After the bridge succumbed to progress in 1949, there were still 26 covered bridges left in the county.
Some 55 years later, the iron bridge that replaced the Crooked Gulf bridge was removed, ironically, to facilitate construction of another covered bridge, 613 feet long and soaring 90 feet above the river. The bridge, constructed over a two-year span, is the nation’s longest covered bridge. Smolen-Gulf is so named to recognize its engineer, John Smolen Jr., and the forgotten crossing that once spanned the river at this point.
Built by Union Industrial Contractors, the Smolen-Gulf Bridge has four equal spans of Pratt truss design. Each section weighed 165 tons and was built either on the bank or in the valley, then lifted, or lifted and rolled, into place, where the sections were finished.
The bridge was fabricated by Sentinel Structures Inc., of Wisconsin, and has more than 670,000 board-feet of southern yellow pine in it. There are 1,250 pieces of 18-gauge metal roofing on the bridge.
Preparing the chasm for the structure was a huge undertaking. The road was straightened in the process of building the bridge and, on the Plymouth Township side, a cut made into the Gulf wall and an embankment built to reduce the height and length of the gap. The embankment required more than 150,000 cubic yards of material.
Constructing the three piers required excavation of 80,000 cubic yards of earth for the footers. The piers use 293 tons of galvanized rebar encased in more than 2,000 cubic yards of class C concrete.
More than 30,000 labor-hours went into building the bridge, yet no lost-time injuries were reported.
The Smolen-Gulf Bridge was dedicated Aug. 26, 2008, and opened the following month. It is bridge number 35-04-64.