The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

March 12, 2009

Windsor crossings

Alderman School bridge gave students a short-cut to class

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

The former Cox Road, north of Route 322 in Windsor, is a narrow driveway that dead ends at a house. A neighbor tells me that behind that house, back in the woods, are the abutments of what used to be a covered bridge. With the ground saturated and oozing mud, I take his word for it and leave that field trip to a drier day.

The old bridge that stood here has been gone for a century or more. Only two photos of it could be unearthed, both of them in the care of the Windsor Historical Society.

Marlan and Marian (McCalmont) Alderman, society members, have a special interest in the bridge because of Marlan’s familial connection to the school. The Elsworth Alderman family that lived in this section of the Township had a daughter, Ada Alderman, who taught at the school that would come to bear her name. Elsworth was Marlan’s great uncle.

Ada, who died in 1927, has been called the “premiere educator of Windsor.” She taught in the one-room schoolhouse that is now a handsome brick home at the corner of Route 322 and the former Cox Road.

Neither Marlan nor Marian attended this school or crossed the covered bridge that led to it. By 1926 all of the one-room schools had been consolidated in Windsor, at the building that is now the community center. Marian says there were four such schools in the eastern side of the township, and they were the first to consolidate. The five on the western side operated a while longer.

Phelps Creek presented an obstacle to education and travel to those who lived to the north of the stream along what is today Huntley Road (formerly Killdeer Road).

In 1867 two covered bridges were built across this stream -- one at Wiswell Road, which still stands, and one on Cox Road. According to the bridge notice in the Ashtabula Sentinel, the “lattice or barn bridge over Phelp’s Creek, near Skinners Mill, was to be 120 feet. That notice is assumed to refer to the Wiswell Road structure because of the mill reference.

The Cox Road span had a short life. By 1890 the bridge was closed to wagon traffic, but because it was an important conduit for students who attended Alderman School, remained open to pedestrian traffic.

The photograph in the society’s collection shows a woman, perhaps Ada Alderman, and two men standing on a wooden incline leading to the bridge’s portal. The bridge rests on a free-standing abutment of cut stones. What appears to be a second abutment of similar construction is at the far left of the image.

However a second image in the society’s collection and purported to be of the Alderman Bridge, shows a side view from a distance and suggests there was at least one pier set aside Phelps Creek to support the Town lattice bridge. The height of the pier and depth of the valley appear too low for the image to be of Wiswell Road.

This bridge had disappeared from the scene by 1895 and was replaced with a swinging foot bridge. It appears as if the builders used the covered bridge’s abutments and pier upon which to construct this bridge. Alice Bliss, who wrote extensively on Ashtabula County history during the middle of the 20th century, wrote that youngsters who crossed the bridge treated it as a playground and made it swing back and forth.

This action eventually weakend the bridge and rendered it unsafe for even the relatively light traffic of school children.

The youngsters paid dearly for their fun. With the bridge out of commission, they had to take the long route to school, a trip of several miles.

In addition to its connection to education, the Alderman Road bridge was associated with a sugar bush owned by Elsworth Alderman. The sugar house was located in the valley just below the bridge. In 2003 Marian Alderman interviewed Windsor native Richard Holley, who said Bart Harshman, another Windsor resident, told him his first experience as a sawyer was to harvest Elsworth Alderman’s grove of maple trees from the valley after Alderman quit the maple syrup business.

Although long gone, the Alderman School bridge has been recognized by the World Guide to Covered Bridges and assigned bridge number 35-04-41. And while only several images of this once vibrant corner of Windsor Township have survived, the historical society recently acquired a significant piece of history from that era. The old bell that once rang from the top of the Alderman Schoolhouse and echoed through the Phelps Creek Valley is part of the collection and will be displayed in the future.