Maryland, the land of pleasant living, is known for a lot of things: crabs, horses, the Chesapeake Bay, lighthouses. Covered bridges? Nope. There are a couple hundred over the Mason-Dixon Line in Pennsylvania and more than 800 in the nation, but Maryland has just eight left of the 50 that once dotted the state, including the city of Baltimore.
These structures achieve what many works of architecture and engineering do not: They're romantic, functional, simple, eternal, even mysterious. People still debate the origins of these spans, whether they were covered to shelter wayward travelers, to keep horses from getting spooked over water or, as is predominantly thought, to protect the timber skeleton that supports the decking.
The Maryland county with more left than any other is Frederick, where three such bridges, dating to the 19th century, remain. Unfortunately, Frederick's bridges have recently suffered the same fate as many of these back road crossings: They've been wrecked by arson or negligence.
Two years ago, the Loy's Station Bridge near Rocky Ridge was almost destroyed by a man who set it ablaze in an insurance fraud scheme. It's a gauge of how strongly Frederick countians feel about their bridges that the sentencing of Joseph M. Peria last month for the crime made banner news in the local press.
Volunteers are now busy rebuilding Loy's Station, as they did another covered bridge, on Roddy Road near Thurmont, after a truck damaged it last year. The support beam of a third covered bridge was also cracked by a passing truck two months ago; residents initially feared it was the act of an extortionist who had threatened to burn the bridge if the community persisted in fighting a public project he favored.
Obviously, there are greater challenges to man's ingenuity than the preservation from fire of these antique bridges, and it's a challenge state and local authorities should meet. Sprinkler systems are available as are wood and paint treated to retard fire. At the least, automatic fire alarms could be installed to summon local fire companies.
One unfortunate irony we must add is that we didn't compose the previous paragraph. It was lifted almost verbatim from an Evening Sun editorial published in 1961. If there's any proof needed that Maryland as a state hasn't sufficiently treasured its covered bridges, it is that 32 years later, the problem remains as frozen in time as these graceful relics.