Pennsylvania's longest single span is the Wertz's Red Covered Bridge, spanning over the Tulpehocken Creek and the former Union Canal (which was built in the 19th Century to connect the Schuylkill and Susquehanna Rivers). Located in Reading, it is also known as Wertz's Covered Bridge or just Red Covered Bridge, acknowledging the red color the covered bridge is painted in. The 218 foot long Burr arch truss designed covered bridge bridge was built in 1867 by Amandas Knerr at the cost of $7,450. While 37 covered bridges once crossed over various bodies of water throughout Berks County, Pennsylvania, the Wertz's Red Covered Bridge is one of five historic covered bridges that are still found dotting the county.
The covered bridge was named after Wertz’s Mill, which was a prominent mill located just downstream on the west bank of the Tulpehocken Creek. Around the year 1916, the Wertz’s Mill was destroyed by fire and today little remains of the mill. At the time of its construction, the Wertz’s Red Covered Bridge was the second longest single span covered bridge built in Berks County, with only the 240 foot long Stoudt’s Ferry Bridge (1856-1948) over the Schuylkill River being longer. Today, Wertz’s Red Covered Bridge has the distinction of being the longest remaining single span historic covered bridge that is located in Pennsylvania.
In 1936, by an act of state legislation, ownership and maintenance of all bridges on state highways in Pennsylvania were taken over by the Pennsylvania Department of Highways. Several years after this change, the covered bridge was painted white. However, very little repairs were done to the bridge, and the bridge became neglected and there was a period of time when both the State of Pennsylvania and Berks County refuted ownership of the covered bridge. Berks County regained possession of Wertz's Red Covered Bridge on May 27, 1954, only after the State of Pennsylvania said that if officially gave up ownership of the bridge on October 1, 1953.
After Berks County regained ownership of the covered bridge in 1954, $1438.79 was spent on needed repairs. Four steel cables were connected to the west end of the bridge for support, several wooden bracing beams were replaced, and some floor planks were replaced. However, it wasn't too long after that when the covered bridge was closed to motor vehicular traffic, due to improvements to the local road system around Reading, along with additional work that was needed for the covered bridge. The bridge was closed for good on October 23, 1959 when the Warren Street Bypass was reopened. The main reason given for the closing of the bridge was additional structural failure in an arch at the upper stream northern corner of the bridge. Barricades were erected and signs posted to direct traffic to use other crossings.
The Wertz's Red Covered Bridge almost met its demise in 1960. In April that year, the Berks County Commissioners considered dismantling the bridge and selling the 150 tons of wood. The erection of a newer and more modern bridge in the nearby vicinity was discussed. In July of that same year, Harry Lomis of Eden, New York was offered to buy a contract to buy the bridge from Berks County. While Lomis was in the market to buy a covered bridge, he decided against buying the Wertz's Red Covered Bridge. After that point, Berks County opted to make more repairs to the bridge. The bridge was reinforced and painted red again in 1962 at a cost of $648.58. In 1984 the covered bridge was restored. The bridge's siding was replaced and several floor boards were replaced. The bridge was jacked up and realigned, which was necessary from lingering effects that took place from a crash that took place while the bridge still carried cars across the creek. That crash cracked some of the beams and knocked the bridge off center. Additionally, the bridge's camber was restored and the rotted arch ends were replaced along with cedar roof shingles.
Today, the Wertz's Red Covered Bridge is open to pedestrians and is located at the Berks County Heritage Center, which is a park that honors the rich cultural history of Berks County. The Gruber Wagon Works, C. Howard Hiester Canal Center, Melcher's Grist Mill, a Distlefink statue and more are found within the grounds of the Berks County Heritage Center. The Union Canal Towpath Trail is also found crossing under the covered bridge. You may also spot a small suspended cable car next to the bridge, which was installed by the United States Geologic Survey to test the depth, temperature and speed of the Tulpehocken Creek before the Blue Marsh Lake and dam were built upstream. All of this allows the covered bridge to be in a peaceful, idyllic setting.
How to Get There:
Sources and Links:
County of Berks Pennsylvania - Wertz's Covered Bridge
Go Reading Berks - Wertz's Red Covered Bridge
Bridgehunter.com - Wertz Covered Bridge 38-06-06
Berks Nostalgia - Wertz's Red Covered Bridge
February 8, 2022 - Crossposted to Quintessential Pennsylvania - https://quintessentialpa.blogspot.com/2022/02/wertzs-red-covered-bridge.html