Moods 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 21yearold college
students decided to set Moods
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. Moods 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 Years holidays, writing letters
of apology to the community and family members on New Years
Eve. The judge also ordered each man to pay $66,666 in restitution
(to help finance a replica of Moods 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 Moods 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 Interiors Standards for the Treatment of Historic
Properties and features recent covered bridge projects.
Although Moods Bridge has been lost, the FHAs new book
should help us preserve Americas remaining covered bridges.
At the National Park Services 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 helpsjust 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.
Ill be visiting my family in Perkasie soon, for the first
time since Moods Covered Bridge burned down. I have read
all six apology letters penned by the arsonists, but I still do
not understand how these college studentsor anyone elsecould
have committed this crime. I hesitate to drive over the asphalt
decking that marks the spot where Moods 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 todays
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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