Leadership Jackson County project focuses on Shieldstown Covered Bridge


Built in 1876, the Shieldstown Covered Bridge has stood the test of time.

A $1 million restoration project that was supposed to be completed in 2016 but didn’t get done until 2019 because of a few hurdles has set it up to stand for many more years to come.

The Leadership Jackson County history project team of Matt Lorenzo, Christine O’Donnell, Toby Ortman and Jordan Richart put in time and effort to share the history of the bridge and bring awareness to the Jackson County attraction. They also want to add to the site and create a fundraiser to help with that initiative.

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Lorenzo said shortly before the project teams were announced in the fall of 2019, the restoration project had been completed at the bridge, so it was really convenient timing for the history group to figure out its focus.

“We viewed this as a perfect opportunity,” he said. “The bridge had just received a thorough physical foundation and update, so we thought it would be appropriate to provide an updated history compilation of the bridge from its inception to renovation.”

They gathered information and found photos for a new sign to hang inside the bridge along County Road 200N in Hamilton Township between Seymour and Brownstown. The 4-by-2-foot sign was created by Jim Noelker with Westwood Signs and will be framed to let people know the LJC group made it possible.

The top part of the sign gives a brief history of the bridge, which was named for the family-owned mill in the adjacent village of Shields. It cost $13,600 to build and is an example of early 19th century wooden truss technology. The bridge is a rare variant of the Burr arch truss.

The Hamilton Township Bridge Co. hired J.J. Daniels to plan and build the bridge, which opened up to the area for transportation across East Fork White River and for crops to be milled and transported.

Another part of the sign tells the dimensions of the two-span bridge as 331 feet long and 16 feet wide with 12-foot overhangs (making the bridge’s total length 355 feet) and notes it has stone abutments and pier.

There also is a short bio of Daniels, saying he was the son of bridge builder Stephen Daniels and built many bridges in Indiana, the others in Jackson County being the Medora and Ewing covered bridges.

Historians were able to determine Daniels built 53 bridges throughout his lifetime, but some believe he built more than that.

Seventeen of Daniels’ bridges still stand today, including Shieldstown and Medora, and at least 15 are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Between 1825 and 1875, 14,000 covered bridges were built in the United States. Today, the number of surviving covered bridges is estimated to be less than 1,000, Lorenzo said.

Daniels built bridges from age 24 to 78, and all of his structures still standing today are between 115 and 150 years old.

“You might be surprised to know that 98 historic covered bridges are located in our state of Indiana; however, the days of usefulness of covered bridges are passed, and no longer are these historic bridges being built,” Lorenzo said. “Therefore, it is important to preserve the ones that we have left here in Jackson County.”

The group’s board will help provide context to visitors and provide vital information about the bridge, Richart said.

The board also serves as a much-needed update to the current board on the bridge, which was created by the Jackson County Park and Recreation Board and only lists the year the bridge was built, who built it, the style, the dimensions and what it’s made of.

The project team received permission from the Jackson County Commissioners to place the new sign. That will be done once it’s framed.

“Our team decided to collect and compile all of the info we could about the bridge in order to present here and make it public so others can learn about it,” Lorenzo said. “Our hope and goal is to make sure that the future generations in Jackson County know all about the history this county has to offer.”

Richart said the group will continue to promote the two standing covered bridges in the county. The Medora Covered Bridge, which was built in 1875 and is the longest covered bridge in the United States at 461 feet, had a restoration project completed in 2011.

“An estimated 20,000 people visit the Medora Covered Bridge, according to organizers of that bridge,” Richart said. “We hope that visitors who stop by that bridge also make the worthwhile trip to the Shieldstown Covered Bridge to see its restoration. This partnership can help create more opportunities for residents and visitors to visit both of our bridges and celebrate our heritage.”

In terms of enhancing the area, the group initially considered raising money to buy a bench to commemorate the bridge.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, had a significant impact on their fundraising source.

They then switched gears and decided to take on a much larger goal that would take some time: Acquiring property around the bridge to create a park. Fifty years ago, county officials expressed an interest in doing that, but it’s still not there.

Richart said the group would like to establish an area with picnic tables similar to what’s offered at the Medora Covered Bridge.

To raise funds for that project, the team has decided to create a 5K run and walk.

“We feel that this will be one of the best and most effective fundraising options for us because of the popularity of 5K races, the uniqueness of hosting one at a historic covered bridge and also just the scene that it provides for participants,” Richart said. “These types of fundraisers have grown in popularity over the years and have proven to be successful for a variety of groups, including Leadership Jackson County.”

The group wants to receive permission to allow participants to consume a beer on the bridge after the race, so the event would be called Beer on the Bridge 5K Run and Walk.

The date for the race has not been set. Richart said they are waiting to determine when it’s safe to do so.

“We hope to see you all there either as a participant or to consume one of these great beers or volunteer,” he said.

Finally, the project team wants to create Friends of the Shieldstown Covered Bridge as a new nonprofit organization. That group’s focus would be to enhance the area and visitor experience and assist the county with plans and the bridge maintenance fund.

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