Burfordville Covered Bridge

Yesterday I wrote about the Bollinger Mill Historic Site. Here’s the other historic landmark that’s in Burfordville: the Burfordville Covered Bridge. It’s the oldest one in the state and one of only four to survive to this day.

The Missouri State Parks and Historic Sites webpage has a good history of the bridge.

According to the site, Joseph Lansmon began its construction in 1858, but it’s not clear if it was completed before or after the Civil War. It wasn’t mentioned in St. Louis newspaper accounts of the 1861 burning of Bollinger Mill, located next to it.

Bollinger Mill burned in Civil War

Union soldiers burned the mill to keep flour and grain out of rebel hands during the Civil War. All that remained was the foundation. Solomon R. Burford, for whom the town is named, rebuilt the mill in 1867 upon the original foundation.

Vertical iron rods tie trusses together

The bridge uses Howe-truss construction, which used vertical iron rods to draw the diagonal wooden members tight against the top and bottom of the truss.

The bridge, which spans the Whitewater River, is 140 feet long, 12 feet wide and has a clearance of 14 feet. It’s made mainly of yellow popular.

Initials carved into the wood

I always take the dates carved into landmarks with a grain of salt. The Bollinger Mill’s owner’s initials are carved on the wall inside the front door, so it’s possible that some of these  names and dates go back to the 1900s, but they sure look fresh to me.

Everywhere is a photographer

There must not be an inch nor an angle of the bridge left undocumented. I guess one advantage of digital photography is that the ground isn’t littered with film wrappers and boxes.

A site for family portrait

I could have run a whole sequence of what it took to get this one frame where all the kids are quiet and have nice expressions. The youngest was done with photography about three set-ups back and was throwing the fit of all fits. It reminded me of why I’m not a “kidnapper” who does photos of kids for a living.

Repairs cost $390 in 1908

The bridge sat on the toll road linking Burfordville, Jackson and Cape. Tolls were charged until 1906, when farmers, tired of waiting for the courts to abolish the tolls, broke down the gates and used the roads without paying.

The bridge fell into disrepair around the turn of the last century. The county paid $390 to repair the bridge. In 1950, a corrugated metal roof was added.

Mill and Bridge donated to state in 1967

The Cape Girardeau County Historical society donated the mill and bridge to the state for a park in 1967. They had acquired the properties from the Vandivort family, relatives of the Bollingers, for whom the mill was named. Some of the families connected with the bridge and mill added comments to yesterday’s post. They’re worth going back to read.

Closed to vehicles

I can remember a time when you could still drive across the bridge. A record flood in 1986 caused the Whitewater River to rise 17 inches above the road deck. It’s a wonder the pressure didn’t wash the whole structure away. As it was, it did move slightly, causing it to be closed to vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

Major repairs in 1998

The most recent major repairs were in the summer of 1998, when lower truss timbers, support timbers and vertical iron rods were replaced. Some damaged siding was replaced, but every attempt was made to avoid altering the appearance of the bridge. The 1950 metal roof was replaced with wood shingles in 1971, to keep it more like the original bridge.

Sprinkler system protects against fire

I was pleased to look up into the rafters to see a modern fire sprinkler to protect the bridge against one of its deadliest enemies – fire. If the Whitewater River doesn’t try to wash it away again, many more generations of feet should walk across these floorboards.


7 Replies to “Burfordville Covered Bridge”

  1. I should have told you(forgot)that Lansmon’s name is carved in the stone footing on the east side. It is open to traffic for one weekend in May during the driving tour of Southeast Missouri. The bridge repair in 1998 was something to see. They picked up the entire bridge and moved it to the side. About every three to four years the mill stones have to be refurrowed. There are few people that can do this. It is done the old fasioned way with a chisel and mallet.

  2. Ken,
    Enjoy all your pictures. My husband and I have been to all the covered bridges in MO and also Indiana. I have several pictures of covered bridges and even a puzzle of one.
    Thank you for keeping history alive through your pictures.

    1. I’ll have to post some of my Ohio covered bridges when I run across them. I had an assignment to go out and shoot a bunch of them one afternoon to go with a piece about how they were threatened by some project or another. I like landmark buildings, so I came back with some strong photos showing their beauty.

      The next day, the other photographer was sent out to shoot the same bridges: to show they were eyesores in poor repair that should be torn down. Seems like the publisher favored the demolition project.

      It’s all in your point of view.

  3. Seems like I have commented several days in a row but the Heimbach family on my mother’s side, settled three miles north of Burfordville on the Whitewater River. Two of my greatuncles had adjoining farms. Many times when I visited them as a youngster, we traveled across the bridge to the little general store to get the mail, etc and then back to the farm. My aunt wrote the Burfordville news for the Missourian for years. Articles like Billy Stone from Cape Girardeau, Greatnephew of Mr and Mrs Vernon Heimbach is visiting at their farm for a week. They toured Burfordville, seeing all the sights. My Aunt signed off on her news article with the same line “A good time was had by all”.
    Good times, wonderful memories, great people!

  4. Nice to see pictures of the Burfordville Mill and Covered Bridge. I have a print of a watercolor of the mill and bridge hanging in my living room. It’s one my mother bought and had hanging in our living room when I was growing up.

    As for the family portrait, just can’t resist sharing that one of my favorite Christmas cards was a family portrait of friends with five children. They had three girls and then a set of twin boys a few years later. In their family portrait the parents and three girls are all smiling and happy while the two boys are crying their heads off. Made me smile!

  5. Being new to the area in 1976, I had occasion to drive across the bridge. I was quite an experience. That certainly was another era.

  6. My uncle of pastor of the Bapist church in Burfordville back in the early 1950’s and we visited them a couple of times. We drove down from Sedalia and I enjoyed the old general store and the swimming hole just below the spillway. I am going to take a drive down to see the old bridge and the town to see if it still looks familiar. Love the website and glad the bridge is still there. We had one in Sedalia
    but vandals burnt it down never to be replaced. Sad.

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