The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

May 9, 2009

Forgotten crossings escaped documentation

By CARL E. FEATHER - Staff Writer -

Many of Ashtabula County’s covered bridges are well documented, making a list of 48 legacy bridges, including the 12 that have survived.

However, there is scattered throughout newspaper articles and advertisements for bids, the mention of bridges that have otherwise escaped documentation and the assignment of a number by the World Guide to Covered Bridges.

A local history on file in the Platt R. Spencer Special Collections and Archival Department makes note of a bridge on what was once Miller Road (now Rome-Rock Creek Road). The writer shares the story of a pregnant woman, Birney Evans, who was traveling through the bridge in a horse-drawn sleigh when the sleigh tipped over and she tumbled out. She and the child, born later that spring, were uninjured.

This same writer claimed knowledge of a covered bridge over Rock Creek on Sirrine Road “at the foot of Putnam hill, east of Sirrine’s farm.” Another undocumented bridge mentioned by this writer was on Laskey Road over the Grand River. The neglected bridge eventually fell in to the river and never was replaced. Although condemned for public use, loggers and farmers continued to use it because it greatly shortened the travel between Hartsgrove and Rome.

“Many times they unhitched at the edge of the bridge, drove the teams across and then, with long chains stretched back, hooked to the load and pulled that across. ... they did not dare put the full weight of teams and loads all on the bridge at the same time. Any use of it at all was their own risk.”

A photograph of the Gallagher Bridge, which had vertical siding, is in the Ashtabula County Historical Society’s files. The bridge spanned the Shenango River, long before the Pymatuning Reservoir was built. The bridge evidently linked Ohio and Pennsylvania at Simon, a community submerged under Pymatuning Lake.

There is documentation in the minutes of the Ashtabula County commissioners that suggests a covered bridge once stood on Clyde Hill on the County Line Road. A December 1867 entry mentions letting the contract to construct to John Donahue for construction of the abutments.

Another entry from earlier in the year mentions four bridges, none of which appears to have been documented with bridge numbers: Sellick at Austinburg, Phillips at Orwell, and the Wilkinson and Strong’s bridges, no location specified.

Then there are the railroad bridges. The World Guide to Covered Bridges (WGCB) numbering system takes into account wooden railroad trestles. All of the wooden railroad bridges were long gone before the turn of the 20th century, and photographs of the structures could not be located. Information on these bridges is scant; this is what could be located:

Eagleville Penn Railroad, 35-04-52 and 53. The WGCB system acknowledges wooden railroad bridges, as well as highway crossings. These two wooden trestles over Mill Creek had short lives: 52 was built in 1872 and was replaced by 53 in 1882. An article appearing in the Gazette on Oct. 23, 1902, notes that “the iron bridge over Mills Creek, just north of Eagleville station, was destroyed Sunday evening by a wreck on the P.Y.&A;, which dropped ten cars of coal into the creek.”

Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad. Four wooden railroad trestles that once stood on this line are recognized: 35-04-28, 44, 56 and 57.

Number 57 is listed as possibly being over a Stoney Creek and constructed in 1877. Nos. 44 and 56 crossed the Ashtabula River and were built in 1852.

Number 44 was the predecessor of Ashtabula’s most infamous bridge, the Howe truss iron bridge that collapsed Dec. 29, 1876.

A brief article in the Oct. 29, 1928, Star Beacon notes: “The first railroad bridge in Ashtabula was built across the Ashtabula River by the Cleveland Lake Erie Railroad, which later became known, and is still known, as the New York Central Railroad.

“Work on the bridge was started June 1, 1852, and July 12 of that year, the first train was run over it. The bridge was 780 feet long and was of what was known as the Howe truss-style of construction. This structure was used for 11 years when it was replaced by the iron bridge that collapsed the night of December 29, 1876, with a great loss of lives estimated at from 80 to 150.”

Number 28 was over Conneaut Creek and was built in 1852. An 1854 publication named “The Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland Guide,” carried an engraving of this bridge under the title “Pageant of America.” The trestle was noted as being the first to appear over the Valley of Conneaut and was for railroad traffic only. The narrative told how many early wooden railroad bridges collapsed under their own weight; however, bridge engineers “quickly learned to use truss construction that made timber bridges reasonably safe under stress and strain.”

Wooden railroad bridges were also subject to fire, not good considering the locomotives back then burned wood to generate the steam.

This same article notes that the first excursion train ever run out of Ashtabula left July 5, 1852, destined for Cleveland on the Cleveland, Painesville and Ashtabula Railroad.

Mahoning Coal Railroad, 35-04-43. Listed as crossing the Ashtabula River south of town, this trestle was built in 1880.

Pennsylvania Railroad trestle over Rock Creek, 34-04-54 and 55. These two wooden bridges spanned Rock Creek along the route that is now the Western Reserve Greenway Trail (WRGT). Number 54 was built in 1972 and replaced in 1880 by No. 55.

The WRGT crosses Rock Creek on a former railroad trestle converted to bike path, but that trestle is made of steel.