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at McCoole, Fink's, Potomac River, or 21st Mile Covered Bridge

Allegany & Mineral (WV) MD-01-05x & WV-29-02x North Branch Potomac River Unk 2 312' 1851 1861
The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad continued to build and rebuild bridges across and near the Potomac River as the railroad moved westward in the mid-1800s. One of the railroad bridges spanning the Potomac River stretched from Paddytown, West Virginia (now Keyser) to McCoole, Maryland. At this time, Paddytown was actually a part of Virginia. West Virginia wasn't established until it broke off from Virginia during the Civil War. The B&O tracks originally crossed the North Branch of the Potomac River at McCoole.
Benjamin Latrobe, Jr. designed the two-span structure at McCoole. In James Dilts' book The Great Road he details the construction of the bridge at McCoole:
The version of the bridge that Latrobe designed to cross the Potomac River at Paddytown must have been very odd looking. He planned the bridge in October 1850 as a timber structure but said it was to be built on a "new principle." It was completed in July 1851, at the same time as the one over the Youghiogheny at Oakland, and Latrobe said it had been "well tested and shows abundant strength and stiffness." A year later, the American Railroad Journal referred to it as a "wooden suspension bridge ingeniously designed" by Latrobe. In 1853, Latrobe himself listed it as a timber and iron bridge of two 156-foot spans resting on limestone piers and abutments. "The trusses are supported by wrought iron, parabolic, suspension chain, stiffened by diagonal rods," he said. The structure has a sheet iron roof and weather-boarding on the sides; at the west end was the foundation legend: "Potomac Bridge, 1851; Designed by B.H. Latrobe, Chief Engineer; Executed by A. Fink, Assistant Engineer; J.C. Davis, Carpenter."¹
The October 1850 Twenty-Fourth Annual Report of the President and Directors to the Stockholders of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company, page 44, mentions four wooden superstructures on the railroad. The two in Maryland included McCoole's Bridge, commonly referred to by the B & O as the 21st Section Bridge. On page 46 the "Annual Report" states, "The masonry of the viaduct, which has two timber arches of 156 feet span each, was not commenced as early as it should have been, owing in part to the delay attendant upon the adjustment of the location of this part of the road in conjunction with the canal; and in part to the failure of two contractors who successfully untertook it. In the hands of the Company, it is now rapidly advancing. The timber of the superstructure is also being delivered and the framing begun." The bridge likely had to absorb additonal delays pushing the completion date into 1851. The B & O "Annual Report" for October 1860 listed the 21st Section Bridge still standing, a bridge of "wood, 2 spans, 156 feet each."
On June 19, 1861, the Confederate Army detroyed the covered bridge over the North Branch of the Potomac River. Below is a series of articles from the Baltimore Sun detailing the existence of the bridge and the burning of the bridge. The bridge was also known as Potomac River Bridge, Fink's Bridge, 21st Mile Bridge and 21st Section Bridge.
Baltimore Sun, July 25, 1852.
The crossing of the Potomac from the Maryland to the Virginia shore, 21 miles from Cumberland, where the railroad, after passing through a long and deep excavation, spans the river by a bridge of timber and iron, on stone abutments and a pier. The view at this point, both up and down the river, is very fine. Here we took in water and had leisure to look at the bridge. It is a noble structure, roofed, and weatherboarded. It has two spans of 160 feet each, making the total length 320 feet. On the west end of the bridge are the words "Potomac Bridge, 1851;" "Designed by B.H. Latrobe, Chief Engineer;" "Executed by A. Fink, Assistant Engineer; J.C. Davis, Carpenter."
Baltimore Sun, June 22, 1861.
News from Piedmont--By the arrival of the train from Grafton last night, we learn that the cars that left here yesterday morning did not go beyond that point in consequence of the news from Piedmont and beyond. It seems that the bridge at Twenty-one mile creek was burned early yesterday by the rebels, who were gathering there and at other points between Piedmont and Cumberland in force, preparatory to a descent on the former place, where they expected to surprise Col. Wallace's regiment of Indian Zouaves. The report is that Berley's Company, from Cumberland, were stationed out at the bridge burned, were taken prisoners, and that the rebels had cut the wires and taken up the rails after them.
A follow-up article from the Baltimore Sun, June 24, 1861.
The bridge over the North Branch of the Potomac, known as Fink's bridge, 21 miles west of Cumberland, has been burnt by the secessionists. The middle pier is destroyed.
Finally, an article in the Baltimore Sun, July 2, 1861, details the account of the burning of the bridge on June 19, 1861.
Headquarters, 3rd Tennessee Reg't., Col. Hill's Brigade, June 19, 1861--A.P. Hill, Colonel Commanding Brigade, C.S.A., Romney, Va.--I have the honor to report on yesterday at 8 o'clock P.M., in pursuance of your order, I took two companies of the Thirteenth Virginia Volunteers, C.S.A., commanded by Captain Crittenden, and White, and also two companies of the Third Tennessee Regiment Volunteers, C.S.A., commanded by Captain Lillards, and Mathas, and advanced eighteen miles west to the line of the enemy, upon the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and found them posted in some strength, with two pieces of artillery, on the north bank of the Potomac, at the twenty-first railroad bridge on said road. The enemy had no pickets posted. At 5 o'clock A.M., after reconnoitering, I gave the order to charge the enemy, which command, I beg leave to say, was gallantly executed and in good order, but with great enthusiasm. I then ordered the twenty-first railroad bridge to be burnt, which was done, and in a few minutes only the piers remained. John C. Vaughan, Colonel Commanding, Third Tennessee Volunteers, Confederate States Army.
The B & O "Annual Report" of 1861 declared the bridge rebuilt: "July 21st, the trestling of 21st section bridge was commenced, and on the 25th trains run through from Wheeling to Cumberland." On November 2, 1861 a portion of the bridge was swept away by a freshet along with five weighted flat cars. Although the bridge may have been rebuilt again using some timber, it is doubtful that it was covered. The 1862 "Annual Report" shows an 1861 cost of $1,803.98 for trestlework to rebuild the 21st Section Bridge and $13,699.76 for iron used to rebuild it.

¹ James D. Dilts, The Great Road: The Building of the Baltimore & Ohio. The Nation's First Railroad, 1828-1853. (Stanford University Press: Stanford, California: 1993), p.363.

UPDATED: 01/01/2014 more information added based on the various B & O "Annual Reports" related to build date, length, spans, and rebuilding the bridge after it was destroyed in 1861 during the Civil War.

UPDATED: 02/26/2010 significant information detailing the structure and confirmation of date built and date lost. Additional names for bridge provided. Location slightly changed.

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