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155-year-old covered bridge in Minnesota bears countless love messages

Covered bridge in Zumbrota, Minnesota one of few left in the Midwest
Covered bridge in Zumbrota, Minnesota one of few left in the Midwest 03:00

ZUMBROTA, Minn. — It's one of the few covered bridges remaining in the Midwest, and it's seen a lot of traffic over the years.

"When you walk in here you feel the history. You feel things that happened here," said Leah Wichmann Hinz of Zumbrota.

Every, little town has something that brings people together. For Zumbrota, it's a covered bridge. Most of the wood inside is original, from 155 years ago.

"All the time if you drive by you will see people walking through. It's just that you don't see things like this anymore," said Hinz.

Built out of necessity, it was a way for people to get to town to trade goods. Historian Wayne Radke says it was so structurally sound, that initially, it didn't need a middle pier to hold it up.

"The first thing that makes it unique is construction and it's a type of construction called town lattice," said Radke. "It's a maze of intricate design that just does a great job of distributing the weight."

Roofs were put on the bridges to protect the wood from the elements. But in the winter, they would actually shovel snow onto the bridge, so horse-drawn sleighs had something to travel on.

The covered bridge catered to people, horses, and Model T's. Quite often, all at the same time. And there was even a speed limit. But eventually, traffic got too heavy.

"As usual, at that time, the question came- what do you do with it," said Radke.

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WCCO

Even though bridges aren't supposed to move, this one did: four different times over the decades before finally settling down 100 yards from its original location over the Zumbro River.

At one point the fairgrounds were its home, but not everyone was on board with that move.

"The people in town who did not support that deal were called 'jackdaws.' You interpret that any way you want. They didn't like each other," said Radke.

Now, that's all water under the bridge. Inside you'll find initials and even love messages; memories ingrained in timber. Many have been there since President Grant was in office.

Nowadays, the structure is the epicenter of town parties and festivals. And it also serves as a 116-foot-long metaphor. Here, no matter how dark things get, there's always light at the end of the tunnel.

"We try to share a lot of the little stories and hopefully that will make sure people have a warm spot in their heart for the bridge," said Radke.

A few years ago, a snowstorm caused the bridge's roof to cave in, and it took about a year to fix. Historians call this the oldest historic covered bridge in the state and it is on the National Register of Historic Places. Zumbrota holds a Covered Bridge Festival each September.

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