The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Covered bridge series

March 7, 2009

State Road bridge got the ball rolling 26 years ago

MONROE TOWNSHIP – Ashtabula County was gripped by recession and high unemployment in the early 1980s when County Engineer John Smolen looked to the past for a way to light the county’s future.

In 1983 Smolen led the effort that built over Conneaut Creek the first covered bridge to be constructed in Ohio since 1920, when wooden bridges gave way to steel and concrete structures.

State Road in Monroe Township was chosen as the site for this honor. The bridge, which came with a $200,000 price tag, was made affordable by county commissioners’ clever use of Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA) money. Commissioners Pete Iarocci, Harold Christian and Alfred Mackey submitted the project, which would bring a handful of jobs to the distressed county while replacing an old steel bridge across the creek.

County Engineer John Smolen designed the bridge and supervised construction after the crew chief quit a few weeks into the project. Smolen stepped in, splitting his time between the bridge construction site in the mornings and his office in the afternoons.

In an interview for Western Reserve Magazine, Smolen told writer Jean Lyon “This thing (the bridge) has changed my life. I like my job and have wonderful, fond memories. I love going out there (the bridge site) everyday. There is no substitute for accomplishment, you know the work ethic. I like working with heavy timber (and) used to hang around saw mills as a kid.”

Smolen selected the Town lattice design for the bridge, a proven design used on nine other extant covered bridges in Ashtabula County. Timber sources were treated southern pine, whitewood and native oak (floor beams). It required 97,000 board feet of lumber. CETA paid $60,000 of the materials cost.

The crossing required two spans of 70 feet each to create a bridge with a total length of just under 157 feet. It has a clear width of 171¼2 feet and height of 141¼2 feet.

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