Saturday, July 15, 2000

Old covered bridge to get a face lift

Indiana landmark is link to the past

By Lew Moores
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FRANKLIN COUNTY, Ind. — It is more than just a bridge over Johnson's Fork, a creek that runs thin and dry this time of year. The covered bridge is part of the landscape, a slice of Americana, a neighbor.

(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
        When June Grubbs built her home nearby more than 27 years ago, she asked the builder to locate a picture window so she could look from the hillside down on the Snow Hill Covered Bridge.

        Bonnie Stokes giggled as she recalled the bridge.

        “We used to kiss in there,” said Ms. Stokes, who lives on New Trenton Road, as she stood to the side of the covered bridge late Friday morning. “We'd drive in, stop a while, kiss, blow the horn and drive out.”

        For 115 years, the Snow Hill Covered Bridge has linked Snow Hill and Johnson Fork roads here in this rural area east of Brookville. In 1885, William Butts, a local carpenter, and John Horn, a mason, helped build it. Cost: $1,200.

        Today, it is just one of just two covered bridges left in Franklin County. To ensure its preservation, Judy O'Bannon, the first lady of Indiana, wife of Gov. Frank O'Bannon, flew into this tiny crossroads by helicopter and presented a check for $416,000 to the Franklin County board of commissioners.

        The money, is a federal transportation grant, and it will be used to reinforce the structure, replace any deteriorated components and upgrade it so it can support more than three 3 tons of weight lumbering across its 40-foot span.

        “Things like this are once in a lifetime,” said Sue Ferris, who has lived on Snow Hill Road for 21 years. She is a member of the Franklin County Citizens for Historic Preservation and led the fight to preserve the covered bridge.

        “They built these with such integrity and care that we have to preserve them. This has weathered time and transportation changes and has served this community well.”

        Neighbors from surrounding country roads showed up for the presentation Friday, parking cars in a hayfield on Snow Hill Road. Some sat in lawn chairs and waited for Mrs. O'Bannon. Small children threw rocks into Johnson's Fork. Volunteers hung bunting and flags from the bridge, its sides painted a rustic red, its flooring — replaced just 15 years ago — smooth from use.

        Ms. Ferris estimates 200 to 250 vehicles cross the bridge each day. That became the theme of what Ms. O'Bannon had to tell those who attended the presentation.

        She said the bridge is not a museum piece, preserved but not touched; it is a functional piece of history, still in use and serving a community.

        “You have decided as a community that it tells a story,” said Mrs. O'Bannon. “You have decided to keep it a functioning part of the community. The fact that it is not part of a big highway doesn't mean that it doesn't impact your life. It tells a story.”

        There is no timetable for when restoration work may begin on the bridge, said Robert Powell, a preservation architect who lives in the county and is a member of the Franklin County Citizens group.

        Covered bridges survive mostly because of efforts to protect them. They were built in the 1800s, usually over creeks and ravines; they were built of wood and covered to protect them from the weather. In northern climates, the covering also kept snow off the flooring. They were products of geography, said Mr. Powell, spanning what would otherwise separate tracts of land.

        The bridges disappeared, replaced by steel and concrete structures, or were lost to vandalism and arson or the slow decay of time. Only one public covered bridge remains, for example, in Hamilton County. That is the Jediah Hill covered bridge in Springfield Township.

        “Communities were forced to demolish bridges that didn't comply with current standards and replace them with concrete slabs,” said Mr. Powell.

        Alice Grubbs has lived on Snow Hill Road for 52 years.

        “It's a landmark,” she said. “It means a lot.”

        June Grubbs, no relation, said she grew up in the area.

        “I'd come down this hill and across this bridge on the way to work,” said Ms. Grubbs, 73. “It's been a part of my life.”


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