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Covered Bridges: Washington County's link to the past

April 5, 2013
Marietta Times

Romance is alive and well getting from here to there.

“I remember hearing the stories of when grandpa kissed grandma, in their courting days, as they passed in a horse and buggy over the covered bridge,” Jean Yost, of Barlow, said.

In days gone by, over 50 covered bridges were scattered throughout Washington County. Today nine remain, ghosts of a lifestyle now only to dream of.

“Covered bridges were called ‘kissing bridges’ long ago,” Louise Zimmer, of Marietta, author and historian said.

“A young couple could ride along in the height of decorum, drive their horse and buggy into the bridge ... and who knew what happened then?,” Zimmer said. “Children must have loved to climb and play on the bridges. It would be like a big playhouse.”

The mystique lives on.

Today only three of the nine covered bridges in the county, Shinn, Hune, and Bell, carry traffic. Bridges are: Bell (1888), Harra (1878), Henry (1894), Hills (1878), Hune (1879), Mill Branch (1832), Rinard (1871), Root (1878) and Shinn (1886). A decade ago the eight public bridges were in varied stages of disrepair, but are at the top of their game today and ready to strut their stuff.

Visitors are welcome to visit the bridges, take photographs and picnic nearby. Ohio, with its 150 covered bridges, ranks second in the U.S. in the number still standing.

“They do draw tourists and that's important,” Bob Badger, Washington County engineer said. “These bridges are just a nice reference back to the time when we had horse-drawn traffic.”

Over the past four years, Washington County, with help of federal government grants, took on a hefty project to restore and preserve its covered bridges, two or three at a time. Harra, Henry, and Hills bridges have been completed this year, bringing restorations to a close. The Amos Schwartz Co., restoration contractors of Indiana, were chosen for the jobs.

Restoration has included complete structural repairs, rehabilitated and new roofs, timber siding and painting. It's cost was $191,823 for the Harra Bridge, $120.928 for the Henry Bridge and $132,340 for the Hills Bridge.

Harra bridge, originally built in 1871 in western Washington County, is bright red, trimmed in white. Henry is the last job, being completed now. Harra, near Camp Hervida between Watertown and Waterford, was the most costly at $191,823 because of its condition and size. It carries no traffic, except by foot. “I'm looking at it now. It's just across the field there from us,” Wayne Harra, who still lives on the family farm where he was born, said. “They just got through reworking it completely over. Got new siding, new roof, it's in perfect shape.”

Contractors sprayed the interior of the restored covered bridge with fire retardant. Fire is a wooden bridge's number one enemy, both yesterday and today.

When Harra and his brother, George, were children, they often crossed the covered bridge to go to their grandparent's house.

“We'd walk over it about every day,” Wayne Harra said. “That was the place to go. Now we still walk over it. They built a cement walkway up to it.”

About the time his grandfather, Edward Harra, was married, he worked as a stone mason, laying the foundation on the bridge. The same foundation of rock was used to support the new, restored Harra covered bridge.

“I think it's important to keep them up (covered bridges) just for historical purposes, so that younger people will know what it was like,” he said.

George Harra is 85 years old, and like his younger brother, remembers crossing the old bridge daily, not only to visit grandparents, but also to go to school.

“I walked across it 12 years to school,” he said. “It's a wood floor and would have been rotted long ago if it weren't for the roof. Everything is brand new now.”

Until 1982, Harra carried traffic.

“It's got better material in it and should last longer than the first time around,” George Harra said of the restoration.

“They do look nice,” Badger said. “Of the most value in my mind are Shinn, Hune, and Harra bridges. Shinn has a bowed arch in it, which is very unique.”

Time and money had a lot to do with emergence of covered bridges, Zimmer said.

“Of course the reason they built them in the first place was very practical, to keep water off the road bed,” she said. “But if an area was practical for a stone bridge, they probably built that and there was no need to cover it.”

The first bridge across the Muskingum River was covered, she said.

“It was called the 'caterpillar' bridge and was located about the same location where the railroad bridge now spans the river,” Zimmer said. “There are many pictures of the bridge.”

The name came from the strange look of the covered bridge from the shoreline. Today a plaque at the west end of the Putnam Bridge, given by Kiwanis Club, commemorates that historic bridge, along with other elements of the long-ago river scene between Marietta and Harmar.

Barlow is proud of its own, private, covered bridge, Mill Branch.

“It's traditional, long-lasting,” Jean Yost, of Barlow, said. “I remember Mill Branch in Belpre Township when I was a kid growing up. It's the oldest covered bridge in Washington County.”

Mill Branch bridge, was built about 1832 and moved to Barlow Fairgrounds in the 1970s to preserve and restore it. Local business, like Blaney Hardwoods (and many others) gave materials and labor to help with restoration at that time. It's all part and parcel of the Barlow Fairgrounds renovation and restoration.

“It's an important part of our community,” Yost, a member of the restoration group for the T-building at the fairgrounds, said. “The bridge is one of the things you see when you come to Barlow and right behind it is the T-building (1872). It's our heritage.”

Covered bridges of Washington County Bell — Built in 1888, is located in Barlow Township approximately two miles northwest of Barlow on Township 39. Harra — Built in 1878, is located in Watertown Township about two miles northwest of Watertown on Township 172 (Camp Hervida Road). Henry — Built in 1894, located in Fairfield Township on Township 61 about one mile north of Ohio 555. Hills — Built in 1878, located in Newport Township on Washington County 333 at the junction of Washington County 544. Hune — Built in 1879, located in Lawrence Township on Township 34 off Ohio 26. Mill Branch — Built about 1832, relocated to the Barlow Fairgrounds at the junction of Ohio 339 and 550 in 1980. Rinard — Built in 1871, is located at the junction of Ohio 26 and Washington County 406 in Ludlow Township. Root — Built in 1878, is located in Decatur Township on Washington County 6 just north of Ohio 555. Shinn — Built in 1886, located about one mile north of Washington County 18 in Palmer Township.



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