The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Covered bridge series

May 3, 2009

Plymouth Township man recalls construction of Caine Road bridge

The first time Ashtabula County engineer John Smolen built a new covered bridge in Ashtabula County, he built it on dry land and then pulled the bridge across the State Road gap.

For his second new bridge, Caine Road, Smolen once again had workers build the bridge on dry land. This time, however, he brought the river to the bridge rather than the bridge to the river.

“We cut the channel through and put the channel under the bridge,” says Robert Ellsworth, who worked on the crew that built the bridge in 1986.

The Caine Road bridge, number 35-04-61, was built in honor of Ashtabula County’s 175th birthday. It is 124 feet long and crosses the west branch of the Ashtabula River in Pierpont Township.

Smolen chose the Pratt Truss design for the bridge. The construction marked the first time a Pratt Truss bridge had been built in Ohio, but it would not be the last. Smolen chose the design for Giddings Road, and again for Smolen-Gulf, the nation’s longest covered bridge.

Thomas and Caleb Pratt patented this design in 1844. It was popular with bridge builders throughout the early 20th century, but evidently not in Ohio.

Smolen said he chose the design because it provided a good balance of efficiency, cost and strength. Unlike future bridges, which would be prefabricated from laminated timber, the Caine Road bridge was built on site, except for the roof trusses, said Ellsworth.

Laid off from the Bow Socket, Ellsworth had signed on with the Highway Department about a year before the Caine Road project. One of his first jobs was working on the Benetka Road renovation in 1985.

Ellsworth said the Caine Road project started with just two workers, himself and another man, whose name he could not recall. The crew would swell to six carpenters as the work progressed.

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