Bell Ford Covered Bridge project moves forward, county to draft paperwork

The Bell Ford Covered Bridge is one step closer to its second life after Jackson County commissioners gave their OK this past week to draft paperwork to give the bridge’s remains to Hamilton County.

Hamilton County officials attended the commissioners meeting to discuss the arrangement.

The deal includes a $25,000 donation from Hamilton County for a project to restore and place the Hall Round Barn on the Jackson County Fairgrounds. That project, however, recently suffered setback after part of the roof began to collapse in October.

Hamilton County Commissioner Mark Heirbrandt and Hamilton County Parks Director Al Patterson said the Bell Ford Covered Bridge would keep its name and be featured in a park with other restored covered bridges.

Hamilton County manages Potter’s Bridge Park, which is along the White River and includes covered bridges.

Jackson County also would be included in the ceremony once the bridge is fully restored and presented to the public, Patterson said. He said that’s how the county handled a recent restoration project that included covered bridges from Washington, Wayne and Hamilton counties.

“It’s not just a Hamilton County bridge. It’s important for us to maintain the history and knowledge of the bridge,” Patterson told commissioners. “We do have some history in restoring bridges, and we also have history of appreciating covered bridges.”

The 332-foot bridge was built in 1869 by Robert Pattison during a transition period from wood to steel bridges. It was made of a post truss design with two king posts and metal truss rods. The bridge, which had no vertical trusses, was used by vehicles until 1970 when a concrete bridge was built just to the south.

A storm packed with strong winds sent the western span of the bridge into river Feb. 27, 1999. The eastern span of the bridge fell into the river Jan. 2, 2006, shortly after it had been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Commissioner Matt Reedy said he remembers when the bridge fell into the river and is excited about Hamilton County’s interest in restoring it.

“I’m excited Bell Ford can come back to life if you so choose,” he said. “I’m looking forward to this going somewhere where it will be greatly appreciated.”

Bloomington engineer Jim Barker has stored the iron shoes and some bracing at a location in Greene County since it was pulled from the river. Some of the wooden portions of the bridge have been stored in the Seymour area.

Several efforts over the years to restore the bridge in Jackson County, perhaps even move part of it to the Jackson County Fairgrounds, have come up short. Officials with the city of Lawrence in Marion County also once discussed the idea of erecting the bridge in one of its parks.

Patterson said both Hamilton and Jackson counties have a shared dedication to the history of covered bridges, and the project would bring both counties together for their efforts.

“This is a forever partnership between Hamilton County and Jackson County,” he said.