The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

March 7, 2009

Conneaut Crossings II

Old mill, bog-iron furnace stood near covered bridges

By CARL E. FEATHER - Staff Writer -

Part two of a two-part series on extinct covered bridges that once crossed Conneaut Creek. Last week’s story looked at the Farnham twin bridges.

A short distance north of where the Farnham Mill’s twin covered bridges stood, another old bridge associated with a mill crossed Conneaut Creek as it made a final loop around the city.

The Mill Road/Mill Hill bridge, World Guide to Covered Bridges number 35-04-29, was built around 1867 and rebuilt/repaired a number of times before it was removed in 1925.

The bridge stood at the foot of “Mill Street Hill,” now Mill Road. Throughout much of its history, it was associated with a mill that stood just north of the bridge.

Known as the “Old Cider Mill,” the structure was built in the late 1800s by a C.H. Best. The mill was popular meeting place for the community in the fall and provided many a youngster with his first sip of cider.

Local historian, Alice Bliss, quoting a story written by Ashtabula County historian Walter Jack, described in a newspaper article a second mill that stood at this site, most likely a predecessor to the cider mill. This mill was powered by steam and accompanied by a tall brick smokestack.

“At one time, there was a grist mill at the site in which skilled millers from England, named Rathbun and Skinner, joined forced to grind the grist for early pioneers of Conneaut,” she wrote, quoting Jack.

The cider mill survived until Oct. 5, 1957, when it burned in a “spectacular blaze.” The building’s use as a mill had ceased several years before the fire, at which time it was being used a stable. Its days were numbered, all the same. Its owner, Eleanor Patrick, had sold the aging building to the state highway department, which planned to raze it so Route 7 could be relocated.

Likewise, the covered bridge that stood here for nearly 60 years proved a poor fit for the motorized traffic that depended upon Route 7 for north-south access to the city.

The bridge was closed in June 1924 because of wind damage that rendered it unsafe. It was replaced with an arched concrete span in 1925.

While covered bridge fans will lament the loss of the Mill Road and Farnham bridges, according to the Web site, the concrete arch bridges that replaced these structures in the 1920s are “magnificent” structures.

“Ashtabula County is just lucky to happen to have two of these extremely rare, large and significant examples of a beautiful structure type,” states the Web site, which rates the bridge’s local historic significance as 9 out of 10.

“This graceful structure is perhaps among the most beautiful bridges in Ohio,” states the site in describing the 154-foot-long bridge on Mill Road. It likewise gives high marks to the sister arch bridge on Center Road at Farnham.

Another extinct Conneaut bridge that spanned this creek, Furnace Road, was tied not to grist mills or cider, but bog iron.

This ore occurs in swampy areas, and although low in quality, it was used by early settlers as a convenient source of metal for producing their tools and housewares. Timber for making charcoal was abundant in the Western Reserve, and numerous bog iron furnaces were constructed throughout the Reserve to take advantage of these resources.

The settlement of Clark’s Corners, southeast of Conneaut at Furnace and Hatch Corners roads, developed around this fledgling industry in the early 1800s. A. Dart and M.P. Ormsby built a foundry about one mile north of these corners in 1830 and employed as many as 150 men, who made stoves and other castings. Furnace Road, which was north of Clark’s Corners, drew its name from the old furnace, which turned out the pig iron.

A covered bridge was built in 1868 across Conneaut Creek near the site of the furnace. It replaced another bridge that washed away in a flood.

A Howe truss bridge 134 feet long, the bridge spanned 126 feet and was 16 feet wide. A handsome bridge set in a beautiful valley, the bridge was damaged by a truck too large/heavy for its timbers, which sealed the bridge’s fate. A new structure was planned and in the process of building it, the winding approach was straightened. The bridge was dismantled and gone from the scene by 1950.