The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

February 21, 2009

Crossing the East Branch

12-mile-long stream posed obstacles to travel in countryside

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

The East Branch of the Ashtabula River rises in seeps near the Pennsylvania border and flows northwest from there for 12 miles before joining the West Branch and forming the river’s main stream.

Both branches and the main stream flow through farming country. In the settlement and development of this land, these streams presented a ready supply of moisture for farm animals grazing in pastures along their banks but also obstacles to the movement of products and people.

Modern concrete and steel spans make short, efficient work of these crossings, but there was a time when the horse-and-wagon traffic had to slow down as it approached the single-lane structures.

At least three such bridges stood along the East Branch, according to research conducted by Dennis Osburn and Alice Bliss. Maps and newspaper articles suggest there could have been even more. This little but troublesome stream bisects Turner, Hall, Marcy, Graham, Beckwith, Scribner and Adams roads, as well as Route 7. Of course, short-lived wooden bridges could have been constructed across the streams without going to the added expense of covering the structures.

The Sept. 3, 1870, Ashtabula Weekly Telegraph carried an intriguing one-paragraph news brief that suggests many of these little wooden bridges dotted the countryside of Pierpont Township:

“The heavy rain of last week caused a freshet which did great damage in the south part of the county, probably destroying property to the extent of seven or eight thousand dollars, mostly in bridges belonging to the county. The bridges swept away were the new one known as Young’s, just east of the Center of Pierpont; one three-quarters of a mile southeast of Pierpont; (and) three bridges on the Center road between Monroe and Pierpont. A bridge framed and ready to be raised near Poole’s on the Pike was carried down the stream, and most of the material lost. Mr. T.S. Winship had the contract for building it. Besides there were two or three destroyed in the vicinity of Conneautville.”

Among those mentioned, only one in Pierpont has been assigned a bridge number. The Pierpont covered bridge, 35-04-31, would have been one of the “three bridges on the Center road,” which became Route 7.

According to Alice Bliss’ history of this bridge, the structure stood about a mile north of Pierpont and crossed the East Branch as it cuts a diagonal from the state line to the confluence. The East Branch is a narrow stream, so a bridge of only 50 feet was required for the crossing north of Pierpont.

The original construction of the bridge was sometime after July 24, 1867, which was when the county advertised for bids to erect a bridge 14 feet wide.

If the flood of 1870 did indeed wash out this bridge, one was rebuilt there, and it stood until the road was widened and paved in the mid-1920s. Walter Jack, who was an Ashtabula County historian in the first half of the 20th century, wrote that a flood prior to 1900 had washed the bridge off its foundation, but it was repaired and restored to service. Looking at the narrow East Branch, it’s hard to fathom the little stream having such a large volume of flow or force.

Another insight to this flood is given in that same newspaper story, which mentioned that a Mr. Trimmer in Pierpont had a whole acre of potatoes unearthed by the flood and most of them carried away in the torrent.

Farther north, another covered bridge took its place across the East Branch in 1878 on Adams Road. That bridge replaced another one washed out by the great flood of 1878, a particularly bad year for the county’s covered bridges. The Conneaut Reporter, dated Sept. 19, 1878, stated that two Monroe Township bridges, both near the farm of Charles Adams, were washed out. One of them was a covered structure.

The reincarnation of this bridge had a 78-foot span and overall length of 103 feed. It was 121¼2 feet wide and 91¼2 feet tall. It stood at the north end of the road, near Scribner Road. The bridge enjoyed a relatively long life, succumbing to progress in the early 1950s.

The bridge numbering system recognizes both structures, with numbers 11 and 47 assigned to these forgotten crossings on Adams Road.

Adams Road is named for Charles Morris Adams, who was born in 1803 and died April 20, 1888. Farms in the area around the bridge were owned by Adams’ offspring.