Parke County, Indiana bills itself as the Covered Bridge Capital of the World. At a count of 30 covered bridges, it beat out Lancaster, Pennsylvania by one bridge of having the most in the nation. In 1978 the bridges were added to the National Register of Historic Places. The Covered Bridge Festival is always held the second through the third weekend of October. I don’t know how this festival got it’s start, but in it’s beginning, it was a small rural festival.
My mother and grandmother had a friend, Mildred Hardesty, who had a house on one of the two bridge routes, During the festival, Mildred would rent table space to a few friends. We had a combined setup where my mother sold antiques and my grandmother and I sold baked goods and needlework as well as arts and crafts. Although the covered bridge routes started in Rockville, the county seat, we were located nearer the small village of Mansfield. Actually, it was out in the boonies with not much around except the small gravel road out front. We didn’t see much traffic pass by during the week, but business picked up on the weekends. Each year the festival became bigger and bigger. Now it’s bumper to bumper cars and people literally come from all over the country to participate in this small town mid-American tradition. I don’t know how long it takes to form a tradition, but the festival, which began in 1957, is a tradition for Hoosiers.
Headquartered on the courthouse lawn in Rockville, you will find food served by many of the non-profit organizations of the county that use funds from the Festival to promote their organizations throughout the year. A large tent and streets around the courthouse filled with crafters and vendors for your shopping delight are open daily from 9 am to 6pm. Some have been here since the festival began. Free entertainment is scheduled on the south side of the courthouse throughout each day.
Bus tours leave the square daily from the tour booth located on the northwest corner of the square. Guided tours take you through the county to make stops at communities in the county and, of course, to see Covered Bridges along the way. Tickets are $10.00 for adults, under 12 is $7.00 and lap sitters are free. For reserved tickets please call 765-569-5226 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Choose from either of the routes, Red or Yellow Each route is unique and different. The Red route tours the southern part of the county with stops in Bridgeton and Rosedale and Mecca. Yellow travels north through country farm communities, Bloomingdale, Tangier and Montezuma. where they serve their famous “Buried Beef,” and stops at Bloomingdale, a Quaker Community and Montezuma with the Hog Roast and Wabash Erie Canal. You will see 5-6 bridges on each route.
An alternative is to pick up a map of the bridges, get back in your car and drive at your own pace. This is an enjoyable way to spend an autumn day or weekend. A drive through the countryside viewing the fall foliage, stopping to see a bit of history, sampling food that you’ve never eaten nor even heard of before, buying goodies, both antique and new, and of course, experiencing covered bridges. Be sure you pass by Mansfield. It’s a pretty swinging little village now days.