Berks County commissioners Chairman Christian Y. Leinbach caught the spirit of the dedication of the rehabilitated and reopened Dreibelbis Station Covered Bridge at an Aug. 21 ceremony.
“This bridge is a monument to the belief that our past is important,” he said. “We need to know, to understand our past, and this bridge is part of our heritage.”
About 100 people, many of them descendants of the Dreibelbis family, gathered at the 151-year-old Pennsylvania German-style covered bridge for the occasion.
Built in the aftermath of the Civil War when Ulysses S. Grant was president, the 168-foot span over Maiden Creek is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
It was rehabilitated at a cost of $5.5 million, about $1.3 million coming from the county.
The bridge was dismantled and transported to Lancaster County Timber Frames of York, where aging timbers were replaced. The rehabilitated bridge was reconstructed at its original site, on the line of Greenwich and Windsor townships.
Fred Moll, who’s written a history of the bridge, said it was named for the nearest structure to it, the Dreibelbis saw mill.
“Six people built it in six months with axes, chisels and pulleys,” Moll said. “It’s amazing what they could do back then.”
Link to the past
For Irvin Herring, a retired Windsor Township banker, the covered bridge was more than a piece of Berks history.
“The bridge was my playground,” recalled Herring, 85, who spent his youth romping on the structure and swimming in the creek below. “It means a lot to me. It was part of my life since I was 5 years old.”
Herring’s grandmother, Katie Wagaman Herring, lived in the stone house only a few yards from the bridge. His great-grandfather, David L. Wagaman, built a neighboring brick house in 1895.
Wagons hauling flax and lumber to the Dreibelbis mill had to ford Maiden Creek several hundred feet downstream before the covered bridge was built in 1869.
Manassas Dreibelbis built a stone mill for crushing flax into linseed oil in an enclave on the eastern side of the bridge in 1850. By 1862, during the Civil War, it was converted to a clover mill.
On Jan. 23, 1869, Manassas petitioned the clerk of the quarter sessions to construct a bridge because the citizens of Windsor and Greenwich townships “labored under great inconvenience.”
The petition was approved on May 26, 1869. The bridge was built at a cost of $6,000.
State Sen. David G. Argall, a Schuylkill County Republican, who represents a portion of Berks, congratulated Berks officials for their dedication to history.
“I’m very glad,” he said, “they thought to preserve their history and culture.”
State Republican Reps. Jerry Knowles of Schuylkill County and Barry Jozwiak of Bern Township participated in the dedication.
County Commissioner Kevin S. Barnhardt, moderator, put the time period in perspective in his opening remarks.
“The golden spike was driven at Promontory Point, Utah, linking the first transcontinental railroad; Thomas Edison was granted his first patent on an electronic voting machine; the outlaw Jesse James committed his first confirmed bank robbery,” he said. “And, on the local front, the Reading Daily Eagle was 1 year old, the Berks County Historical Society was formed and the Dreibelbis Station Covered Bridge was built.”
Aside from a key transportation link, the Dreibelbis covered bridge is a key part of the region’s social heritage.
“They used to call these structures kissing bridges,” Moll said.
The evidence is etched into the bridge’s original beams, which have been preserved.
The oldest romantic remnant, Moll said, was “Robert & Summer” dated July 17, 1910.
Moll explained the presence of Roman numerals throughout the structure. The bridge was built on land first, then disassembled and constructed over the creek. The components were marked with Roman numerals.
Candy Miller Epting recalled carving her initials and her boyfriend’s on a beam in the late 1960s.
“My girlfriend and I would ride our bikes to the bridge and put our boyfriends’ initials on a beam,” recalled Epting, who lived nearby in Greenwich Township.
Epting scoured the beams, but was unable to find her initials.
'Big time history'
Nancy Moser gave her grandson, Gregory Kehl, a guided tour of the bridge. She’d been giving him a history lesson about the bridge for weeks.
“This is history, man,” declared Moser, who grew up in the area but now lives in Shoemakersville. “This is big time history.”
The bridge played a crucial role in the lives of Willis and Elaine Henry.
Elaine, whose maiden name is Herring, spent much of her childhood in the family enclave on the eastern side of the bridge. She romped on the bridge and swam in the creek.
On Dec. 10, 1960, when Elaine and Willis were married, their reception was held in one of the houses near the bridge.
The Henrys, both in their 80s, drove from their Albany Township home to be part of the event Aug. 21. Elaine helped cut the ribbon.
“I got out of the Army on Dec. 9,” Willis recalled, “and we were married on the 10th.”
The Henrys made a sentimental journey across the bridge when it was open to traffic.
Irvin Herring was first to drive over the bridge, followed by Moll.