The fate of the 161-year-old Carrollton Covered Bridge, over the Buckhannon River in Barbour County, was uncertain Friday, after the bridge was severely damaged by fire late Thursday.
West Virginia Department of Transportation personnel began to assess damage as investigators from the State Fire Marshal’s Office searched for clues to determine the cause of the blaze.
Completed during fall 1856, the bridge was a key component in the newly constructed Middle Fork Turnpike, which connected the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike near the Randolph-Upshur county line with an existing road in Barbour County that led to Clarksburg.
Before the fire, the bridge carried W.Va. 36 traffic across the river, providing a link between U.S. 119 and Audra State Park. It is the third-oldest and second-longest covered bridge in West Virginia, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“Right now, we don’t know what’s going to happen with the bridge,” said DOT spokeswoman Carrie Jones. “We’ll have to remove all the fire damage, to see how structurally sound it is, and we can’t do that while there’s an investigation in progress.”
At best, she said, the bridge will remain closed for several weeks while engineering assessments and repairs take place, and the span — without its distinctive superstructure — would be able to reopen.
The possible restoration of the covered bridge, which lost its roof and most of its walls during the fire, is a matter that could take years.
The fire was reported shortly after 11 p.m. Thursday, and fought by firefighters from several area volunteer fire departments.
“We had one of our safety officers, who lives in the area, on the scene overnight,” Jones said. “She said that a number of people in the community came by to see the bridge, which has been such an important landmark in the area. A lot of them were sad and teary-eyed.”
Brothers Emmett and Daniel O’Brien were the contractors for the 140-foot-long, 16-foot-wide bridge, built for $4,819.Emmett O’Brien had served as the masonry contractor for the larger and better-known Philippi Covered Bridge, completed years earlier.
The Carrollton bridge carried traffic for more than 100 years, until safety inspectors determined that repairs were needed. According to the National Register of Historic Places nomination form for the bridge, “local community efforts helped to save the bridge and bring about the bridge’s subsequent renovation.”
In 1963, the span’s timber deck was replaced with a 150-foot, three-span concrete deck with a 12-foot roadway and 3-foot sidewalk, and two concrete support piers were added. Less extensive repairs took place again in 1987 and 2002.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-5169 or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.