And so, we reach the end of the loop – the Ashtabula Covered Bridges Trail or the “Covered Bridge Loop” in Ashtabula County, Ohio – as this is my last post about historic covered bridges on my Tuesday Tour. Hopefully, Papa and I will uncover some more of these picturesque bridges in future travels.
Today, please enjoy the last four bridges we viewed on our driving tour one day last summer. In addition to the 12 total we located, four more drivable ones exist in Ashtabula County, but we didn’t have time to visit those since this was just a day trip.
As we drove through Benetka Road Covered Bridge, a 138-foot long, single span with a Town truss lattice and arch design, we weren’t aware of its history. Later, I learned this bridge, located on a road of the same name and crossing the Ashtabula River, was built near a water-powered saw, grist, and flour mill constructed in 1829. Some historians believe the Benetka bridge was erected around 1900, but others claim that the bridge’s timbers have two different kinds of saw marks – some circular and some vertical – most likely created by sash saws powered by the old mill. Some covered bridge aficionados speculate those particular timbers were cut around 1860 or even earlier, so it is possible Benetka was first constructed then and maybe rebuilt in 1900. Either way, it is a nice example of that era of time. The bridge was rehabilitated by the county in 1985 when laminated arches were added to its length. Drivers are warned that a blind spot exists at the bridge’s south approach because of a curve, and local drivers beep their car horns to signal they are coming through.
Our next stop located on Dewey Road in Plymouth Township was the Olin Covered Bridge. Once known as the Dewey Road Bridge, this 115-foot, single span Town lattice structure also crosses the Ashtabula River, and was repaired, restored and renamed Olin Covered Bridge in 1994. Originally built in 1873, it is the only bridge in Ashtabula County named for a family, the Olins, pioneers who owned property beside the bridge for well over 150 years. Alson and Alvina Olin arrived in Ashtabula County from New York in 1832 and their son, Almon, purchased the land in 1860 beside where the bridge now exists. You can learn more about this historic bridge by visiting a small museum and gift shop located less than a mile away and operated by members of this family. The Olin’s Museum of Covered Bridges, opened in 2003, claims to be the country’s first covered bridge museum, and contains educational displays as well as an Olin family collection. We didn’t know of its existence in a 100-year-old house when we drove through the Olin bridge, so we did not visit it, but the museum is only open Saturdays and Sundays from 1-4 pm from July through October.
From the old and historic to the modern and amazing, our driving tour included motoring through the longest covered bridge in the United States at 613 feet and the fourth longest covered bridge in the world, Smolen-Gulf Covered Bridge. The engineering and structural design of this Pratt Truss bridge was created by former County Engineer John Smolen with current County Engineer Timothy Martin, providing architectural design. This bridge was dedicated in 2008. An interesting aspect of the structure is it stands 93 feet above the Ashtabula River, is wide and high enough to support two-lane legal weight, modern traffic, and is expected to last 100 years.
The Smolen–Gulf Bridge cost approximately $7.78 million to build, rests on concrete piers and abutments, and consists of three-foot-thick Douglas fir and yellow pine wood. The siding is constructed of Hemlock and yellow poplar wood. Features include walkways on both sides of the bridge and a visitor’s pavilion, from which I snapped a number of photos. Below the Smolen-Gulf bridge, a small Riverview Covered Pedestrian Bridge also exists for visitors to amble through on foot.
The last covered bridge we viewed on our driving tour was the Doyle Road Covered Bridge, spanning Mill Creek, a tributary of Grand River. At 94 feet long, this single span Town truss and lattice bridge was erected in 1868 and renovated in 1987. In my research, I did not find a lot of history about this particular covered bridge, except for that fact that the creek it crosses – Mill Creek – was named after a Mills family who were early pioneer settlers in the area. It was a lovely bridge and just as enjoyable to drive through as all the other bridges on the loop tour.
As I climbed back in our vehicle and fastened my seat belt, Papa and I heard the distinct clip-clop of a trotting horse coming through the bridge. Alas, I couldn’t grab my camera fast enough to catch the Amish buggy that came through. But we did see several on all the country roads we traveled upon on our tour.
A fun fact for visitors who want to travel to this area of Ohio: each fall, a covered bridge festival takes place during the second weekend of October in Ashtabula County. The festival includes crafts, entertainment, quilt shows, food, and of course, beautiful fall scenery provided by nature as folks take the covered bridge driving tour through the county. And the festival is free to the public. For those who love exploring these quaint, historic bridges, it would make a great fall getaway trip.
Just like visiting lighthouses, exploring covered bridges provides fun and beautiful scenic sights for this retired, empty nest Mama and Papa to visit on our travels. We enjoy seeking them out, but also are happy to come home to our own little neck of the woods, grateful for the opportunities.
“Never to forget where we came from and always praise the bridges that carried us over.” ~ Fannie Lou Hamer