Learn about the covered bridges of the Hudson Valley

Covered bridge enthusiast Ronald Knapp considers Perrine’s Bridge to be the jewel of the genre in the mid-Hudson region.  (photo by Julie O’Connor)

Covered bridge enthusiast Ronald Knapp considers Perrine’s Bridge to be the jewel of the genre in the mid-Hudson region. (photo by Julie O’Connor)

For all covered-bridge-lovers, the Town of Lloyd Historical Preservation Society (TOLHPS) will sponsor a presentation by Ronald G. Knapp, co-author of the book America’s Covered Bridges, on Monday, April 6. The program will take place at Vineyard Commons in Highland at 7 p.m.

Knapp’s book is subtitled Practical Crossings – Nostalgic Icons. For most of us, it’s that nostalgia that inspires our reverence for covered bridges. They beckon us inside with the promise of more than just a river crossing, but also passage into a simpler, slower, more romantic era. If you could, wouldn’t you cross the Wallkill River through Perrine’s Bridge in Rifton rather than race across the wide-open Thruway bridge alongside it?

During his presentation Knapp will show gorgeous slides of covered bridges, including some in the Hudson Valley, and share their stories. But his interest goes beyond the aesthetics and legends. He has surprising answers to interesting questions: Why were they built? What was the length and location of the longest one? What was their environmental impact? No spoiler alert here; audience members will get the answers.

Knapp taught in the Department of Geography and Asian Studies Program at SUNY-New Paltz for nearly 35 years, retiring with the rank of SUNY distinguished professor emeritus. He is the author of many books on Chinese architecture. In 2013, the Executive Board of the New York Conference on Asian Studies created the Ronald G. Knapp Award for Distinguished Service to Asian Studies in New York.

How did a leading expert on Far Eastern architecture and society come to write a book on American covered bridges? Born in Pittsburgh, he vaguely recalls seeing some in that state in the 1950s when he visited a family member’s farm. When he moved to New Paltz, he discovered Perrine’s Bridge, which he calls the jewel of the genre in the mid-Hudson region. But really, inspiration for the book was not that local. In fact, he had already written two books on Chinese bridges, including some covered ones there. That led him to attend a conference on covered bridges in China in 2005, where he met an American covered-bridge enthusiast, Terry Miller.

He urged Miller to write a book on American covered bridges, but they agreed that they were each too busy to tackle the project alone. So they decided to work together, along with Knapp’s frequent collaborator, photographer A. Chester Ong. The three of them made 11 trips all over the US and Canada, researching candidates for the book. Their approach in writing the book, Knapp says, was to treat the bridges not so much as artifacts but in context of 19th-century history, expressing American ingenuity and entrepreneurship.

“As soon as it was finished,” Knapp says, “I realized there were not many mid-Hudson bridges included, even though there is a good collection of surviving ones in the area.” Lately he has been taking a look at bridges closer to home. His research extends to some that no longer stand, including the original bridge over the Wallkill River in New Paltz and several that once spanned the Hudson River. Knapp’s presentation will include some regional bridges as well as others selected from his books.

Vineyard Commons, where the April program will be held, is located at 300 Vineyard Avenue, about a mile-and-a-quarter from the hamlet of Highland on Route 44/55, just south of the Hudson Valley Rehabilitation Center. The program is free and open to everyone. To reach the theater, turn into Vineyard Commons and follow the signs to Building 6. Early arrivers get the best parking spaces. Free refreshments will be available.

For more information, call (845) 255-7742, visit the TOLHPS website at https://www.tolhps.org or look for Town of Lloyd Historical Preservation Society on Facebook.

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