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Enduring legacy

Ashtabula celebrates covered bridges

The Riverdale Road Bridge, 3349 Riverdale Road, Rock Creek, is 114 feet long and crosses the Grand River. It is one of Ashtabula County's 19 covered bridges. The 36th annual Covered Bridge Festival is this weekend. (Staff photo / Allie Vugrincic)

ASHTABULA — When the leaves start to turn, covered bridge enthusiasts know it’s time to hit the road to see the picturesque structures — which is why Ashtabula’s annual covered bridge festival draws a crowd.

“It’s nostalgic … and people love the historic aspect of it,” said Ginger Whitehead, executive director of the Ashtabula County Covered Bridge Festival.

The 36th annual festival this year runs Saturday and Sunday, with the main events held on East Jefferson Street from Chestnut Street east to the railroad tracks.

The festival includes entertainment and a parade, but the main attractions are Ashtabula County’s 19 covered bridges, almost all of which can be driven, Whitehead said.

“There are covered bridges all around the world, but we tend to have a lot more than other places,” Whitehead said.

Whitehead said in the years she’s been helping with the festivals, visitors have come from as far away as Australia, Italy and Japan to take in the bridges during the peak fall foliage — a time that’s popular for bridge tours.

Ashtabula’s neighbor to the south, Trumbull County, also has one historic covered bridge, located in Newton Falls. Built in 1831, the bridge claims bragging rights in the state as the oldest covered bridge still in use on it’s original site.

“We consider the Newton Falls covered bridge one of our anchor tourist assets,” said Beth Kotwis-Carmichael, executive director for the Trumbull County Tourism Bureau.

She said the bridge is also unique because it has a pedestrian walkway in addition to being driveable.

Carmichael said though there has not been a recent traffic count on the bridge, many people have expressed interest in it.

“There are people who are really interested, not just in covered bridges but historic bridges,” Carmichael said.

In Ma-honing County, a “replica” covered bridge that runs across Mill Creek at Lanternman’s Mill was designed to look like a bridge used by farmers in the 1800s, according to the Mill Creek MetroParks website. The 96-foot-long bridge opened in 1989 and remains a popular attraction.

Ashtabula’s covered bridges include Smolen-Gulf and the West Liberty Street bridges — respectively the longest and shortest covered bridges in the country.

At 613 feet long, the Smolen-Gulf was designed by former Ashtabula County Engineer John Smolen and his office. The bridge was dedicated in 2008.

West Liberty, at just 18 feet long, was opened three years later in 2011. It carries traffic over Cowles Creek in Geneva.

Smolen, who retired as the county engineer in 2002, said the newer bridges, like their historic counterparts, are built to last.

“Those historic covered bridges are anywhere from 100 to 140 years old — in other words, they served the public for many years,” Smolen said. “The new modern concrete and steel bridges don’t last that long.”

The oldest covered bridge in Europe is over 600 years old, and the oldest in Japan is 1,100 years old, he said. As long as the design for a bridge is solid, wood makes a good building material, he said.

“You can get the strength you need with the wood,” Smolen said.

He said salt used on roadways in the winter actually helps preserve wood, potentially increasing the longevity of wooden structures. On the other hand, salt degrades concrete and steel.

Ohio has around 150 covered bridges, Smolen said, making it the number two state in the country for such bridges. Pennsylvania is the first, with more than 200.

Historically, covered bridges were popular in this area because of the ample availability of timber.

“Think of it, there was so much timber, and pioneers that came here had to clear the woods for their homes and farming,” Smolen said.

In his more than 30 years as the county engineer, Smolen and his office oversaw the restoration of many of the county’s historical covered bridges in addition to designing several newer ones. He said work on the bridges could be carried out year-round, unlike their concrete counterparts, which could only be constructed in warmer months because they need heat to cure.

Festival

Schedule

Saturday:

9 a.m. to noon — Pancake breakfast, Jefferson United Methodist

10 a.m. to 4 p.m. — Car show at Giddings Park

1 to 4 p.m. — 1890 tours at Jefferson Depot

1:30 p.m. — Parade

3 p.m. — The Spoon Man

5 p.m. — County Redford

Sunday:

9 a.m. to noon — Pancake breakfast, Jefferson United Methodist

10 a.m. — Church service by JUMC

noon — The Two Kings

2 p.m. — The Spoon Man

1 to 4 p.m. — 1980 tours at Jefferson Depot

3 p.m. — O’Needers

Source:

Ashtabula County Covered Bridge Festival website

Some covered bridges and bridge museums

North and eastern Ashtabula County:

• Netcher, 1544 Netcher Road, Jefferson

Opened: 1999

Clearance: 14 feet, 6 inches

Length: 110 feet

• South Denmark, 2670 South Denmark Road, Jefferson

Opened: 1890

Clearance: 9 feet

Length: 81 feet

• Caine, 4699 Caine Road, Plerpont Township

Clearance: 11 feet

Length: 124 feet

Opened: 1986

• Graham, 4646 Graham Road, Plerpont Township

Built from remnants of a bridge washed downstream in the 1913 flood, this bridge now sits in a park.

Length: 97 feet

Relocated: 1972

• Root, 4680 Root Road, Monroe Township

Clearance: 8 feet, 4 inches

Length: 114 feet

Opened: 1868, rehabilitated 1983

• Middle, 910 Middle Road, Conneaut

Clearance: 13 feet, 6 inches

Length: 136 feet

Opened: 1868, rehabilitated 1984

• State, 5899 State Road, Conneaut

Clearance: 16 feet, 2 inches

Length: 152 feet

Opened: 1983

• Creek, 371 Creek Road, Conneaut

Clearance: 11 feet, 4 inches

Length: 125 feet

Opened: unknown, renovated 1994

• Benetka, 4500 Benetka Road, Sheffield Township

Clearance: 11 feet

Length: 138 feet

Opened: 1900, renovated 1985

• Olin, 1880 Dewey Road, Plymouth Township

Clearance: 12 feet

Length: 115 feet

Opened: 1873, renovated 1985

• Smolen-Gulf, 7001 State Road, Ashtabula

Clearance: 14 feet, 6 inches

Length: 613 feet

Opened: 2008

• Riverview, Indian Trails Park, 4761 State Road, Ashtabula

Pedestrian traffic only

Length: 150 feet

Opened: 2016

• Giddings, 1400 Giddings Road, Jefferson

Clearance: 15 feet, six inches

Length: 107 feet

Opened: 1995

Olin’s Museum of Covered Bridges, Ashtabula County

1918 Dewey Road, Ashtabula

Open July 5 to Oct. 31, 1 to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays or by appointment.

Trumbull County:

• Newton Falls, Arlington Road, Newton Falls

Length: 123 feet

Opened: 1831

Mahoning County:

• Lanterman’s Bridge, 1001 Canfield Road, Youngstown, OH 44511

Length: 96 feet

Opened: 1989

Source: Ashtabula County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and the Trumbull County Tourism Bureau

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