Learning Through Places – Engineering: Cornwall Covered Bridge
November 20, 2018
Learning Through Places Lesson Plan – Women’s History: Hill-Stead Museum
November 25, 2018

Return to Introduction & Lesson at a Glance

Learning Through Places

Engineering: West Cornwall Covered Bridge


Through this lesson plan, students will learn about engineering and how discoveries in construction of bridges in the mid-19th century improved transportation across the state.

Recommended student reading 

Where I Live: Connecticut, chapter 7, pages 57 – 59

Recommended teacher reading 

See additional resources below. These will provide you with the background you need for this lesson plan.

Components of the Lesson Plan

  1. Connections to the state’s social studies frameworks
  2. Classroom discussion questions and additional resources. At the end of the lesson plan, your students should be able to engage in a discussion about the development of technology in bridge building that helped travelers to more easily cross streams and rivers throughout the state.
  3. Lesson Plan – Engineering: West Cornwall Covered Bridge

Lesson Plan 

Discussion Guide 

The West Cornwall Covered Bridge, its Importance as an Engineering Innovation by Connecticut Ithiel Town, and its Continued Preservation

Begin with an in-class conversation about how early Connecticut settlers crossed rivers and streams so that the mail, farm produce, and manufactured goods could be transported across the state. At first, wood was the favored building material for bridges because it was plentiful and easy to work with. Advances in engineering and technology enabled bridges to be built across wider and wider rivers.

 Here are some questions to help guide the discussion.

  • How does the location of a transportation route affect town growth? A. Most towns grow up around some type of major transportation: sailing ships, steamboats, stagecoaches, railroads, and later, automobiles.
  • How do travelers cross large streams or rivers? Either by crossing on horseback or wading at a shallow spot, crossing on a boat like a ferry, or on a bridge.
  • What is a bridge? A. A bridge is a structure carrying a road, path, railroad, or canal over a river, ravine, road, railroad, or other obstacle.
  • How does a bridge work? The simplest bridge is a plank that reaches from bank to bank. But that type of bridge can’t carry heavy loads or reach long distances. Engineers since ancient times have had to find ways to build strong bridge structures that can reach across a river, withstand the pull of gravity, hold up to the elements such as rain, sun, wind, and snow, and carry traffic. Many designs have been developed: beam, arch, suspension, truss, and cantilever.
  • What type of bridge is the West Cornwall Covered Bridge? A. The West Cornwall Covered Bridge is a covered lattice truss bridge carrying the Sharon-Goshen Turnpike over the Housatonic River in the town of Cornwall. Built in about 1864, the wooden bridge is significant for two reasons. It is one of only three covered bridges remaining in Connecticut and it was designed by an important Connecticut architect and engineer: Ithiel Town.
  • What does a civil engineer do? A civil engineer designs and maintains roads, bridges, dams, and similar structures.
  • What are modern bridges made of? Steel and concrete
  • What bridges do you know about? What bridges have you been over? Is there a bridge in your town?


Distribute or have students link to the For Students Engineering: West Cornwall Covered Bridge materials.

Learning Through Places – Engineering: Cornwall Covered Bridge

Have them look closely at the first image and answer the questions via the prompts provided below.

What do you see in the photograph?

What is this structure?

What is its job?

Is it near the water?

What is it made out of?

Does it look strong?


Next, have them read the story about the West Cornwall Covered Bridge and choose an activity, including the Build a Bridge activity below.

Build a Bridge!

Connections to State Frameworks


Causation and Argumentation

  • How have science, technology and innovation affected the development of towns and cities in Connecticut?


Economic Decision-Making

ECO 3.1 Compare the benefits and costs of individual choices.

Compelling Question:

  • How do we trade for goods and services?

Supporting Questions:

  • Why do we live where we live?
  • How do we get the things we need to live (food, clothing, goods, etc.)?

Exchange and Markets

Supporting questions:

  • How have science, technology, innovation, and natural resources affected the development of our community and state?
  • In what ways have the rivers and waterways in Connecticut influenced economic development?


Human-Environment Interaction: Places, Regions, and Culture

GEO 3.4Explain how culture influences the way people modify and adapt to their environments.

GEO 3.5Explain how the cultural and environmental characteristics of places change over time.

GEO 3.6 Describe how environmental and cultural characteristics influence population distribution in specific places or regions.

Supporting Questions:

  • How is the “identity” of a state or region created?
  • What are some of Connecticut’s cultural and historical resources and how did they affect how people lived?

            Human Population: Spatial Patterns and Movement         

GEO 3.7, 3.8, 3.9 Supporting questions:

  • Who controls the use of land and resources?
  • How are rivers and resources in Connecticut used to develop communities and economic systems?
  • What attracts a person to a town or city today? How is that different from what may have attracted them there in 1800?

Additional Resources

The West Cornwall Covered Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, National Park Service, U.S. Dept. of the Interior.

Nomination, National Register of Historic Places, Bruce Clouette, Ph.D, 1975.


Connecticut Explored

Carry Me Across the Water: Our Historic Bridges



West Cornwall Covered Bridge: An Icon of New England Craftsmanship


American Architect Ithiel Town Born – Today in History: October 3


Return to Introduction & Lesson at a Glance