, and also funded the Covered Bridge Manual. The Manual guides preservationists, contractors, and engineers on how to comply with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties and features recent covered bridge projects. Although Mood’s Bridge has been lost, the FHA’s new book should help us preserve America’s remaining covered bridges.
At the National Park Service’s inaugural National Covered Bridge Conference, held in Burlington, Vermont in 2003, PAST Principal Seth Bergstein co-presented a talk on the Rehabilitation of the Wawona Covered Bridge: A Balance of Engineering Requirements and Historic Preservation Ethics. Although that wonderful covered bridge in Yosemite National Park has managed to survive, many covered bridges have passed into the pages of history. Of more than 1,500 covered bridges built in Pennsylvania in the 1800s, only 211 survive. Arson claims more covered bridges than any other cause.

If six well-educated young men thought nothing of burning down an 1874 covered bridge, how do we instill in our children a respect for historic places? Making history interesting and relevant to their lives helps—just as the National Park Service has done with its program called Teaching With Historic Places. Using properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the program offers more than 115 lesson plans and other assistance to make American history come alive for both students and teachers. Lesson plans range from The Trail of Tears: The Forced Relocation of the Cherokee Nation to Locke and Walnut Grove: Havens for Early Asian Immigrants in California. These resources are useful for adults, too, and I encourage you to take a look at them.

I’ll be visiting my family in Perkasie soon, for the first time since Mood’s Covered Bridge burned down. I have read all six apology letters penned by the arsonists, but I still do not understand how these college students—or anyone else—could have committed this crime. I hesitate to drive over the asphalt decking that marks the spot where Mood’s Bridge once crossed Perkiomen Creek. Although I suppose I prefer the planned replica over the dull, steel span favored by some local residents, it will never be the same. I remember the deep rumbling that vibrated through the car when we drove slowly across the old span. In today’s frenetic world, large segments of our society seem insensitive to the value of historic resources. Nevertheless, I remain confident that educating the public about the importance of such resources is the key to their survival.

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