Gilpin's Falls Covered Bridge
North East Road (MD 272), Bay View, Cecil County
Gilpin’s Falls Covered Bridge spans North East Creek near the village of Bay View. It originally carried Nottingham Road, but was bypassed by the construction of MD Route 272 a short distance to the west (upstream). Constructed by contractor George Johnson in 1859-60, it is a Burr arch through truss structure. The bridge measures 119 feet in overall length, making it the longest surviving covered bridge in Maryland. The trusses consist of a series of twelve kingpost panels, with a pair of concentric timber arches fastened to the vertical members on both sides. The bridge rests on concrete abutments. The internal clear road width is 14 feet. Overhead clearance is approximately 13 feet. The bridge is capped with a gable roof covered in wood shingles; the exterior is clad in weatherboard siding which terminates below the eave line to allow light into the bridge. Horizontal window openings appear in both side walls, at mid-span. Just below the bridge, North East Creek drops 106 feet over Gilpin’s Falls, named for Samuel Gilpin, a distant relative of the Washington family, who acquired extensive land holdings in Cecil County in the early 1730s. Gilpin harnessed the Falls’ power to operate a grist and saw mill; in later years, a woolen mill and hydroelectric plant occupied the site. A dam breast, sluice, and foundation walls survive from these enterprises, located a short distance below the bridge. The Gilpin’s Falls Covered Bridge was closed to vehicular traffic in the early 1930s. Roofing and siding were replaced in 1958-59 following storm damage. Ownership was transferred to the Board of County Commissioners for Cecil County from the Maryland State Highway Administration in 1987. An engineering study in 1997 revealed significant deflection and side sway and advanced deterioration and insect infestation of the timbers, and the bridge was subsequently closed to pedestrian use. A comprehensive restoration is planned.
The Gilpin’s Falls Covered Bridge is architecturally significant as it exemplifies the type of structure patented by Theodore Burr of Connecticut in 1817. In Burr’s design, a series of king-post trusses was combined with a long wooden arch, a combination which resulted in a stronger bridge. Single king posts had been used since the Middle Ages for short crossings. Nineteenth-century bridge builders learned to combine a series of structural triangles into a unified span. In Burr’s truss, the arch, upper chord, and the diagonals act under compression; the vertical members and lower chord act under tension. A gable roof and weatherboard siding protected the structural members from deterioration by exposure to weather. The Gilpin’s Falls bridge is one of only six covered bridges surviving in Maryland, and one of two located in Cecil County. A ubiquitous form in the latter 19th century--some 50 covered bridges are said to have existed in Harford County alone--the covered timber bridge was quickly superseded by metal and , later, concrete structures which were invulnerable to rot, insects, and fire. Maryland’s surviving covered bridges include four Burr-truss structures: Gilpin’s Falls, Fair Hill, Jerusalem/Jericho (1865), and Utica (c. 1860). The other two were constructed without Burr’s reinforcing arch: Loys Station (c. 1865) is a multiple king-post truss, and Roddy Road (c. 1860) is a shorter span with a single king-post truss. At 119 feet in length, it is the longest remaining wooden covered bridge in Maryland.