Old bridge, new home?


Part of a covered bridge that once spanned the East Fork White River in Jackson County might be visible to the public in the near future.

Warren Martin, county highway superintendent, recently talked to the Jackson County Commissioners about restoring a 160-foot section of the Bell Ford Covered Bridge and placing it at the fairgrounds east of Brownstown.

That way, it would be seen by the thousands of people who drive by the fairgrounds along State Road 250, attend races at Brownstown Speedway and visit the Jackson County Fair.

“Somewhere where it’s going to be appreciated and seen,” commissioners President Matt Reedy said. “I just want to make sure it’s visible.”

Martin said he would look into the cost, and then the three county commissioners could decide if they want to move forward with the project and pick a spot for the bridge.

The Bell Ford Covered Bridge, built by Robert Pattison in 1859 during the period of transition from wood to iron bridges, spanned the East Fork White River between Seymour and Cortland. It was one of three covered bridges in the county until the west span fell into the river in 1999 and the east span collapsed in 2006.

Segments of the bridge have been in storage in Jackson and Greene counties. Most of the cast iron fittings and some of the wooden timbers are stored in Jim Barker’s barn in Greene County.

In 2008, commissioners voted to give the bridge to the city of Lawrence in Marion County so it could be rebuilt in Fort Benjamin Harrison State Park. But those plans fell through in 2012 after a change in leadership in Lawrence. A new mayor decided obtaining the bridge wasn’t a priority.

Then in 2014, the city of Seymour considered incorporating a portion of the bridge into the design of a walking trail. But that project never moved forward.

Martin said he has $1.4 million in his cumulative bridge fund, which pays for maintaining and replacing county-owned bridges.

Since projects are moving along on two other bridges in the county, he said it’s a good time to put money into restoring part of the Bell Ford Covered Bridge.

“To me, it’s part of the history of this county,” Martin said. “If you have any desire to do it, then we need to be able to start to move in that direction.”

Martin suggested paying Barker $2,000 for storing parts of the bridge, and commissioners approved that.

They also gave Martin permission to seek engineering and restoration quotes.

“If you decide it’s too expensive or you don’t want to pursue it, I think there’s probably going to be a market for that bridge to somebody else to buy it, sell it, allow them to do whatever they want with it,” Martin said.

Reedy said he was in favor of placing a portion of the bridge at the fairgrounds. If commissioners decide to do that, they are leaning toward making it a pedestrian bridge.

“If you put a sign up out at the fairgrounds after this gets up that we have two other historical covered bridges, tourism will pick up nicely, as well,” he said.

The two covered bridges still standing in the county span the East Fork White River and draw tourists from around the world.

The Shieldstown Covered Bridge is five miles west of Seymour and one mile north of U.S. 50 along County Road 200N in Hamilton Township, and the Medora Covered Bridge is along State Road 235 one mile east of Medora.

Rehabilitation is underway on the Shieldstown Covered Bridge, a 355-foot-long double-span Burr arch truss bridge built by Joseph J. Daniels in 1876 that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

But the project has been stalled for months because nearly 70 per-cent of the wood the contractor, Duncan Robertson Inc. in Franklin, obtained for the sides of the bridge was rejected because it was not up to national historic preservation standards.

The company has until July 31 to complete the work, and Martin said he recently was told the company plans to resume work the first part of March. The Indiana Department of Transportation can fine the company as much as $1,500 a day after the deadline unless an extension is granted, Martin said.

The Medora Covered Bridge was built by Daniels in 1875 and is the longest historic covered bridge in the nation at 461 feet. Renovations were completed on that bridge in 2011.

Work on another county bridge is progressing. The Cavanaugh Bridge, which spans the Muscatatuck River along County Road 550W in Driftwood Township in the southwestern part of the county, was demolished March 2 and a new 763-foot-long bridge is being constructed about 200 yards upstream.

The old single-span, pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge, constructed by Lafayette Bridge Co. in Lafayette, had been in place since 1899 but hadn’t been used by traffic since 2005. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

A committee of residents in the area was formed to come up with a new name for the bridge. They suggested naming it Driftwood Bridge, and county commissioners approved it during their recent meeting.

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