A horse-drawn buggy moves at a trot along a gravel road walled-in by regimented rows of verdant green cornstalks. The driver slows the horse to a walk before entering the dark confines of a red covered bridge, gracefully spanning a laconic stream’s slow-moving waters. The buggy emerges on the other side and disappears around a bend in the road. Such are the nostalgic images that spring to mind in the 21st century whenever one discovers a covered bridge on a lonely backroad to nowhere.
Bridges, a Round Barn, and Canyons of Corn
It’s pleasantly cool inside the Parke County Tourist Information Center, which is housed in Rockville’s former train depot, built in 1883. Executive Director Cathy Harkrider gives us an overview of attractions along the various color-coded routes. Not being someone who relishes following the crowd, however, I have stitched together our own four-day loops, which aren’t constrained by the borders of Parke County.
We mount up on the KTM 990 Adventure on a hot, sultry August day and motor west on U.S. 36. In a few miles a gravel road takes us to the 61-foot-long Philips Covered Bridge, built in 1909. Unlike most of the covered bridges in the area, it’s a single-span King Post design, which means it doesn’t have arches to support the structural weight of the bridge and its traffic, which keeps it from being strong enough to span long distances.
Just down the road, however, is the 101-foot-long Sim Smith Covered Bridge, which is a Burr Arch Truss design, like most of the covered bridges in Parke County. Riding into the bridge, with sun-constricted retinas, we plunge into cool darkness. The raised parallel wooden planking, intended for car tires, demands we follow a straight and narrow path through the dark interior. Focusing on the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, we don’t run afoul of the planking’s sharp edges. To add to its intrigue, this bridge has the reputation of being haunted by
a mysterious phantom riding in a horse-drawn
buggy – eerie!
Route 36 leads through Montezuma, IN, situated on the east bank of the Wabash River, a major tributary of the Ohio River. The Wabash and Erie Canal, once the longest canal in the Western Hemisphere, made Montezuma a prosperous port town in the 1850s, but the railroads made it obsolete by the 1860s. Little evidence of the canal’s existence and the prosperity it brought are visible today.
In Illinois, canyons of tall corn stalks border our path along mostly straight roads. Two deer suddenly appear like ghosts. Reminiscent of the movie Field of Dreams, they materialize, dart from the cornrows into our path, and then, just as quickly, they vanish into cornrows across the road. A near miss – not even enough time to brake!
We’re soon back on the gently rolling hills of western Indiana, enjoying shade-covered Silver Island Road, meandering along the east bank of the Wabash. Just a half mile south of Lodi, we spot the W.H. York Round Barn, circa 1895, which is believed to be the first round barn built in Indiana. In a landscape that’s largely devoid of artistic architecture, this barn, with its horizontal slats, multiple levels, tall cupola and conical roof, stands out. It is built of native poplar wood, which can be bent to a circular form when it’s green.
A steep gravel road makes a rapid descent into the trees surrounding Marshall Covered Bridge. I use second gear and a little rear brake to moderate our speed. We’re soon through it and climbing up the other side of the ravine. Our final two stops of the day are the magnificent, two-span, 334-foot-long West Union Covered Bridge and Melcher Covered Bridge, which stretches 97 feet across Leatherwood Creek.
It’s been a good first day of touring, but we’re anxious for more.