The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Covered bridge series

May 16, 2009

Olin Bridge county’s only extant covered bridge with family name

Olin family members take special pride in bridge, honor ancestor with covered bridge museum

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“Most of the property surrounding the bridge has been in the Olin family at one time or another,” says Bottorf, who owns houses on both sides of the road.

Bottorf’s mother, Naomi (Olin) Bottorf, became known as the “Covered Bridge Lady” because of her birthright — she was born in a house next to the bridge — and her passion for that bridge and all covered bridges.

In her lifetime, Naomi Bottorf collected anything and everything related to covered bridges: postcards, sugar packets, soap, jewelry, place mats, paperweights, ash trays, money clips, sun catchers, bells, magnets, puzzles, plates, pictures, newspaper clippings and hundreds of other items. She belonged to at least 15 covered bridge societies and kept every newsletter they sent her. Her husband, Fred, who died in 1981, was likewise fascinated by the bridges and would carve their images into pieces of shale he found along the river.

When Naomi died in 1995 at the age of 95, the family realized that the vastness of her collection was good material for a museum. Julie and her husband had inherited another aunt’s house at the top of the hill east of the bridge, and they, along with Barrie’s sister and brother-in-law, Holly and Brad Watson, decided to remodel the house and set up a museum there.

Olin’s Museum of Covered Bridges, located at 1918 Dewey Road, opened in May 2003. At the time it opened, the museum was the only one in the nation devoted to covered bridges, but just a few weeks later, the Bennington, Vt., covered bridge museum opened its doors. Since then, a third covered bridge museum has opened, as well.

The Olin’s Museum of Covered Bridges is a natural extension of the bridge, which is, in a sense, the museum’s ultimate artifact.

Bottorf suspects yet another familial connection to this bridge. His grandfather was a stone mason, and Bottorf can’t help but wonder if he didn’t have a hand in constructing the original abutments of the bridge.

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