When the wooden covered bridge was built over Cedar Creek in 1876, memories of the Civil War were still fresh and the main modes of transportation were horses and oxen pulling buggies or wagons. The clip-clop of hooves and the rolling thunder of wooden wheels have long since faded, but Wisconsin’s last covered bridge still stands proud at age 140.
Located on a scenic route some 20 miles north of Milwaukee, the beautiful span no longer carries vehicle traffic but is still a boon to pedestrian traffic and those armed with cameras. It has served as the backdrop for countless photos over the years. It is such an important landmark to nearby Cedarburg, Covered Bridge Park was built around it and a historic marker from the Wisconsin Historical Society was placed nearby.
Our look at this magnificent bridge goes back to late June 1941. Pictured are Nina (Treutel) Wilson (center) and her daughter, Laurni Lee. Nina is the sister of my grandmother, Ruby V. (Treutel) Hanneman. I believe the photograph was taken by Emma (Treutel) Carlin, who at the time was working at the Washington County Asylum in West Bend. In her scrapbook, Emma kept a July 1941 news clipping on the bridge from The Milwaukee Journal. Across the top of the page, she wrote, “I rode over this bridge June 30, 1941.”
The Milwaukee Journal article bid poetic tribute to the old bridge:
“Grayed with the snows and suns of many years, it might tell a hundred tales to the traveler who would stop and bend a sympathetic ear. …Leaning under the weight of its years, this friendly bridge (it has no name) still creaks and rumbles heartily and bears its passing burdens of farmers and curious visitors as trustily as the day its last dowels and wedges were driven tight.”
At that time, the bridge still carried live traffic, although only vehicles weighing 3 tons or less. It was built with just enough height to accommodate a wagonload of hay. The structure was welcome shelter in summer and winter for horses and drivers alike. The bridge is 12 feet wide and 120 feet long. Its construction has been described as a masterpiece, using lattice trusses with interlaced 3-by-10-inch planks. It is held together with 2 inch hardwood dowels. Its road surface is covered with 3-inch planks. A concrete support was added beneath the midway point in 1927 to help the bridge support motorized vehicles.
Wisconsin once had dozens of covered bridges. The last one to be demolished (in 1935) spanned the Wisconsin River at Boscobel. But the folks of Ozaukee County worked hard to ensure their covered bridge would be maintained for future generations. It was taken out of active service in 1962, as another bridge was built over Cedar Creek to handle vehicle traffic. In May 1965, the state historical marker was installed next to the bridge.
Covered Bridge Park is located on Covered Bridge Road, which runs north and south between Highway 60 and Pleasant Valley Road just north of Cedarburg.
©2016 The Hanneman Archive