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Gudgeonville Covered Bridge
Gudgeonville Road
The bridge before its destruction, July 2008
Official name: Gudgeonville Covered Bridge
Country  United States
State  Pennsylvania
County Erie
Township Girard
Road Township 400 (single lane)
Crosses Elk Creek
Coordinates 41°58′56″N 80°16′01″W / 41.98222°N 80.26694°W / 41.98222; -80.26694
Length 84 ft (26 m) [1]
 - Mainspan 72 ft (22 m) [1]
Width 14 ft (4 m) [1]
Clearance 10 ft (3 m)
Builder William Sherman
Design Multiple King-post Truss Bridge
Material Wood
Built 1868
 - Rebuilt 1870s
 - Destroyed November 8, 2008
Owned and Maintained by Girard Township
NBI Number 257207040040080
WGCB Number 38-25-03
NRHP Ref Number 80003491
Load 4.5 t (5.0 short tons) [1]
Added to NRHP September 17, 1980 [2]
MPS Covered Bridges of Erie County TR
Location of the Gudgeonville Covered Bridge in Pennsylvania
Wikimedia Commons: Gudgeonville Covered Bridge

The Gudgeonville Covered Bridge was a 84-foot (25.6 m) long Multiple King-post Truss covered bridge over Elk Creek in Girard Township, Erie County in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. It was built in 1868 and was listed on the National Register of Historical Places on September 17, 1980.[3] It was destroyed by arson on November 8, 2008.

It was the oldest of the three remaining covered bridges in Erie County. The bridge structure's sufficiency rating on the Federal Highway Administration National Bridge Inventory was only 14.6 percent and its condition was deemed "basically intolerable requiring high priority of corrective action".





The Gudgeonville Bridge was constructed around 1868 and was rebuilt in the early 1870s after a fire. The bridge is located in Girard Township and crosses Elk Creek. The bridge was built and designed by William Sherman. The foundation of the bridge is believed to be remnants of the Erie Extension Canal. The name of the bridge has always had some mystery about. Some souces indicate that the bridge was constructed to provide access to a gudgeon factory, or, a more popular explanation, that the mule that supposedly died on the bridge was named "Gudgeon."[4][5][6]

Modern use and status

The bridge has been damaged from numerous small fires and has been the site of constant vandalism over the years.[7][8] There were several proposals to dismantle the bridge and move it to a more secure location where it would not be vandalized.[8] Another proposal was to build another bridge to bypass the original bridge, as it is too narrow to allow a variety of vehicles to cross it, including snowplows, fire trucks, and ambulances.[8]

The interior of the Gudgeonville Covered Bridge, July 2008

Evans' 2001 Pennsylvania's covered bridges: a complete guide described the bridge to be "structurally sound," but its general appearance to be "most disappointing".[2] The Federal Highway Administration National Bridge Inventory found the sufficiency rating[a] of the bridge structure to be only 14.6 percent.[1] It found that the bridge's foundations were determined to "scour critical," meaning that the bridge's foundations were "determined to be unstable for the calculated scour conditions," and that the railing "does not meet currently acceptable standards".[1] Its overall condition was deemed "basically intolerable requiring high priority of corrective action", with an estimated cost to improve the bridge of $107,000.[1]


The Gudgeonville Covered Bridge caught fire around 1:40 EDT (6:40 UTC) on November 8, 2008.[9] The blaze was determined by the Pennsylvania State Police to have been an arson.[9] On December 17, the State Police arrested two suspects after they confessed to dousing the bridge in gasoline and setting it on fire.[10] The suspects were also involved in several other incidents in northern Crawford County and western Erie County.[11] In August 2009, one of the arsonists was convicted and sentenced to 5 to 10 years in prison for the destruction of the bridge and for an unrelated charge.[12] The other arsonist was sentenced to 5½ to 14 years for the fire and for a string of other crimes.[13]

The Gudgeonville Covered Bridge after the fire on November 8, 2008

The remains of the bridge were lifted from its abutments and set in a nearby field and dismantled to allow for a temporary bridge to have been built in its place on January 26.[14] The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) would not allow an exact replica of the covered bridge as it still would not be up to code. The temporary, prefabricated bridge was erected in August 2009, funded by an insurance policy held by the township.[15] The new bridge was needed quickly as a permanent, concrete bridge would have taken three years to design and build. Without a bridge, traffic would have had to make a 2 miles (3.2 km) detour.[15]


The Gudgeonville Covered Bridge had always been a popular place to visit because of superstition that surrounds the bridge. Locals believed that the bridge was haunted. A sheer cliff made of shale, nicknamed the "Ox's Bow," flanked the bridge. Many people erroneously believe this cliff to be called the Devil's Backbone, but that is actually a two sided cliff some miles away. Unexplained screams in the middle of the night from the surrounding woods was said to be the result of children who have fallen from the cliff to their deaths.[16]

Another unexplained phenomenon was the sound of hooves on wood and occasional braying coming from the bridge.[16][4] One story is that a mule was beaten to death on the bridge by its drunken owner because it refused to cross the bridge.[16][4] Another story involves the mule having a heart attack from being spooked by a calliope playing on a barge going down on the nearby canal.[4]

Bridge dimensions

The north portal of the Gudgeonville Covered Bridge, July 2008

The following table is a comparison of published measurements of length, width and load recorded in different sources using different methods, as well as the name or names cited. NBI measures bridge length between the "backwalls of abutments" or pavement grooves and the roadway width as "the most restrictive minimum distance between curbs or rails". The NRHP form was prepared by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), which surveyed county engineers, historical and covered bridge societies, and others for all the covered bridges in the commonwealth. The Evans visited every covered bridge in Pennsylvania in 2001 and measured each bridge's length (portal to portal) and width (at the portal) for their book. The data in Zacher's book was based on a 1991 survey of all covered bridges in Pennsylvania by the PHMC and PennDOT, aided by local government and private agencies. The article uses primarily the NBI and NRHP data, as they are national programs.

feet (m)
feet (m)
short tons (MT)
25.6 metres (84.0 ft) 4.3 metres (14.1 ft) 4.5 metric tons (5.0 short tons) NBI (2007)[1]
72 feet (21.9 m)* 11 feet (3.4 m) 3 short tons (2.7 t) NRHP (1979)[3]
85 feet 9 inches (26.1 m) 14 feet 1 inch (4.3 m) NA Evans (2001)[2]
72 feet (21.9 m)* 14 feet (4.3 m) NA Zacher (1986)[17]

* Listed mainspan length only

See also


a. ^ The National Highway Administration established the sufficiency rating, which can vary from a low of 0 to a high of 100, as a way to prioritize federal funding for bridges. The rating is calculated based on "structural adequacy, whether the bridge is functionally obsolete, and level of service provided to the public".[18] Federal funds are available for replacement of bridges with a rating of 50 or below, while those with a rating of 80 or below qualify for rehabilitation.[19] In 2007, Pennsylvania had 22,291 bridges over 20 feet (6.1 m) long, of which 42.9 percent were either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.[20]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Federal Highway Administration National Bridge Inventory (2007). "Place Name: Girard (Township of), Pennsylvania; NBI Structure Number: 257207040040080; Facility Carried: T-400, Gudgeonville; Feature Intersected: Elk Creek". (Alexander Svirsky). Retrieved September 14, 2007.   Note: this is a formatted scrape of the 2006 official website, which can be found here for Pennsylvania: "PA06.txt". Federal Highway Administration. 2006. Retrieved June 7, 2008.  
  2. ^ a b c Evans, Benjamin D.; June R. Evans (2001). Pennsylvania's covered bridges: a complete guide (2nd ed.). Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. p. 129. ISBN 0822957647.  
  3. ^ a b Claridge, John R. (December 27, 1979). "Gudgeonville Covered Bridge". National Register of Historic Places—Nomination Form. Erie. Retrieved January 13, 2010.  
  4. ^ a b c d David Belmondo (Host). (2002). Boo! Tour Eerie Erie. [Television production]. WQLN Productions.  
  5. ^ Domowicz, Geoffrey L (2003). Girard: a canal town history. Charleston, SC: Arcadia. pp. 109–110. ISBN 0738524549.  
  6. ^ Eiler, Linda Lee Hessong (2005). Girard. Images of America. Charleston, SC: Arcadia. p. 106.  
  7. ^ McQuaid, Deborah (October 15, 2002). "Graffiti mars historic covered bridge". Erie Times-News. Retrieved September 9, 2007.  
  8. ^ a b c Healy, Bob (January 11, 2006). "Public opinion spilt on bridge". Erie Times-News. Retrieved September 9, 2007.  
  9. ^ a b Murphy, Kara (November 9, 2008). "Fire destroys historic bridge". Erie Times-News. Retrieved November 9, 2008.  
  10. ^ Murphy, Kara (December 18, 2008). "Police: Vandals burned bridge for 'fun'". Erie Times-News. Retrieved December 18, 2008.  
  11. ^ Murphy, Kara (December 19, 2008). "Bridge arson part of crime spree". Erie Times-News: pp. 1B, 2B. Retrieved December 19, 2008.  
  12. ^ Palattella, Ed (August 27, 2009). "Gudgeonville Bridge arsonist gets up to 10 years". Erie Times-News. Retrieved September 16, 2006.  
  13. ^ Thompson, Lisa (September 17, 2009). "2nd defendant sentenced in arson of Gudgeonville Bridge". Erie Times-News. Retrieved September 18, 2009.  
  14. ^ Bruce, David (January 27, 2009). "Historic bridge comes down". Erie Times-News. Retrieved January 27, 2009.  
  15. ^ a b Smith, Jackie (August 12, 2009). "New structure 'fast fix' for Gudgeonville Bridge". Erie Times-News. Retrieved January 13, 2010.  
  16. ^ a b c Wincik, Stephanie (2002). Ghosts of Erie County. Erie, PA: The Author. pp. 18–21. ISBN 0972565000.  
  17. ^ Zacher, Susan M. (1986). The Covered Bridges of Pennsylvania: A Guide (1st ed.). Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. p. 127. ISBN 0892710543.  
  18. ^ "Bridge Inspection Definitions". American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. August 29, 2007. Retrieved November 8, 2008.  
  19. ^ "Bridge Sufficiency Ratings" (PDF). Kansas Department of Transportation. Retrieved November 8, 2008.  
  20. ^ "State by State: 'Deficient' or 'Obsolete' Bridges". August 2, 2007. Retrieved November 8, 2008.  


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