PLYMOUTH TOWNSHIP —
By DAVE DELUCA
For the Star Beacon
One of America’s most unusual and interesting historical repositories is right here in Ashtabula County. Dedicated on May 29, 2003, the Olin’s Museum of Covered Bridges on Dewey Road in Plymouth Township is the nation’s first covered bridge museum. Nestled in a beautiful spot in the Ashtabula River gorge, “the gulf,” in a 100-year-old building close to Olin Covered Bridge, it’s tiny, but jam packed with artifacts, record books, art and gifts. People from around the globe have made it a stop on their covered bridge pilgrimages.
The museum is owned and operated by the Olin’s Museum of Covered Bridges Board, which consists of President Holly Watson, Secretary Julie Grandbouche and Treasurer Barry Bottorf.
“We have the distinction of being the first covered bridge museum in the U.S.,” Barry Bottorf said. “One In Bennington, Vermont claimed to be first, but we had them beat by two weeks.”
Many might imagine Vermont or New Hampshire or somewhere in New England to be the covered bridge capitol of America, but Bottorf said Pennsylvania is first in the number of covered bridges with 220, followed by Ohio with 140. Ashtabula County is first in Ohio in many covered bridge categories, like longest, smallest, and most bridges. There are 18 covered bridges in the county.
The Olin Covered
Bridge was built in 1873. It was repaired, restored and renamed Olin Covered Bridge in 1994. It was formerly called the Dewey Road Covered Bridge.
Bottorf said much of the museum’s contents came from his mother Naomi Olin Bottorf’s collection. She originally owned the house until her death in 1995. Her collection has been increased by records of hundreds of covered bridges across the United States, arranged in bound volumes by state. These were donated by local historian Donald Weich.
The house containing the museum goes back to 1913, although the foundation for the earliest structure goes back to the 1840s. There is also a small gift shop in the museum featuring T-shirts, mugs, cards and other covered bridge paraphernalia, including clocks and miniature bridges hand-painted by Katherine Ellsworth.
“We added some educational displays,” Julie Grandbouche said. “When you leave you’ve learned a lot of things.”
She said education was the goal of the museum, because despite preservation attempts there are fewer covered bridges than ever.
“We’ve lost so many,” Grandbouche said. “Our goal is to educate the public and create awareness. In the 1800s there were 12,000 and now we’re down to about 800 in the entire nation.”
Twelve of Ashtabula County’s 18 covered bridges are from the 1800s. The oldest is the Wiswell covered bridge, built in 1867.
Del Donahoo of Cleveland’s channel 3 took a ‘one-tank trip’ to the museum and pronounced it well worth a visit. Some national magazines like “Country Living,” in 2004, have done articles on Olin Covered Bridge Museum, and PBS took a trip there for a short special aired in 2004.
Bottorf and Grandbouche estimated about 500 to 1,000 tourists visit the museum per year. People from all over the country have visited, including some from California and Arizona.
“We take tours throughout the year,” Grandbouche said. “Our regular operation times are from the end of May through October, but bus tours are always welcome. They call in advance and we stay open for them.”
Bottorf and Grandbouche said there was a lot of traffic during covered bridge events because of the museum’s closeness to Smollen covered bridge and Benetka covered bridge. People park at the museum and walk to Olin covered bridge.
“We’re right in between those two,” Grandbouche said. “Ashtabula County is lucky to have had three consecutive county engineers who were interested in covered bridge preservation. That’s why we’re now in such good shape.”
1918 Dewey Road in Plymouth Township
1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Call (440) 992-7401