The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

May 3, 2009

The senseless fiery death of Old Number Three

Blaine Road lost to arson in the summer of ’62

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

Robert and Catherine Ellsworth were among the first to arrive at the sickening sight of the Blaine Road covered bridge engulfed by fire.

It was shortly after midnight, July 15, 1962.

“I was on the (Plymouth) fire department, and my wife was a Star Beacon reporter,” recalls Ellsworth, 82. “At the time we got down there, there was just one other truck there. I pulled off to the side of the road and told my wife ‘There’s your picture.’ I could see all the way through the bridge, and every beam was on fire.”

Ellsworth told his wife to take her picture through the windshield, but she wanted to get out of the vehicle and get a better shot from the road.

“Before she could get lined up for the picture, the bridge was in the river. It just crumpled,” he recalls.

Old Number Three was gone, the victim of a senseless arson that deprived future generations of this wooden crossing.

This bridge was one of six that crossed the Ashtabula River between Gageville and Ashtabula. The Gageville bridge stood on what would become Route 193. It was removed in the late 1920s.

Heading downstream, the next bridge was at Benetka Road. Then came Blaine Road, the Olin bridge, Crooked Gulf and the long-forgotten Spring Street bridge. These bridges will be covered in the concluding weeks of this series.

Blaine Road – now known as Green Hill Road – provides a stunning view of the Ashtabula River as it twists to the east and then to the west in a series of convulsions that create ox bows, U-shaped bends in the river. Native Americans used these natural traps when hunting game, which were driven into the ox bow and cornered by the water and steep cliffs soaring above the river.

One of these bows was home to a grist mill. The 1905 Ashtabula County Atlas shows the mill, owned by L.B. Howard, on a narrow height of land in the east part of the valley, wrote Alice Bliss in 1969 newspaper article about the ox bow mills.

Bliss’ research showed a sawmill stood at the same site in 1874, on land owned by Samuel Amidon.

In a separate story, Bliss described Green Hill Road as it existed in the mid-20th century.

“At one time, the main road led down into the valley and across this bridge and over the flat land to where the river again made a turn, and the road went up on the hill at the other side of the valley. The writer remembers that it was not a wide road, and at times during bad weather, it was a bit treacherous,” wrote Bliss.

“However, the thorough-fare (Plymouth Ridge Road) bi-passed the winding road down the hill, and the covered bridge that spanned the creek, making it unnecessary to to use the valley to travel east to Route 7,” Bliss continued. “Halfway down the steep winding hill, travelers could stop at a spring, which had flowed since early pioneer days and where the water was cool and sweet. This spring still flows.”

This area was known as Bobwood Valley. Bobwood is another name for balsa, perhaps a reference to types of trees that grew here.

The Blaine Road bridge was also known as the Third Covered Bridge in an arbitrary numbering system that counted the wooden crossings from the city. Crooked Gulf was number one, Olin was number two. This system was said to be the invention of the young boys who spent many a carefree day in the swimming and fishing pools around these landmark structures.

Only Number Two remains.

The Blaine Road bridge was a Town lattice bridge of just 125 feet in length. Its span was 102 feet, its clearance 11 feet, 4 inches. The bridge rested upon abutments built of creek stone, and it rose 17 feet above the river.

Ellsworth says the hoodlums who burned the bridge were never apprehended, and there’s no doubt in his mind it was arson. The neighbor who discovered the fire reported that it had been started on the deck. It’s believed the senseless loss was the work of youngsters who, in an act of pure stupidity, deprived their generation of a functional bridge and future generations of a priceless treasure.

“People on Battles Road had heard kids screaming, yelling down there earlier in the night,” Ellsworth says.

“It was a shame, he adds. “It was a decent bridge; it was still in use.”