Across Little Gunpowder Falls, where slaves journeyed north toward Pennsylvania and freedom on the Underground Railroad in the 1860s, stands a modest covered bridge. Its timber floor, once gouged by horse hoofs and carriage wheels, is now battered by car and truck tires.
Photographers and artists visit the Jericho Covered Bridge to capture its quiet beauty. Bathed in sunlight and surrounded by tiger lilies, the brown bridge, with its traditional truss design, conjures up images of grand romance -- especially for anyone who has read or seen "The Bridges of Madison County."
Yet the 88-foot single span is not known as a meeting place for lovers. Residents of Jericho Road say the bridge is valued more for its historic significance than its romantic charm.
"It's a wonderful bridge," said Marie McBride, who lives on Jericho Farm, a sprawling 50-acre property at Jericho Road and Greenhouse Lane. "It has a lot of history and adds a lot to the neighborhood."
Covered bridges traditionally were built with a skeleton, or truss, made of large timbers joined to support each other. The craftsmanship has earned the wooden structures a devoted following.
Theories abound to explain why the bridges were covered. Some think the roofing was constructed to keep horses from being startled, while others believe the builders were thoughtful, providing shelter in a storm. But the truth is the bridges
were covered to protect the timbers -- not horses or people -- from the elements, according to John McGrain of the Baltimore County Planning and Zoning Department.
Once home to more than 50 covered bridges, Maryland now has only six. Most of the covered passageways fell victim to neglect or nature -- fire, floods or storms. Of those remaining, the Jericho Covered Bridge, built in 1864 and maintained by Baltimore County, is one of the oldest, Mr. McGrain said.
With 30-inch steel reinforcing girders hidden underneath its dark timbers, the bridge is 12 feet 4 inches high, tall enough to allow fire trucks and school buses to cross it. It carries Jericho Road over the Little Gunpowder Falls, connecting Harford and Baltimore counties.
Some visitors reach the covered span, which was renovated about 15 years ago, by following a hiking trail that runs along the falls below. But most people arrive at the bridge by Jericho Road, a narrow street which starts at Jerusalem Road in Harford County and is barely a mile long. Before it was built, travelers had to ford the Little Gunpowder, which once powered three mills.
"One of the old mills, the five-story Jerusalem Mill, is being rebuilt as headquarters for Gunpowder State Park," said Mrs. McBride, who was born and raised on Jericho Farm. "The others were destroyed or replaced by modern technology."
The covered bridge stands as a reminder of an era gone by. Walking through its darkened interior, visitors often reflect upon a simpler, quieter time. Anyone who has studied its massive timbers can understand why folks who live along Jericho Road can't help but smile when they speak of it.
"It's beautiful with every season," said Bob Gifford, who lives in Jubilee, a 1771 stone dwelling that once housed Jericho Mill workers. "In the winter there's heavy wet snow covering it and in the summer it sits amid beautiful greenery, making a wonderful bucolic scene."
"We're real proud of it," added his wife, Caroline. "It has weathered many storms, survived many changes."
MARYLAND'S OTHER COVERED BRIDGES
Jericho is one of six covered bridges still standing in the state. The others are:
* Gilpin's Falls, over Northeast Creek. It's on Route 272 north, 1.4 miles north of Interstate 95 (exit 100) in Cecil County.
* Fair Hill, over Big Elk Creek. It's on the state's Fair Hill Natural Resource Management Area, north of Route 273 in Cecil County.
* Loy's Station, over Owens Creek. It's on Old Frederick Road off U.S. 15 in Frederick County.
* Roddy Road, over Owens Creek. It's on Roddy Road off U.S. 15 near Thurmont.
* Utica, over Fishing Creek. It's on Utica Road off U.S. 15 near Utica in Frederick County.