The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

April 25, 2009

Kelloggsville siblings

One succumbed, one survived from this Potter family duo

By CARL E. FEATHER - Staff Writer -

A few miles southeast of Kingsville, the hamlet of Kelloggsville once had a covered bridge that crossed the Ashtabula River on Stanhope-Kelloggsville Road.

The bridge has been attributed to a Mr. Potter and was built in 1867. Potter was a prolific carpenter and is credited with building several of the county’s Town lattice bridges, including the extant Root Road bridge, south of Kelloggsville.

Unfortunately, history did not record his first name. Louise Legeza, archivist at the Geneva Public Library, has researched the Potter name extensively and come up with several possibilities — Homer Dexter, Orange and Charles among them — but history has been frustratingly silent about who built these bridges. Even the Ashtabula County commissioners’ meeting minutes omitted the names of the builders awarded the contracts. It’s also possible Potter did not live in the county but was an itinerant bridge builder.

The Kelloggsville Bridge, designated 35-04-08, was not as fortunate. It was removed in 1947 and replaced with a steel culvert said to be Ohio’s largest at the time: 15 feet in diameter and 80 feet long. The culvert was constructed under the bridge so traffic would not be interrupted during the work.

The bridge it replaced was just 70 feet long and 14 feet wide, evidently insufficient for the modern traffic and farm equipment using the well-established road.

Stanhope-Kelloggsville Road was one of the most important early highways in the early history of Ashtabula County, and Kelloggsville was an equally important, thriving hamlet.

Founded in 1799, the Monroe Township hamlet got a significant boost from construction of the Turnpike Road, which ran 15 miles from Richmond Township to Kelloggsville. Caleb Blodgett built this “corduroy” turnpike of logs covered with dirt. It was also called a “plank road” because logs were used to ford marshland.

When the road reached Kelloggsville, travelers had to ford the Ashtabula River. If the river was high, there was no access to the hamlet from the south.

Thanks to this turnpike and other roads that converged at Kelloggsville, the community grew into a bustling town whose population was at one time larger than that of Cleveland. There were 13 harness makers, their business fueled by the teamsters who hauled from Conneaut to the Ohio River. The transportation trade also justified three wagon-building shops, a dozen blacksmith shops, several distilleries and a tannery, as well as grist and saw mills.

There was also a need for hospitality businesses, thanks to Blodgett’s arrangements with two lines, one from Buffalo to Cleveland, the other from Erie to Pittsburgh. Both ran through Kelloggsville and contributed to its growth.

In 1824 Blodgett decided to cash in on this travel himself and built the Old Brick Tavern, which still stands as a private residence. The tavern served various roles in the community, from meeting house and tavern to school and dance hall. Teamsters tied their animals in a lot next to the tavern, then slept on the floor of the barroom on blankets. The tavern was sometimes so crowded teamsters had a hard time finding a place to sleep on the floor, and this in a community that had 14 hotels or taverns at one time.

This turnpike also served as a conduit for escaped slaves taking the Underground Railroad to freedom, with the Old Brick Tavern operating as a station, or safe house, on the trek.

Kelloggsville experienced a quick decline after 1870, when railroads began replacing the old turnpikes as the preferred way to move goods and people. The hotels and many other businesses went bust, but at least the town had a new covered bridge.

Root Road

This bridge’s younger sibling, on Root Road, was built a year later, 1868. It is 114 feet long and has 94-foot span over the West Branch of the Ashtabula River. The river is formed a short distance north of this bridge, where the East and West branches converge and flow under Stanhope-Kelloggsville Road.

The Root Road bridge has been assigned the number 35-04-09.

Although this bridge fared better against progress than its twin, by the early 1960s it was in danger of collapse because of weather and time. The bridge was listing to the south, and guide wires were attached to the structure and weight limits imposed to stabilize the bridge.

It survived another 20 years with these stopgap measures before undergoing extensive renovation in 1982-83. County Engineer John Smolen cleverly strengthened it by building a bridge within the bridge, using large laminated wood girders. This allowed the bridge to carry heavier loads with a minimal investment of labor: It is easier to install the girders from within rather than from below the bridge. The approach also provides the engineer with the ability to remove any sag in the structure.

The downside of reinforcing a bridge like this is the loss of lateral clearance, which can make for a tight squeeze. If purists at some point in the future feel the bridge ought to be returned to its original configuration, removing the laminated girders from inside the bridge is possible.

While these girders also could go underneath the bridge, on spans like Root Road, which is fairly close to the water’s surface, the loss of floodwater clearance would be an issue.

The project also involved raising the bridge 18 inches, constructing one new concrete abutment and adding a new concrete pier at mid-span. The bridge received new siding, guardrail, and floor beams and flooring.

The new floor beams, attached to the girders, provide additional support to the bridge as they are under the intermediate chords.

The Root Road bridge is treasured by residents of Monroe Township. Every fall the grounds are spruced up and bridge decorated by members of the Kelloggsville Heritage Committee, which sells souvenirs and food at the bridge during the Covered Bridge Festival.