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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Covered Bridges Flourished In Early Ohio, Now Protected

Dallas Bogan on 18 September 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

As quickly as possible, the awkward, flimsy ferries began to give way to bridges, especially where a well-traveled road crossed a stream of less difficulty.
Bureaucratic legislation cluttered the pages of our early bridge builders ordering them to construct a bridge here, there and everywhere under certain specifications.
Possibly the first attempt to span a river of any size in the State was the bridging of the Scioto at Chillicothe in 1818.
For twenty years the old ferry established by Zane, in 1797, rallied to the need of the people. However, a company was thus formed and iron was brought from Pittsburgh down the Ohio and up the Scioto. With the addition of huge timbers from the massive forests, a magnificent covered bridge was built in 1817.
In the beginning it was a toll bridge, however, twenty years later it was acquired by the county commissioners and designated a free bridge.
It lasted until 1895 when it was consumed by fire. A new steel bridge was built only to be swept away three years later by a flood.
An advertisement in the Chillicothe Supporter states in its paper of December 21, 1811, that "The subscriber informs the public that he has opened a Ferry at his Mill, on the Scioto (formerly owned by Joseph Campbell) one mile and a half below Chillicothe, where the inhabitants residing on Salt and Walnut creeks will find it an advantageous place to cross. Persons travelling this road may depend upon being punctually attended, as has procured an excellent boat for the purpose.
John Gilmore"

The little capital of Columbus had no sooner been established on the east bank of the Scioto when another first in bridge building was created. Lucas Sullivant, a resident of Franklinton, announced in the Western Intelligencer the following:
"My bridge across the Scioto River between Franklinton and Columbus is completed. The gates will be opened on the first of December next. But they shall be opened at suitable hours on Sunday and days of Thanksgiving, and a passage on the bridge free to all persons going to or returning from the General Assembly of the State of Ohio, and at all times free to funeral processions and to such persons as I may deem expedient. Permits for passage on the bridge by the year may be had on reasonable terms."
Bridge building was now beginning to accelerate by leaps and bounds. The Columbus Gazette, a few years later, announced, "about twenty-three hundred dollars have been expended by the commissioners of Franklin county on the road between Franklinton and Darby. Never has $2300.00 done so much public good. About twelve miles of the worst road in the state has been improved to the best."
This account included the near completion of bridges across the Big Darby on the road to Springfield; the Little Darby, one at Georgeville on the road to London, and another over Deer Creek on the same road.
The bridge over the Great Miami at Hamilton was first appraised at $30,000, but that sum was reduced to $20,000 and divided into shares of fifty dollars each, with no one to receive more than forty shares.
Dayton was graced with a bridge over the same river at about the same time. The Miami Herald, in 1819, spoke of this structure. It said:
"The bridge is supported by two arches formed out of curved timbers, each one hundred feet long, and erected on two stone abutments and one stone pier; the pier is about thirty feet from the bed of the river to the wood-work, and the length of the bridge is two hundred and fifty feet; waggon-way seventeen feet wide, with foot ways two feet wide on each side, making the whole width twenty-six feet including the timber. The whole is weather- boarded and roofed.
"When this bridge was projected the attempt was considered visionary, that neither pier or abutment could be erected in the Miami so as to stand from the nature of the bottom and the rapidity of the current; but, from the manner in which the foundation is formed, I feel no doubt but it will resist any natural power that will come in contact with it. The stonework and superstructure look strong and firm and appear to be done in a workman-like manner.
"When we consider the infancy of the country, the difficulty that the friends to this bridge had in procuring stock and the scarcity of money, I think the directors are entitled to the thanks of the community for this addition to our town and public convenience, and to Mr. Hunt, the proprietor and builder, for his persevering attention in getting it forward had done himself credit in his first undertaking in Ohio."
Nathan Hunt, the architect, publicly acknowledged this letter saying:
"In this new, but flourishing state, possessing superior natural advantages, internal improvement is an object devoutly to be wished. Hence every act of enterprise and public spirit should be duly appreciated.
"As a stranger, the citizens of Dayton were the first to afford me an opportunity to evince the people of this end of the state, by actual experiment, of the practicability and convenience of bridging their streams; not withstanding the velocity and force of their currents and the extraordinary periodical freshets."
An act was passed authorizing Jacob Broadwell, Isaac Edwards and their associates, to erect a toll bridge across the Little Miami in Hamilton County "between Armstrong's Upper Mills and the place known as the Narrows, provided the bridge be erected according to certain specifications, sufficient strength, width for vehicles and foot passengers with hand-railings and other necessary protections."
John Bradbury and Thomas R. Spencer, in 1888, began the manufacture of iron and steel bridges at Oregonia. Both gentlemen were good businessmen as well as mechanics. With this combined knowledge the Oregonia Bridge Company was formed and became very prosperous.
A factory was built, enlarged, and new machinery was added at various times. At first the work was confined to Warren County but soon spread to different states.
In 1903, reorganization took place and the factory was transferred to Lebanon where permanent quarters were set up which lasted for many years.
Judge Keys, of Waynesville, in his History of Warren County, wrote a history of the bridge that crossed the Little Miami between Waynesville and Corwin. He writes:
"Before 1819 the channel of the river on the Corwin Road was not as now, but where the bridge now is was in the bend of a horseshoe, the channel above and below having been made since. The crossing of the river was between High and Main Streets in Waynesville. When the water was high a ferry was used, and when low, a ford.
"About 1812 an effort was made to build a bridge at the ford. The abutments were made and a superstructure was placed on trestles. A freshet in the spring swept out the work and no further effort was made to build a bridge at that place.
"In 1817 a bridge was built on a contract, where the bridge now is, by John Satterthwaite, for $700, including the abutments. It was built of oak timber, principally hewn, never covered or weatherboarded, and only lasted about ten years. At that time the road crossed the west branch of the Miami, known as the race, at the mouth and followed the north bank of the Miami to the bridge. The race was then a small stream, no bridge over it; the ford was a very bad crossing.
"A second bridge was built at that place about 1827. It stood several years before it was weatherboarded and roofed, and in 1836, it fell down.
"An open bridge was built there on a contract by Samuel Welch, in 1837, for $350; it stood only a few years, and about 1842, another was built there."
Keys mentions that about 1861 or 1862 another bridge was built at the same location by H.E. Hebbe. He also states that an iron bridge was built across the Little Miami three miles below in 1873, and that the first bridge that crosses Caesar's Creek in this area was constructed in 1869.
The old "covered bridge" has since given way to more structural sound and advanced constructions. Many communities have since preserved the bridges of yesteryear and have captured the past as gallant historic reminders.

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This page created 18 September 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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