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Covered Bridges

By:  Ruth Shireman

Lower Swatara Township has had two well-known covered bridges.  Fiddler’s Elbow Covered Bridge connected Lower Swatara Township with Derry Township over the Swatara Creek by way of North Union Street to Fiddler’s Elbow Road.  It was built in 1862 and was 235 ft long.

Clifton Covered Bridge spanned across the Swatara Creek connecting Londonderry Township with Lower Swatara Township by way of Fulling Mill Road.



Both covered bridges were built using the Burr Truss method.


Fiddler’s Elbow and Clifton Bridges were destroyed by flood waters on  June 22, 1972, from Hurricane Agnes.

Wooden bridges were entirely exposed to the elements and were quickly attacked by decay.  To protect these exposed structures, it was usual to roof and side the bridges, resulting in the “covered bridge” concept to help them survive.  This form of protection for wooden bridges was almost always applied, to large as well as small bridges.

It has been said that some horses, that were easily spooked, were more willing to enter a closed structure that looked like a barn or shed.

Theodor Burr built a bridge across the Hudson River in Waterford, NY in 1804.  There he used a combination truss and segmented arch that became the basis of his 1817 patent.  The patented truss consisted of parallel wooden cords tied together by vertical posts and stiffened by crossed wooden braces.  Each timber arch support segment is fitted into both sides of the wooden posts and braces.  The arch serves to make the whole structure more ridged.  The segments are bolted into the vertical posts, sandwiching the truss.  The two long arches are to rest on the abutments on either end of the bridge.



Spanning Time, Vermont’s Covered Bridges by Joseph C. Nelson

The Burr Truss by J. B. Calvert, University of Denver, October 23, 2000.

Fiddler's Elbow Bridge
side view of Fiddler's Elbow Bridge
Side view of Cliton Covered Bridge and water
front view of Clifton Bridge
Example of a covered bridge from underneath looking at the structural part of the roof
A drawing of a Burr Truss.
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