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North Branch or North Branch Potomac River Covered Bridge

Allegany & Mineral (WV) MD-01-04x & WV-29-01x North Branch Potomac River Unk 4 539' 1842 1857
In the mid 1850s, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad crossed from Maryland to West Virginia (Virginia until 1863) at Harpers Ferry and did not cross back again until it reached the North Branch of the Potomac River, south of the town of North Branch, Maryland.
Upon reaching the shores of Maryland, the railroad continued north crossing the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal on its way to Cumberland. Both crossings were reported to be via wooden covered bridges based on reports in Portals, December 1965 edition, a magazine issued by the Theodore Burr Covered Bridge Society of Pennsylvania. Portals describes the bridge as 4 spans with a total length of 539 feet.
The most detailed description of the bridge, repairing and replacements comes from various "Annual Reports" to the Stockholders of the B&O Railroad:
1842 Page 9; "Six miles below Cumberland it [B&O Railroad] crosses by a viaduct over the North Branch, from Virginia to Maryland, and reaches the National Road in the Eastern margin of the Town of Cumberland, at which point the company depot is situated." (The earlier "Annual Reports" of the B&O Railroad provided little descriptions for the bridges.)
1849 Page 25; "The reconstruction and repair of Wooden Bridges during the year has amounted to $32,736.52 expended upon five bridges; viz: at Sleepy Creek, Great Cacapon, Little Cacapon, North Branch and Patterson's Creek." (This information confirms that the bridge was wooden, but does not confirm if it was covered.)
1854 Page 54; "I find, upon examination of the North Branch Bridge over the Potomac, six miles east of Cumberland, that the three river spans will require rebuilding during the coming year. This bridge is one of those built in 1842, intended to carry the trains of that time; and it has been strengthened from time to time [1849], but now begins to show decay. I would recommend the rebuilding of this bridge. My estimate for one of wood would be $20,000, and of iron $27,000."
1856 Page 64; "Under the resolution of the Board directing the reconstruction of the three river spans, of the North Branch Bridge of iron was passed, and the work, preparatory to putting the patterns in the foundry, is under way." (This confirms the bridge will be rebuilt of iron, not wood. Later in the report on page 94 a list of railroad bridges declares the bridge to be 4 spans of 134.8 feet each in addition to the canal span of 131 feet.)
1857 Page 99; "Four spans of the North Branch (Potomac) Viaduct, which were ordered to be rebuilt at the close of last year, are, with the exception of the land span nearly completed. It was found by calculation to cost but little more to make an embankment of the space occupied by this span, and therefore I deemed, in consideration of future repairs and renewals, to be more economical than rebuilding the superstructure. This will be completed during the winter." (The explanation for rebuilding 3 spans instead of 4 explains why earlier reports referred to rebuilding only 3 spans of the 4 span bridge. While the North Branch Bridge was rebuilt at a cost of $31,952.40, the B&O also widened and strengthened the nearby canal span to make it wide enough to accommodate double tracks.)
1858 Page 106; "The fine iron bridge at North Branch was completed in time for the traffic last winter and gives full satisfaction in all its parts." (Based on the report of 1858 it would appear the new bridge was completed late 1857. The 1860 "Annual Report" listed the bridge as "3 spans, iron, 134.8 feet each.")
The new iron bridge was destroyed by the Confederate Army in May 1861, June 1863 and a third time on February 2, 1864.
Because there are still questions as to whether or not this bridge was a covered wooden bridge, we consider it as a "possible" covered bridge. Most of the bridges built by the railroad were either trestle or uncovered through truss bridges. There were obvious exceptions, like the Harpers Ferry Bridge, but most of the covered railroad bridges were bridges that also accommodated foot passengers and wagon traffic. Weatherboarding and covered roof bridges made for tempting marks for the enemies. For this reason, although many of the bridges were through truss bridges, they were intentionally built without a roof or siding.
Documentation of these railroad bridges has been very difficult, but we are still researching.
North Branch Bridge 1858
Bollman Truss North Branch Bridge built in late 1857 to replace the wooden bridge. This 1858 photo appears in Geo. B. Abdill book Civil War Railroads and Daniel Toomey's book The War Came by Train.

Civil War Railroads by Geo. B. Abdill, details the reasons why the B&O preferred through truss bridges:
General Haupt's Construction Corps adapted the style of military truss bridge...for a number of important reasons. The structure could be used as either a deck bridge, with rails laid on the top of the bridge, or as through truss span, with the tracks running through the bridge. Perhaps the most important feature of the bridge was that it could be easily assembled to any length desired, and the job could be done by unskilled labor. The timbers were all alike and interchangeable, and could be reversed end for end and still fit together. The material could be cut far in advance of the time needed and stored until ready for use; the bridge needed no pre-construction, all parts being made so as to permit them to be assembled at the bridge site. Only saws and augers were needed by the crewmen, in addition to a set of block and tackle for hoisting the timbers into position.
Typical Through Truss Railroad Bridge Typical Trestle Bridge
Typical through truss railroad bridge. Photo courtesy National Archives. Typical trestle railroad bridge. Photo courtesy National Archives.

UPDATED: 01/02/2014, more information added based on the B & O "Annual Reports" related to the original build date of 1842, length, spans and rebuilding the bridge in 1857. Also, added photo of Bollman truss bridge built in 1857 that replaced the wooden bridge.

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