The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

March 20, 2009

Warner Hollow bridge a county scenic treasure

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

The sole survivor of the trio of covered bridges that once stood in Windsor is a source of pride for both residents and former residents of Ashtabula County’s southwest corner.

The Warner Hollow, or Wiswell Road, covered bridge towers above Phelps Creek on two piers. The bridge, built in 1867, shares with the Mechanicsville Road bridge the distinction of being the county’s oldest covered bridges.

The Wiswell Road bridge is located in one of the county’s most scenic and historical areas. The gorge cut by Phelps Creek in is rocky, deep and heavily wooded, a favorite haunt for photographers and the Amish, who on Sundays frequently make a visit to the bridge the centerpiece of a family outing.

The 132-foot-long bridge rests on sandstone abutments that were most likely cut from a nearby quarry. These abutments were modified and wing walls added during the extensive renovation completed by the county in 2004.

There are two piers, one of cut sandstone and another of concrete, that give the bridge additional strength. During the renovation that returned the bridge to full service, a fieldstone pier was replaced with one made of concrete and finished to look like sandstone. Ashtabula Construction performed the concrete phase of the work in 2002.

The bridge was closed to all but pedestrian traffic in the late 1960s, when Wiswell Road was rerouted. But county engineers continued to maintain the bridge even as it hibernated to prevent its loss to time and the elements.

The opportunity to resuscitate it came several years ago, when Issue Two money provided the funds the township needed to reopen the formerly abandoned section of Wiswell Road. It was renamed Covered Bridge Lane.

County highway department workers spent 18 months renovating the bridge between snow plowing and other projects. Glue-laminated girders were added to the existing lattices to carry the dead load of the bridge as well as live loads. Workers raised the bridge 4 feet, repaired the lattice trusses and added glue-laminated girders inside the trusses.

The girders essentially create a “bridge within in a bridge,” and carry the weight of the traffic, explains former county engineer John Smolen. If, at some point down the road purists want to restore the bridge to its original form, the girders could be removed.

Restoring the exterior would be a greater challenge, for it received a significantly different look as a result of the renovation. Covered in yellow poplar siding, the bridge has a distinctive star-burst design on the portals and 4-by-4-foot windows along the length of the structure.

This siding is 11/2 inches thick and 8 inches wide. Why so thick? In addition to ensuring excellent weathering, thick siding securely nailed to the bridge ensures vandals won’t be able to kick it off and steal the lumber, an issue with thinner siding used on previous renovations.

“Nobody is taking the siding off now,” Smolen says. “Not the way we are putting it on.”

The Wiswell Road bridge is west of Windsor, just south of Route 322. Across the road is Christ Church, home of the Windsor Historical Society. The 1832 structure is open to visitors from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday afternoons between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Other nearby attractions include the Sir Henry Circus Horse monument west of the bridge (on a private lawn), the Pioneer Cemetery (north of Windsor on Pioneer Cemetery Road, off Noble) where several Revolutionary War veterans are buried and Camp Whitewood, a 4-H camp on Warner’s Hollow.