The Dreibelbis Covered Bridge
By FRED MOLL
Over 45 covered bridges were built in Berks County between the years of 1834 and 1885. Of these, two were built over the Schuylkill Canal by the Schuylkill Navigation Company, seven were built for use by trains and various railroads, eight were built by private bridge companies (Kissinger’s, Windsor Haven and Stoudt’s Ferry), and the rest were built by the county.
In order for the county of Berks to build a covered bridge, there were certain legal steps that had to be taken.
First, a petition had to be submitted to the Court of Quarter Sessions. The court, in turn, sent several viewers to the proposed bridge site. The fate of the future bridge was in their hands.
They formed either a favorable or not-so-favorable report of the need for the proposed bridge and submitted their report back to the court. The viewers report was read before the Quarter Sessions Court and if there was determined a true need for a bridge, the project was then turned over to the County Commissioners.
At this time, the commissioners drew up specifications for the type of bridge desired and this advertised, via the newspaper, for prospective bridge builders to make themselves known. They could come to the Court House where the prospective builder could view the specifications and if desiring, submit a bid.
It was normal to receive anywhere from six to 32 bids for a proposed bridge. One builder, not always the lowest bidder, was then selected to receive the contract.
It was in April of 1846 when Manassas Dreibelbis obtained land on the east bank of the Maiden Creek, two miles south of Lenhartsville. This land had belonged to his father, John Dreibelbis, and consisted of farmland and several buildings, one of which was a saw mill.
Manassas was an enterprising person and by the end of 1850 had built a stone mill for crushing flax seed and producing linseed oil. In 1862, this mill was converted into a clover mill.
Manassas began to realize the need for a bridge near his mill. There was a ford several hundred feet downstream from his mill but it was not the safest way to cross the Maiden Creek. On January 23,1869, a petition was presented to the Clerk of Quarter Sessions Court by Manassas Dreibelbis owner of land on the east bank of the creek and by Samuel K. Fisher – owner of land on the west bank of the creek.
It stated that:
“The citizens of Windsor and Greenwich Townships labored under great inconvenience for the want of a bridge on a public road leading from Lenhartsville to Virginville.”
On March 12, 1869, the Court appointed George G. Stirzel, Daniel B. Kutz and John Blandford as viewers for the site of the proposed new bridge. The viewers visited the site and turned in the following favorable report:
“We have viewed the premises as directed by the within order and find a bridge necessary over the Maiden Creek, where the public road from Lenhartsville to Virginville crossed said Maiden Creek. We have however of opinion that the said bridge should be built 400 feet above the present ford, and should be a single wooden span covered bridge. The stream being 1300 feet wide, the east bank six feet and the west bank 14 feet high, with the bed of the Creek in rock and the bank of clay. The depth of the Creek in common low water is about 21/2 feet and in high water from 12-14 feet deep. Such a bridge would cost about $5,500 to build and would be too expensive for the citizens of the Townships of Windsor and Greenwich to bear.”
The Court Of Quarter Sessions confirmed and approved this report on May 26, 1869.
The project was then turned over to the County Commissioners Office which published the following advertisement in the Berks and Schuylkill Journal, May 29, 1869: “Proposals will be received at the Commissioners office in Reading up to June 8, 1869, at 12 o’clock noon, for the building of two bridges, one across a branch of the Perkiomen Creek near Ruch’s Mill in Hereford Township, Berks County, and one across the Maiden Creek at Dreibelbis Mill, Greenwich Township, Berks County. The plans and specifications of both bridges may be seen at said commissioners office.
- Signed: Jacob Schartel
- Benjamin Levan
- William S. Young
- County Commissioners
On June 8, 1869 the following bids had been recorded in the County Commissioners minute book:
Dreibelbis Covered Bridge Proposals:
|Ahrens and Co
The Reading Eagle on June 11,1869 announced that Charles Stirzel was awarded the contract to build the Dreibelbis Covered Bridge. However, according to Court House records, John Stitzel withdrew his bid. The contract was then awarded to Wallace Alrhouse, who also withdrew his bid.
Jacob Gift and John Fisher also withdrew their bids after receiving the contract. There seemed to be a continuous problem with the awarding of this contract (the reason of which may never be known), and most of the court house records from these proceedings have been misplaced.
What is even more unfortunate, no further mention was made into the County Commissioner’s minute book, the Reading Eagle, or Berks and Schuylkill Journal as to who finally built the bridge.
The next person on the list was Adam Stein. However, he may have also withdrawn his bid or perhaps he was not given the next contract offer. Remember the contract did not have to be awarded to the next lowest bidder. Bridge Construction
During the construction of the bridge, wood was brought from Schuylkill County pulled by six to eight mules which crossed the stream at the ford below the proposed bridge site. The wood was placed on the east bank and was cut up and formed at the Dreibelbis Saw Mill.
When completed, the structure was a one lane, one span 16-foot wide covered bridge spanning the Maiden Creek for a distance of 172 feet (measured portal to portal).
In 1874, the Schuylkill and Lehigh Railroad came up the east bank of the Maiden Creek, connecting Reading and Slatington. The area became known as Dreibelbis Station, named after the train stop. Some oldtimers still call the bridge the “Dreibelbis Station Bridge” even though most of the traces of the railroad are gone.
During the early 1900’s, an ice house existed near the western approach to the bridge. It was a great place for children to play during the summer when it was mostly empty and full of sawdust. During the winter months, ice was harvested from the Maiden Creek and packed in saw dust in the ice house. Sometimes ice was packed several feet above the door opening.
The ice would be bought by local inhabitants for the safe keeping of their meats and perishables. This ice lasted about six to seven months and took the place of our modern freezer and refrigerator.
Behind the ice house, next to the bridge, was a good fishing hole which was a popular place during the summer. The bridge’s back had gray portals, red sides with no opening and cedar shingles.
When Route 143 was built Parallel to Maiden Creek, the ice house had to be removed to make room for the road. It was about this time that the bridge became all red and the lateral slip was made in each side of the bridge for better lighting.
During the summer of 1968 (about 15 years ago), major repairs were made to the structure. Anthony Genovese, a contractor from Lancaster, was hired for the job. The rock foundation and stone wall were replaced with cement. The four arch members were in a state of advanced deterioration at their ends.
During Tropical Storm Agnes, in 1972, the upper part of a bungalow washed downstream and wedged against the bridge causing the flood water to shoot up across the roof of the bungalow against the bridge. Along with refrigerators, outhouses and many other items, several large gas tanks from the Lenhartsville area washed downstream. These gas tanks gave off a visible vapor causing fear they might crash against either the wedged bungalow or the bridge itself causing the bridge to blow up.
Fortunately this did not happen. After the flood water subsided, it was found the bridge was only a few inches out of alignment.
Today the Dreibelbis Covered Bridge remains one of the five covered bridges in Berks County.
You can reach the site by taking Route 222 North from Reading to Moselem Springs. Turn left onto Route 662 and proceed past the golf course. Turn right onto Route 143 and follow this road through Virginville and eventually to the bridge.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 1983 issue of the Historical Review of Berks County.