The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

February 8, 2009

Country charmers that once dotted the rural landscape

Town lattice bridges served rural communities in the 19th century

By CARL E. FEATHER - Staff Writer - cfeather@starbeacon.com

Some things do their job so well they are too easily taken for granted: that old refrigerator in the garage, the clock that was a wedding present 35 years ago, the kitchen table that belonged to your grandparents, the bridge you cross over every day on the way to work.

A century ago the Ashtabula County countryside was dotted with workhorses of the wooden bridge world, the simple, inexpensive Town lattice bridge. The design, which uses diagonal timbers held together with wooden pins, was patented in 1820 by Ithiel Town.

Town (1784-1844), was a prominent American architect and civil engineer, as well as a wealthy businessman. Builders were required to pay Town a royalty of $1 to $2 per foot.

Especially popular in New England, these simple, inexpensive bridges could be quickly constructed by relatively unskilled workers using native timber. Given the large number of them built here, they appear to have been especially suited to Ashtabula County’s agrarian economy and the narrow streams and rivers that separated markets from farms. Wagons loaded with hay, grain, fruit and vegetables moved across these stalwart structures during the work week. On Sundays, they opened they opened their arms to church-going and neighbor-visitation traffic. And throughout the long country nights, the bridges stood ready to safely transport the doctor to a back-roads medical emergency.

The transformation to the internal combustion engine brought larger, faster and heavier vehicles to these dusty roads. The writing was on the timbers, but for several decades after trucks replaced wagons and cars supplanted the horse and buggy, these old single-span structures continued to bridge the creeks and eras.

Byways fortunate enough to remain as such in the post-war economy had a much better chance of surviving than those on roads converted to main highways. A survey of the county’s extant Town lattice bridges reveals most of them survived into the era of preservation because they were located on remote, little-traveled byways.

Ashtabula County residents have a significant treasure in these little shed-like structures. A survey of covered bridges in other Ohio counties reveals that Ashtabula County was the Town lattice capital of the state. Nine of them survived, but many more were lost.

Today, we look at five of these country charmers who joined the category of Forgotten Crossings years ago.





East Trumbull

Ohio bridge

number 35-04-20

This bridge, described as “quaint” by local historian Alice Bliss, stood on Windsor Mechanicsville Road and crossed Trumbull Creek just north of East Trumbull.

The bridge had a span of 75 feet and overall length of 100. Center-to-center, the trusses were 17.5 feet; the clearance was 11 feet, 2 inches.

The bridge was built in 1867, a particularly productive year for covered bridge carpenters in the county. At least 12 covered bridges were constructed that year; the only two of that vintage still standing are Mechanicsville and Wiswell Road.

The bridge kept its charge until September, 1950, when it capitulated to a modern bridge.

Alice Bliss records a legend concerning this bridge. Back around 1898, a very heavy old steam engine being moved through the bridge fell through a section of flooring. Farmers came to the rescue, put a plank under the machinery and fixed the floor before the next traveler trusted his life and property to the bridge.



Gageville

Ohio bridge

number 35-04-30

The construction date of this long-forgotten bridge has never been determined by historians, however, based upon a photograph from circa 1900-1910, the bridge had already stood for several decades. In the photograph, workers were replacing the roof on the barn-like structure.

This bridge stood on what would become Route 193, a state highway. It stood just north of the intersection with Plymouth-Gageville /Gageville-Monroe roads. At the time the road was much lower to the water, which must have created a steep grade for traffic negotiating the Ashtabula River valley.

A Northern Ohio Covered Bridge Society quarterly in 1966 shed light on this bridge’s demise when it quoted a 1926 assessment of the structure: “Not in good repair, over much trafficked brick highway about five miles off Buffalo-Cleveland Highway (Route 20), 1 1/2 miles from Kingsville, South. Gageville was named for a Mr. Gage, wealthy landowner.”

The bridge was removed shortly thereafter and replaced by 1930.



Gould

Ohio bridge

number 35-04-49

Looking at a picture of this little charmer, one can’t help but feel sad that the Gould bridge, with its short span and idyllic country setting near Pierpont, didn’t survive.

Indeed, even the bridge’s namesake community and road have disappeared.

Gould was located just south of the present-day Route 167 and east of Stanhope-Kelloggsville Road. A Gould community cemetery is tucked away in the woods at this location and the faint outline of the old road can be seen as it descends toward the West Branch of the Ashtabula River.

The Gould bridge was built in 1873 and gone by 1928. The bridge was removed when the former road between Pierpont and Jefferson was straightened. The road passed through the valley below the old Gould Cemetery. Those who know what to look for and where to look, can still find the abutments of this old structure, which from all accounts was very short, perhaps even shorter than South Denmark, our county’s shortest span at just 81 feet.

Alice Bliss, in researching this bridge, tells of visiting with a Mrs. Water Olin (Ethel Byrnes), who lived on the east side of Stanhope-Kelloggsville in the area of Gould. The road going back to the cemetery was just north of her residence.

Mrs. Olin claimed that the old house she lived in, built between 1840 and 1850, was a stop on the Underground Railroad. She said a Gould Tavern and stage-coach stop once stood on the west side of the turnpike.

Bliss wrote that although the Byrnes family lived at the corners, they moved to Conneaut when Mrs. Olin was 11. She nevertheless recalled the old bridge from her childhood days and the little cemetery, the land for which had been donated for community use.



Hildom Road

Ohio bridge

number 35-04-10

Like the Gould bridge, this handsome span that once stood in the broad Ashtabula River valley in Monroe Township, was a charmer.

The bridge was among those erected in 1867 and stood just east of Stanhope Kelloggsville Road and south of the extant Root Road covered bridge.

At 75 feet in length, the bridge was stout and well built. It was put to the test 11 years after construction, when the area was ravaged by the rain-induced 1878 flood that reduced many covered bridges to timbers and took out farms and homes. The Hildom Road bridge stood its ground with only minor damage, although a nearby mill was lost.

It breezed through the transformation to motorized traffic, but by the early 1950s, the old bridge, like many others, was in the cross hairs of the county engineer’s bridge-replacement plans.

The bridge was removed in 1955 and replaced with a structural steel bridge that was completed in June of that year. Just several years prior to its demise, the bridge had received a new roof and roof boards, new floor joists and re-enforcement on one end. The bridge was poised to serve the community for decades to come, but County Engineer George V. Weatherston had other ideas.

Neighbors, many of whom had grown up with the bridge, lamented its passing.

“There is a touch of sadness in the passing of the Hildom Road covered bridge,” stated an editorial in the Star Beacon May 5, 1955. “The replacement of the structure is a necessity, according to the hard-boiled realist. Again the quiet beauty of tradition must give way to the relentless march of progress. Only 20 such bridges now remain in Ashtabula County. Soon there will be none.

“At least one should be preserved as a memorial to that peaceful age of a 100 years ago. It would serve as a reminder that it is possible to live – and live well – without the advantages of modern civilization.”



Old Route 167

Ohio bridge

number 35-04-15

As with the Gould bridge, the Old Route 167 covered bridge was a victim of a re-aligned highway.

In the 1940s a new route was cut between Jefferson and Denmark, bypassing a covered bridge that stood on a road that’s referred to as both March Road, Old Route 167 and Jefferson-Denmark Road in articles about the structure. Although the name of the road varies, there can be no doubt that the same bridge is being discussed, based upon the sad photographs accompanying the stories.

This covered bridge was missing part of its roof and most of its siding by the time it was bypassed in the summer of 1947. Built in 1862, the Town lattice bridge spanned Mill Creek.

Bliss’ story about the bridge quoted at length a W.T. Simmons, whose recollections of the bridge were originally published Aug. 24, 1948. Simmons claimed to share the bridge’s birth year and a lifelong knowledge of the structure. Bliss wrote:

“... the old bridge which this one replaced, was 100 feet downstream and Simmons remembered the deep cut in the high bank on the west side of Mill Creek, which led to the former bridge. He told that 150 feet upstream was a water-powered saw mill operated by his father.

“Simmons said that older residents may remember a hole on the south side of the old covered span, but he said he believed he was the only person living in 1948 who could remember seeing the hole made.

“Before Netcher Road was opened the only bridge between (the) 167 bridge and Dorset was a private bridge owned by Dennis Williams, who had a steam saw mill about a mile upstream. It seems that a September flood caused water, several feet deep, to cover the road up to the hill on the east and nearly to the floor of the new span.

“Word was received that the Williams bridge was washed out and heading downstream toward the covered bridge and everyone gathered at the bridge with the hope the Williams bridge would lodge some where on the bank or go to pieces before it floated down to their new covered bridge.

“Simmons said it did neither and his childish mind was so vividly impressed that he could still visualize it as it came down intact, riding Mill Creek’s turbulent waters heading straight for the covered bridge and all felt their bridge was doomed.

“The framework of the Williams bridge struck the covered bridge broadside, smashing a hole in its side and then folded up and passed under the covered bridge in pieces. The only damage to the covered bridge was the three broken boards. The hole was never repaired and through it, Simmons said he killed his first wild duck on April 3, 1885, getting two with one shot.”

Next week: Forgotten Crossings of Kingsville and Kelloggsville