There were cards and cake, coffee and cider. Everything you'd expect from a typical birthday party.
Except, in this case, the guest of honor was the 150-year-old Sheard’s Mill Covered Bridge.
A steady rain Saturday afternoon forced the sesquicentennial festivities inside. Still, about 150 people, including U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1, and state Rep. Craig Staats, R-145, stopped by to honor the venerable span that links Haycock and East Rockhill townships.
The event was organized by the Haycock Historical Society and Friends of the Bridge, and hosted by Tohickon Family Campground owners Brad and Kirsten Glenn.
Bernie DuBois, a member of the Friends of the Bridge and a driving force behind the birthday bash, said the bridge is an integral part of the area’s rich history. Together with the nearby Sheard’s Mill, it served an important role in the 19th century in making the area a commercial village, she said.
In 1980, the bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Today, about 150 vehicles use the bridge each day.
Built in 1873, it spans the Tohickon Creek along Covered Bridge Road. At 130 feet, it is one of the longest covered bridges in Bucks County.
“It’s a wonderful piece of history that is still functional,” said DuBois, who has lived in the area for 24 years. “Plus, it’s just lovely to look at.”
Earlier this year, the state-owned bridge underwent a minor makeover with the replacement of its deck boards. Other work, including a new roof, is needed but not scheduled.
Saturday’s celebration also included a rare opportunity to tour the adjacent Sheard’s Mill. Charlie Yeske, president of the Society for the Preservation of Old Mills, was on hand to explain how the millers took grain — corn or wheat — grown by local farmers and turned it into flour using an intricate system of levers, pulleys, and grinding wheels that was state-of-the-art for the time.
The mill’s first section was built around 1825, with three additions built into the early 20th century. Levi Sheard bought the mill in 1844, Rubin and John Clymer took ownership in 1916, and the mill continued to operate until the 1970s. In 2006, it joined the bridge on the National Register of Historic Places.
In addition to mill tours, visitors were treated to a bridge art show, an appearance by Scott Bomboy, author of “Wooden Treasurers: The Story of Bucks County’s Covered Bridges,” and the chance to win a raffle for a wreath adorned with $400 in gift certificates from local businesses.
Chris Handschin, past president of the historical society and the artist whose watercolor of the bridge was used on the birthday cake, said it’s important to call attention to the state of covered bridges, especially in Bucks County, that are not always a priority for maintenance.
Of the 12 covered bridges remaining in Bucks County, three are owned and maintained by PennDOT — Sheard’s Mill, Van Sant in Tinicum, and Mood’s in East Rockhill. Bucks County is responsible for maintaining the others.
Once a covered bridge is gone, it can never be replaced, Handschin said.
“They make Bucks County special,” she said. “We don’t want to lose that. We want them to last for another 150 years.”
Bomboy agreed. Covered bridges, he said “are beloved symbols of a time gone by that many people still cherish. They are one of Bucks County's most popular tourist attractions and icons in their community. Only a united community can preserve them for future generations."