Hartland Bridge: The World’s Longest Covered Bridge

The phenomenon of the covered bridge in North America only lasted about a century for the most part between the 1820s and the 1910s, and was mostly centered on the northeastern United States and the Canadian provinces of Québec and New Brunswick (although covered bridges can be found all over the two countries, and many have been built since). The reason for covering a bridge is to protect it from the elements. As most bridges of the time were built of wood, covering the road was essential in keeping the bridge usable for much longer than a few years, especially in these temperate regions with great variance in seasonal weather. Once steel became commonplace, many of these bridges were replaced with more durable materials. Because of their aesthetic and sentimental value, many hundreds of them still remain.Ohio alone still has 125, Vermont has 106, Indiana has 98, and Québec has 95. New Brunswick is no slouch either.Of its 400 original bridges, 65 of them still remain. Most notably, one of them holds the distinction of being the longest covered bridge on the planet.


Source: D. Jarvis, http://www.flickr.com/photos/archer10/2761806379/. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence.

Hartland, the province’s smallest incorporated town with around 950 residents, lies along the Saint John River. Across the Saint John lies the village of Somerville, a burg of about 370. In 1899, a syndicate of local residents formed the Hartland Bridge Company and two years later completed a 391 metre-long (1 282 feet) bridge on six wooden piers, spanning the river and joining the two communities together. The bridge was scheduled to open on 14 May 1901, but was actually first used the evening before when a local doctor had to reach a patient on the west side of the river in an emergency. Bridge workers quickly laid down planks so the doctor could drive across the river and attend to the patient. Funding for the bridge’s construction and maintenance was recouped via tolls (three cents for pedestrians, six cents for a single horse and wagon, twelve cents for a double team) until 1906, when the New Brunswick government purchased the bridge and added it to its highway system. Despite its eventual fame, the bridge did not begin its life covered. When ice floes on the thawing river took out two of the bridge’s spans in April 1920, the government repaired the bridge, replacing the wooden piers with concrete and later covering the bridge in 1922 to protect it from snow, making the Hartland Bridge the world’s longest covered bridge. Lights were installed inside the bridge two years later, and a pedestrian walkway between Hartland and Somerville was attached to the side of the bridge in 1945. The walkway, naturally, is also covered.

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Confused travellers might be wondering why the Irving station in downtown Hartland has such a long back shed.

The clearance inside the bridge is 3.96 metres (13 feet, 9 inches).As with most covered bridges of the era, the Hartland Bridge employs a truss as its key structural design; in this case, seven Howe trusses joined together on six piers. Howe trusses were common for these types of bridges, since they were very wood-intensive compared to other types of trusses more dependent upon metal.Wooden beams were used for the diagonal members, and iron beams for the verticals. In a place like New Brunswick where wood was plentiful, it was a no-brainer. The bridge has withstood its fair share of accidents over the years; the biggest of which was in 1982 when one of the steel beams was damaged in a car crash, causing that portion of the bridge to drop and break the main beam on the westernmost span, closing the bridge for several months due to repairs.


Source: Gisling, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hartland_Covered_Bridge.JPG. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic licence.

The Hartland Bridge has become a rather large tourist attraction in New Brunswick and was declared a National Historic Site of Canada in 1977. One of its nicknames is ‘The Kissing Bridge’.By custom, couples travelling by wagon across the Hartland Bridge stopped halfway across and shared a kiss. When the decision to cover the bridge was first made, there was actually a bit of moral outrage as some were worried that undercover, couples would start doing more than just kissing. Of course, this proved to be unfounded. Aided by the construction of the adjoining pedestrian walkway, the tradition continues to this day. The bridge even played host to a wedding in 1993.It’s also ‘The Wishing Bridge’. If you make a wish entering the bridge and keep your eyes closed with your fingers crossed the entire way, supposedly it will come true…

Tunnel vision

Inside the bridge. Are you holding your breath? Source: mricon, http://www.flickr.com/photos/mricon/1572590871/. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence.

Further Reading

Boon, G. (2010). Howe Truss. Model Bridge Design, 27 December 2010. Available at http://www.garrettsbridges.com/design/howe-truss/. Accessed 3 July 2011.

Parks Canada (n.d.). Hartland Covered Bridge National Historic Site of Canada. Canada’s Historic Places. Available at http://www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=7623. Accessed 3 July 2011.

Town of Hartland (2008). The “Bridge”. 31 January 2008. Available at http://www.town.hartland.nb.ca/html/bridge.htm. Accessed 3 July 2011.

Travis, D.J. (2011).Covered Bridges.9 June 2008. Available at http://www.dalejtravis.com/bridge/cbridges.htm.Accessed 3 July 2011.

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2 thoughts on “Hartland Bridge: The World’s Longest Covered Bridge

  • I'd love to see this bridge in person someday. I've been known to go out of my way to see a decent covered bridge and now that I know this one is the longest I'll have to make sure it's on my every-growing list.

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