Some call it the Holz Brücke, many call it the Wooden Bridge, and most simply call it the Covered Bridge —
But, by any name, this stunning piece of craftsmanship still stands strong as both the youngest two-lane, two-sidewalk covered wooden bridge in the world and Michigan’s largest covered wooden bridge, welcoming visitors and locals alike to walk, drive, and bike across its boards on their way to and from some of our most treasured Frankenmuth spots!
How The Covered Bridge Came To Be
In the early 1960s, talks of building a covered bridge in Frankenmuth began between brothers Eddie Zehnder and William “Tiny” Zehnder Jr., then owners of Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth and Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn Restaurant. Both brothers had property on the far side of Frankenmuth’s Cass River waiting to be developed, but no bridge to give visitors and locals easy access. And so began the dream of a covered, wooden bridge, connecting Frankenmuth’s Main Street to land just across the Cass (now the site of Frankenmuth staples like the Bavarian Inn Lodge and Heritage Park, home to many of our favorite Frankenmuth festivals & three spectacular baseball fields).
Nearly two decades later, in 1977, William “Tiny” Zehnder read about Milton Graton, “The Last of the Covered Bridge Builders” in The Grit Newspaper. Tiny brought Graton to Frankenmuth (all the way from New Hampshire) and the Zehnder brothers’ dream bridge began to take shape (beginning with a contract written on a yellow, lined sheet of paper and sealed with a handshake)! From plans to opening, it took just over two years to build the towering beauty and connect the Frankenmuth community. The result? An impressive two-lane, 230-ton bridge (complete with covered pedestrian walkways on either side), stretching 239 feet across the scenic Cass River!
Building The Covered Bridge
What started as a simple hand-drawn sketch on two sheets of paper and an artistic, architectural vision in Graton’s mind by 1979 had begun to take shape as the Holz Brücke we now know and love. Enlisting a few family members (particularly his son and grandson) to work on the bridge, Graton began to turn the simplest of sketches into a three-span Town lattice truss bridge, climbing to the bridge’s roof to work alongside his crew, even at over 70 years young!
163,288 board feet of wood and nearly 1,000 pounds of non-wood material went into the making of the almost entirely wood structure, built mostly of Douglas Fir and clad with an astounding 25,000 cedar shingles! In January 1980, a team of oxen was used to pull the completed bridge into place over a span of 12 days at a rate of only three inches per minute (and we think every last inch was entirely worth the wait)!
In September 1980, the $1.1 million dollar passion project now known as Bavarian Inn’s Holz Brücke (or informally by many as the Frankenmuth Covered Bridge) was dedicated, welcoming visitors and locals to cross the Cass River on its beautifully built passageway.
Frankenmuth’s Covered Bridge Today
By April 2015, 35 years of joint ownership came to a close when third-generation members of the Zehnder family formally transferred Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth’s interest in the Holz Brücke to Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn, Inc. Shortly after, the Bavarian Inn Zehnder family gave the already-stunning Holz Brücke a fresh, new facelift, updating to an all-new cedar shake roof (crafted from 15,000 square feet of shingles!) and replacing most of the bridge’s floor boards. 2,250 8-inch nails were used to attach the green (uncured) 3 & 3/4” thick, white oak boards. The total private investment to update and preserve this precious piece of Frankenmuth history? $317,000 (an investment worth every penny, as Bavarian Inn’s Holz Brücke still serves not only as a beautifully built and fully functional bridge, but an important connector of the Frankenmuth community)!
Whether you’re crossing the Covered Bridge to stay at the Bavarian Inn Lodge and enjoy its indoor waterpark and family fun center, coming to the “other side” of the Cass for a favorite Frankenmuth festival at Heritage Park, or simply passing for the chance to peer down at the tranquil river below, we hope you come explore and experience a magical piece of Frankenmuth history firsthand, right here in Pure Michigan.