Virginia’s covered bridges have a reputation as romantic places, where couples parked their buggies or Model-Ts for a kiss or two. Maybe the bridge prompted their amorous feeling with its seclusion, out of view from the rest of the world. Covered bridges could also be spooky places,where bandits waited or, as in the recent movie, Lawless,revenues blocking moonshiners’ delivery routes.
These days, covered bridges are picturesque bit of local history and make great excuses for a scenic drive. At the start of the last century, there were more than 100 covered bridges spanning Virginia streams. Now only eight survive, and five of them are located in the Blue Ridge Highlands.
Tiny Newport, in Giles County, is the covered bridge capital of Virginia, with three historic bridges nearby. Located near the foot of Salt Pond Mountain, the home of Mountain Lake Hotel, the bridges can all be visited in within a 5-mile drive or bicycle tour. Pembroke and the New River are located a few miles west on U.S. 460, and some notable local foods restaurants, such as Mikie’s 7th and Palisades, dot the area.
In the past, Newport organized covered bridge festivals to fund repairs for the 1916 Sinking Creek/Clover Hollow Bridge. A short roadway leading between the 70-foot bridge and a cattle underpass is paved with colorful personalized bricks as part of the fundraising project. The bridge has a tin roof, which makes a wonderful clatter during rainstorms. It is owned by the county and open to the public; streamside picnic tables dot the site. This bridge is located a few miles from U.S. 460, just off Route 601 between Route 42 and Route 700, which is also known as Mountain Lake Road.
Newport’s other two bridges are located on private property, and you will need permission to actually set foot on their weathered boards. The 49-foot-long Link Farm Covered Bridge is visible on the left shortly after you turn off U.S. 460 and begin the drive up Route 700 to Mountain Lake. The 1912 Link Bridge also crosses Sinking Creek. Although dirt roads lead from Route 700 to either end of the covered bridge, it is only used by the owner to access his farm and is not for public vehicles. The bridge has been set on fire twice, vandalized several times, and is maintained by the Link family.
The Reynold’s Farm Bridge, located off Virginia 42, also spans Sinking Creek, and is the shortest authentic covered road bridge in Virginia at just 36 feet. It is on posted property and can only be viewed off the east side of Route 42.
Patrick County’s annual Covered Bridge Festival is held each June along the Smith River in Woolwine at Bob White Covered Bridge. The 80-foot truss construction was built in 1921 and is located on Route 869, about 1/10 mile south of Route 618. Maintained by the county, the bridge welcomes walkers who travel through the bridge to the Smith River Church of the Brethren. The festival’s food, music, and crafts use the church’s picnic shelter as home base. The Bob White, named after a quail, is unusual in that it has two spans, a modern concrete substructure, and sheathing for its plank trusses. It has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973.
Nearby Jack’s Creek Covered Bridge also crosses the Smith River, despite its name. (It was built to serve Jack’s Creek Primitive Baptist Church, named for a Smith River tributary.) The 48-foot oak bridge was constructed in 1914 on Route 615, just west of Route 8. Owned by the Patrick County Historical Society, it is open to the public, but closed to traffic. It has a tin roof, and after several decades’ use as a barn, was maintained by the local Ruritan club until the county took it over. It has a board-and-batten siding with a water deflector protecting its flooring. It is a no frills little bridge, sometimes respectfully referred to as the “elder” Woolwine Covered Bridge. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Both of the Woolwine area bridges are located a short distance from the Blue Ridge Parkway, as well as Fairy Stone Park, Floyd, and Primland Resort.