SIDNEY — Ohio Historic Bridge Association President David Simmons visited Sidney recently to see the newly relocated 1879 Zenas King bow string bridge to Tawawa Park.
“Ohio has hundreds of historic bridges,” Simmons said in a city of Sidney press release. “Unfortunately, many of them have already disappeared, in large part because their width was designed for a couple of horses and a wagon. Loads today are far wider. It would be like comparing a couple of Percheron horses pulling a wagon to an eighteen-wheeler hauling a load of oil from Cargill. The width difference would be substantial.”
“Although there were once many examples of the Zenas King bow string bridge that now crosses Amos Lake, there are just two remaining in the state,” Simmons said. “This bridge is by far the most original example.”
“In many ways, you were fortunate that it was no longer used and simply left alone,” Simmons continued. “Had it continued to be used, it would have had to have been substantially modified to accommodate modern farm equipment, effectively destroying the original design of the bridge.”
As Simmons inspected and photographed the bridge, he was joined by retired Auglaize County bridge engineer Dan Bennett and Sidney Mayor Mike Barhorst. Bennett has served as the unpaid, on-site construction engineer. Barhorst wrote the successful grant which provided the bulk of the funds for the rehabilitation of the bridge.
“Bach Steel did a great job restoring this bridge,” Bennett said.
Bach Steel is located in Saint Johns, Michigan.
“They are one of the few companies remaining that have experience in hot metal riveting as well as the repair and restoration of 19th Century bridges,” Simmons said. ”Bach has completed projects all over the country.”
With respect to the biggest challenge of this project, Bennett was quick to respond.
“When the bridge was removed from the farm, the bridge was in pieces. Not unlike Humpty Dumpty, the greatest challenge was how to put all the pieces back together again.”
When asked his greatest surprise, Bennett was again quick to respond.
“The bridge is just beautiful. My greatest surprise is how pretty it is now.”
Over lunch atop Pointner Knoll, that included chili dogs and root beer from the nearby BK Root Beer, Simmons talked about preservation.
“There have always been two schools of thought,” Simmons said. “One school advocates getting rid of the old and building new. The other understands the importance of preserving history and figuring out how to utilize historic structures in new and different ways.”
“With respect to bridges, two schools of thought are probably best illustrated by retired Ashtabula County Engineer John Smolen, who saw his county’s covered bridges as a tourism asset, and worked to maintain them,” Simmons said. “He would set aside money every couple of years to work on one of the county’s existing 12 covered bridges. He even added five new ones for a total of 17.”
“At the same time that Smolen was working his slow preservation magic, Fairfield County Engineer Bob Reef had 18 covered bridges that he actively worked to eliminate,” Simmons explained. “Reef saw them as a nuisance, and would give them away to anyone who would take them, provided they would agree to open them for public viewing once a year.”
“It is difficult to find enough private financing to relocate a bridge. Of the 16 covered bridges remaining in Fairfield County, most are in private hands, in marginal condition, and only a handful are accessible to the public in any meaningful way,” Simmons continued. “With one or two exceptions, they’re not totally lost but their futures are not very bright.”
In some cases, those who took a bridge could never figure out how to put them back together again,” Simmons said. “As a result, those bridges were lost forever.”
“Today, Ashtabula County is considered the covered bridge capital of Ohio,” Simmons said. “If you can imagine it, Fairfield County at one time had 279 covered bridges. Today there are just three remaining on county roads.”
Formed in 1960 as the Southern Ohio Covered Bridge Association, the group intended to save an abandoned covered bridge in Muskingum County. After achieving success in saving that bridge, the group became aware that there were metal, masonry, and concrete bridges throughout Ohio that were quickly disappearing.
From that original group, the Ohio Historic Bridge Association was formed. A similar group (the Northern Ohio Covered Bridge Association) eventually ceased to exist. The Ohio Historic Bridge Association’s goal included the identification of bridges that were worth preserving so that future generations might have the opportunity to appreciate Ohio’s bridge heritage.
In part because of the number of companies in Ohio producing iron and steel, Ohio was home to dozens of early bridge companies. Ohio’s central location was a benefit as well.
Some of the major 19th century bridge manufacturers include the Bellefontaine Bridge and Iron Company, Bracket Bridge Company (Cincinnati), Canton Bridge Company, Capitol Construction Company (Columbus), Champion Bridge Company (Wilmington), Columbia Bridge Works (Dayton), King Bridge Company (Cleveland), Massillon Bridge Company, Mount Vernon Bridge Company, The New Columbus Bridge Company, Smith Bridge Company (Toledo), Toledo Bridge Company and the Wrought Iron Bridge Company (Canton).
There are literally dozens of smaller companies, including the New Bremen Bridge Company, Rogers Iron Company (Springfield) and the Oregonia Bridge Company.
When asked if there might be other historic bridge projects on the horizon, Bennett mentioned a D.H. Morrison (Dayton) bow string bridge. He noted that the bridge is not currently listed on the Ohio Historic Bridge Inventory.
“There are a couple of other bridges as well,” Barhorst said. “They are available and very close by. One of them is the only known pin-connected, Pratt through-truss bridge remaining in Ohio.”
“You’ve done a good job with the Zenas King bridge,” Simmons said. “It’s good that future generations will have the opportunity to enjoy the bridge and the best part — it’s functional and serves a purpose. In addition, historic bridge enthusiasts now have major reason for coming to Shelby County, something they’ve not had since arsonists destroyed the Lockington covered bridge in 1989!”