PHILIPPI, W.Va. — On Saturday, visitors to the Philippi Covered Bridge had a unique opportunity to walk across the inside of the bridge both before and following a ribbon cutting and rededication ceremony for the historic landmark.
Many people stopped while walking, laid their hand upon one of the long Burr arch trusses and closed their eyes perhaps imagining Union and Confederate Troops on June 3, 1861, battling for control of the structure, or thinking about Beverly bridge builder Lemuel Chenoweth on his journey with his design for the bridge, traveling in 1852 to the General Assembly of Virginia to make his presentation for construction of the 285-foot bridge.
A Dedication Ceremony Saturday in Philippi was hosted by Philippi Main Street, the Philippi Convention and Visitors Bureau, the City of Philippi and Barbour County Chamber of Commerce. Doug Schiefelbein spoke about some of the hardships the Philippi Covered Bridge survived through the years.
“I remember the great flood of 1985, when I was listening to the radio trying to hear what was happening across the state. The news wasn’t good.
As the death toll in West Virginia surged toward 50, reports trickled in about unbelievable destruction in our part of the state including the normally sleepy Tygart Valley River behind us,” Schiefelbein said.
“Isolated by flood waters from road traffic, a local station had sent a helicopter overhead and as part of its update, a local reporter intoned that he could not see a trace of the covered bridge,” Schiefelbein said. “The famous Civil War Covered Bridge in Philippi was apparently gone washed away.”
He said the news felt like a punch in the stomach, likening it to an old friend, too often taken for granted, had suddenly died.
“But, the next morning as dawn broke and waters slowly started to recede, like an island, the familiar route could be seen again, and the legendary Philippi Covered Bridge full of water had survived,” Schiefelbein said. “This is a tough old bridge, narrowly surviving threats of military destruction during the Civil War, the great flood, ice jams, being battered and shaken by too many too big trucks and a devastating fire that nearly destroyed it in 1989.”
Schiefelbein said the Philippi Covered Bridge lives on.
“The community and the state continue to nurture it back to health, and it remains a tangible and majestic link to our past,” Schiefelbein said.
West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant offered a proclamation for the town of Philippi for the rededication of the Philippi Covered Bridge and city, county and state officials joined Tennant, United States Senator Joe Manchin and United States Senator Shelley Moore Capito for a ribbon cutting at the end of the bridge.
Barbour County Commissioner Tim McDaniel said he remembers the flood of 1985, and he could not get to work because of flooding over the bridge.
“I also remember them putting off shots to break up ice jams on the river,” he said. “I remember the first time driving through this bridge when I first received my driver’s license. This bridge is such a historical part of Barbour County and Philippi’s history. If you go somewhere else and tell people you are from Philippi, their first comment is about the Philippi Covered Bridge. It is something that people really recognize.”
McDaniel said often when he drives through the bridge people are on each end taking photographs of the historical bridge.
“I remember when I was coaching a basketball game and they stopped the game during the third quarter to make the announcement that the covered bridge was on fire,” McDaniel said. “I looked at my wife and thought the covered bridge was not on fire. I thought there was no way that was true. But sure enough it did and that was a devastating event.”
McDaniel said when they refurbished the bridge following the fire the workers found musket balls from the Civil War.
Hunter Mullens attended Saturday’s Philippi Covered Bridge Dedication ceremony. He said he grew up in Pocahontas County but has lived in Philippi for more than 20 years.
“It is a big part of this community,” Mullens said.
During Saturday’s dedication, members of the Blue & Gray Community Choir, conducted by Dr. Judson Bracey performed two songs from the Civil War, “The Bonnie Blue Flag,” which was popular with the Confederates and “Battle Cry of Freedom,” a favorite with the Union.
The Philippi Covered Bridge was built for a cost of $12,180.68. It is the site of the first land battle of the Civil War. During the battle, Union Troops took command of the bridge and used it as a barracks. The bridge is one of just a few remaining “double barrel,” or two lane covered bridges remaining in the United States and is the only covered bridge serving a United States Federal Highway. It spans 285.5 feet crossing the Tygart Valley River.
Following the dedication event, visitors walked through the Philippi Covered Bridge. The bridge, which closed to traffic in July 2015, will be reopened to traffic in the near future when remodeling and refurbishing is complete.