Morris Tippin made his way back and forth on the Medora Covered Bridge on Saturday night as he has done so many times before.
But on this night, Tippin was not giving one of the many tours he has come to be known for, and he wasn’t working on maintaining the bridge as he has spent so many hours doing throughout the last nine years.
This night was one for Tippin to celebrate as the Friends of the Medora Covered Bridge conducted its seventh annual Dinner on the Bridge to raise money to help preserve the bridge and its history.
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Three-hundred people attended this year — a sold-out dinner — and Tippin was busy helping things run smoothly and greeting people as they made their way to their tables.
“This is a great night, and we really couldn’t ask for better weather,” he said before thanking a couple for attending the dinner.
Tippin, a Medora resident who is considered the face of the bridge, could not walk more than a few steps before someone would greet him or congratulate him on a great turnout.
“We sold 300 tickets, which is fantastic,” he said.
Tippin said he likes the dinner because he gets to see so many people come together to enjoy the bridge at once. He also likes how the event is actually held on the bridge.
“I really like seeing the people that come here,” he said. “I think it’s cool.”
Nick Walden, another dedicated volunteer at the bridge, said he also thinks it is special to see so many gather to celebrate the bridge.
“It’s amazing to see this many people come out,” Walden said. “People are interested in the bridge.”
Walden helps Tippin give tours and also creates artwork that features the bridge. He shares more information about the area than just the bridge.
“I talk to them about our round barns and the brick kiln, too,” he said.
Tippin said many of the people will ask about its history, how long the bridge is, why there are no windows and how the arches in the middle were made.
“They covered the bridges to keep the wood from rotting,” he said.
Each of the arches have six sections, and the slab for each section was sawed from a single tree. Engineers would mark the curved top and bottom and saw to the mark, knock out the blocks and finish with a foot adze, which is a cutting tool similar to an axe.
Walden painted a replica of the bridge onto an old wooden ironing board as part of a raffle at the dinner, which is another way they plan to raise money.
After all of the expenses are paid, Tippin hopes the event will raise around $3,000. Tippin and Walden hope to use the funds to put toward a new security system on the bridge.
Unfortunately, the bridge has become a spot where people paint graffiti, Walden said.
“The vandalism and graffiti is pretty much nonstop,” Walden said. “People writing on the bridge is pretty much constant, and the vandalism really only happens every now and then.”
A security system would help curb those issues but will take a significant investment to implement, he said.
While Walden has not received an actual bid for a system and installation, estimates based from his own research have been close to or in excess of $30,000. That’s because electric would have to be added to the bridge and the cost of the equipment itself, which would be directly linked to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department.
“We would need a few cameras, some night vision and motion detection systems and storage to store it on servers,” he said. “Cameras are our No. 1 need. My goal is once we get it secured, we can really get rid of a lot of the graffiti and cover it up.”
Charles Davaney, president of the Hoosier Corvette Club, attended the dinner with 40 members of the Indianapolis-based group.
“Our club looks for interesting drives to go on, and one of our club members found the Medora Covered Bridge a few years back and offered it as an opportunity for our club members to come down,” he said. “He organized it, and we came down for it.”
The group’s vehicles were easily spotted upon entering the bridge.
“There are 20 gleaming Corvettes parked right outside,” Davaney said with a smile.
Davaney said the club has visited the bridge before, but this is the first time members attended the dinner. He said experiencing the bridge is something unique to Indiana.
“It’s fantastic, and it’s a great part of Indiana history,” he said.
As a group, the club tries to support Indiana’s historical features like the bridge, Davaney said, and each of the group members purchased raffle tickets to help support the effort of preserving the history of the bridge.
Davaney said he wanted to suggest that the group return to the bridge soon.
“I think we should do this again next year,” he said.
Davaney and his Corvette group are not the only ones who traveled a distance to see the bridge. In fact, many travel much farther than Indianapolis to come see the country’s longest historic covered bridge at 430.4 feet. And they come in droves.
Tippin estimates about 18,000 to 20,000 people visit the bridge each year, which closed to motorists in 1973. A $1.3 million restoration project was completed in 2011.
People come to the bridge from the region, out of state and even from around the world, Tippin said. He has tracked the visitors through a small sign-in book at the entrance of the bridge.
Visitors have come from every state in the United States and from more than 50 countries in the world. Each continent also has been represented.
Tippin has posted some of the messages on the bridge’s official website with some coming from the Netherlands, Australia, Italy and many more.
“I think it’s great that many people are interested in it,” he said.
Arann Banks, executive director of the Jackson County Visitor Center, said the bridge is one of the county’s biggest attractions.
“A day doesn’t go by without someone calling in or walking in and asking about the bridge, and we talk about the Medora Covered Bridge in detail every single day,” she said. “It’s the biggest attraction Jackson County has besides John Mellencamp.”
Banks said visitors will come into the center in Seymour and ask how to get to the bridge and often return to share their thoughts about it.
She said the visitor center has helped promote and sell tickets to the event because it is one of the most unique events Jackson County has to offer.
“There’s something about sitting on that bridge while having dinner and being able to absorb all the history,” she said. “It’s so historic, and it’s always been such a nice event.”
Banks said she is thankful that Tippin and Walden are so dedicated to sharing the history of the bridge because by showing so much passion, they are the best at presenting its history to visitors.
“They have a passion, and passion sells itself, and that’s why a lot of people enjoy visiting the bridge,” she said. “Their passion shows, and people know they care about the bridge. I love that they love it so much.”
That love was on display Saturday evening as Tippin walked from one end of the bridge to the other, smiling from ear to ear and talking with all of those who came to support the bridge.
“This event is great,” he said.