The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

March 21, 2009

Covered-bridge adventures along Rt. 322

Expensive diamond ring lost in crash at Wayne Township bridge

By CARL E. FEATHER - Staff Writer -

The sites of former covered bridges offer little in way tourism draw; however, the spot where the Wick bridge crossed Pymatuning Creek on Route 322 would be of interest to treasure hunters.

According to a 1930 newspaper article, a diamond ring valued at $700 was lost at this location, one of three along Route 322 where covered bridges stood a century ago.

The Wick bridge, number 35-04-34, stood between Hayes (Wick community) and Creek roads in Wayne Township. Three tributaries converge to form Pymatuning Creek just a few hundred yards south of this site, a low wetlands.

According to a Mrs. Don Dillon, who was interviewed for Alice Bliss’ 1960s series on the county’s covered bridges, crossings over Pymatuning Creek were in short supply in Wayne Township’s early years, thanks to this swampy obstacle.

One crossing, built in 1813, was on Underwood Road; the second was a ford a mile north of where the covered bridge would later stand. An early attempt to build a bridge at this spot met with only partial success — $14 was allocated from the county fund to build a structure of timbers and poles, but the approach from the west was not built until after the new bridge had rotted away.

It would appear, therefore, that the “bridge to nowhere” concept predated Alaska by more than a century.

Excavation from an old beaver dam eventually was used to cover logs buried in the muck and create a corduroy road on the west side. An open-truss bridge was built, the predecessor to the covered bridge.

Bliss dates the covered bridge to 1860 and its builder as a man named “Bentley.” The bridge cost $1,000. While the bridge was under construction, a temporary bridge, built by the residents, was used.

“The story is told that one Saturday afternoon Fred Hart’s father, Jerry Hart, then a boy of 15 or 16, started to Andover to get his father, David, who was doing some carpenter work there,” wrote Bliss. “Mr. Bentley refused to let him cross the temporary bridge, so Jerry had to turn his team around and go up the Hayes Road and go to Andover by the present Route 6. This disturbed David as he knew the preacher from West Williamsfield would have to use the bridge when he came to Wayne to preach on Sundays.

“He went down (he lived in Wick) and found a chain padlocked across the bridge’s entrance. He took a 6-by-6 (inch) timber from the new bridge and gave the padlock a couple of good licks and dropped the lock and chain into the middle of the creek. There was no further trouble.”

Some sources date the Wick bridge to 1867, which was a banner year for new covered bridges in Ashtabula County: No fewer than 13 were erected that year.

The Wick bridge was replaced with a steel truss bridge in 1931, 14 years after Route 322 (Route 15 at the time) was paved.

A newspaper article from the summer of August 1930 states replacement of the bridge was a priority because an automobile had crashed through its side the prior month. The story is one of epic misfortune, dramatically recorded in a newspaper article published July 29, 1930:

“Mrs. J.P. Thompson, Titusville, Pa., was slightly injured, narrowly escaping death, a diamond set valued at $700 is lost, an automobile was burned, and a hole twenty feet by ten was torn in the covered bridge over the Pymatuning river near Wick Saturday evening as a result of an automobile accident.

“After striking the side of the bridge, Mrs. Thompson jumped from the car just as it burst into flames and plunged over the side, the front wheels resting in the river bottom.

“Mrs. Thompson had been in Cleveland to visit her sister in a hospital and was returning to her home in Titusville. Apparently losing control of the machine as she entered the bridge, the car struck the plank siding which is ten feet high, tearing a hole in the side of the old covered bridge nearly twenty feet long. The machine balanced on the edge, and as Mrs. Thompson leaped out of the machine, it burst into flames and plunged into the river. All but the front wheels of the machine, which were beneath the water, burned.

“Mrs. Thompson suffered slight cuts to the face and hands. ... A diamond, set in a ring which she was wearing, valued at $700, was lost.”

Temporary repairs were made to the structure until a new steel span could be built. And the diamond? To the best of our knowledge, it was never recovered, engulfed by the quicksand and waters of Pymatuning Creek.

Orwell pair

Two other covered bridges stood farther west on Route 322. Heading west from the Wick bridge, the first one that a late-19th century traveler would have encountered stood across Rock Creek, west of Colebrook, in Orwell Township. This bridge, number 35-04-38, is somewhat of a mystery. There’s no date of construction nor date of removal, although a news article of April 23, 1927, in the Gazette announced that county commissioners planned to build a new bridge on State Route 15 (later Route 322) over Rock Creek, east of Orwell.

The second bridge is better documented. It crossed the Grand River between Orwell and Windsor. It was built in 1884 and replaced with a steel span in 1911. The bridge was a Howe truss with a span of 112.3 feet and length of 116.5. feet.

As with the bridge over Rock Creek, this area was prone to flooding. A particularly severe flood in 1908 produced this story of thrilling escape filed in the Ashtabula County Historical Society’s archives:

“Windsor, Feb. 19, 1908 — What might have proved their last ride was taken by Mr. Lepper and son last Saturday. These men are Bloomfield residents and had been to Windsor and were returning home by way of Orwell. Grand River was rising rapidly, and they were warned not to undertake going through the water, but they were determined to make the attempt, and on reaching a point just before the ascent to the bridge where the current was very swift, the horse fell.

“The men got into the water to assist the horse when they were overcome, and horse, buggy and men went over in the ditch against a wire fence. The horse got free and went with the current. George Cox of the New Hudson Road, a mile north of this road between Windsor and Orwell, was out on the river with a boat, getting muskrat, and coming near this part of the water, saw a man’s hat floating, then he saw the horse’s head.

“He came nearer and found the men clinging to the wire fence in an almost frozen condition. He got his boat close enough and got one man in, rowed out to the edge of the water and laid him down on the ground and went back and got the other one, took him out, then went to the house of Terry Fleming for (a) sled and help.

“The men were gotten to this hospital home as soon as possible, and Dr. Cannon (was) summoned, and their lives were saved. But for the timely and heroic aid of Mr. Cox, they soon would have perished.”