SIDNEY — Saturday afternoon’s Zenas King bowstring bridge dedication ceremony was marked by beautiful weather, an appreciative audience and 11 speakers. Sidney Mayor Mike Barhorst played the role of master of ceremonies. He noted each of the speakers had “wittingly or unwittingly, played a role in the project. As they speak, you’ll quickly recognize the role they played,” he stated in his opening remarks.
Shelby County Historical Society’s 2019 Historian of the Year Mary Ann Olding spoke about her efforts to enlist support for saving “the last known remaining example of a Zenas King bowstring bridge in Ohio.” In her remarks, Olding mentioned the important role retired Auglaize County Bridge Engineer Dan Bennett had played in saving the bridge, praised Tim Hemmelgarn’s willingness to donate the bridge to the city of Sidney, and signaled out Barhorst for special praise.
Hemmelgarn’s remarks were brief. He and his wife Debbie purchased the farm that for many years, had been owned by the Bernard Brandewie family.
“The bridge was just sitting there, rusting away. I can’t believe how good the bridge looks today,” Hemmelgarn said.
Barhorst also kiddingly thanked Shelby County Commissioner Tony Bornhorst, who was present for the ceremony, for not hauling the bridge to the scrap yard. Bornhorst, who has farmed the property on which the bridge was formerly located, had previously joked he was tempted to do just that on multiple occasions over the course of the more than 20 years he had maneuvered farm equipment around the bridge.
In introducing retired Auglaize County Bridge Engineer Dan Bennett, who oversaw the project, Barhorst thanked Bennett for his willingness to contribute hundreds of hours overseeing the project.
“I cannot guarantee that he was here every day,” Barhorst said, “but I can tell you that he was here every time I visited, and I was a frequent visitor.”
As it turns out, Bennett first brought the 1879 bridge to the attention of Olding when she was employed by the Ohio Historical Society. In a letter Bennett wrote to Olding on August 30, 1980, he detailed the bridge’s history and importance.
Describing himself as a “history buff,” 12th District State Sen. and Majority Floor Leader Matthew Huffman, praised the efforts of those who were involved in saving the bridge. He presented Barhorst with a resolution signed by Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof that he had co-signed.
“The dedication of this bridge is a justifiable source of pride and a fine reflection not only on the City of Sidney itself but the many local citizens who have worked diligently to bring this project to fruition. All those who have given of their time, energy and resources to this worthwhile endeavor are deserving of praise for their outstanding efforts,” the document read in part.
Ohio Department of Transportation Division 7 Deputy Director Randy Chevalley, described the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant program. The City of Sidney secured a TAP grant that provided 80% of the funds used for the project, and the project funds were administered through Chevalley’s office.
“TAP provides funding for projects defined as transportation alternatives, including on-and off-road pedestrian and bicycle facilities, infrastructure projects for improving non-driver access to public transportation and enhanced mobility, community improvement activities, and environmental mitigation; recreational trail program projects; and safe routes to school projects,” Chevalley explained.
Derek Pung a co-owner of Bach Steel, traveled to Sidney from Delaware for the ceremony. Bach Steel did the actual restoration work on the bridge. In addition to rehabilitation of active bridges, Bach Steel has restored numerous historic bridges, including two other Zenas King bridges, including one in Arkansas and another in Delaware.
Pung, who lives in Michigan, quipped he intentionally “painted the bridge green and white (the colors of Michigan State University), knowing that it was going to be located in Buckeye country!” In fact, historic research would indicate that the bridge was originally painted green and white.
Ohio Historic Bridge Association President David Simmons, recently retired as the historian for the Historic Preservation Division of Ohio History Connection, provided his audience with a history of bridge construction. Simmons detailed the evolution of iron bridges, and how the design of the Zenas King bowstring bridge was far superior to the bridge designs that preceded it.
“King’s square tubular members were simple to fabricate and ship to distant locations in pieces for assembly on site,” Simmons saod. “Knowing that an arch has inherent strength, King’s design used less raw material than wooden bridges and enjoyed wide popularity until the introduction of steel bridges in the 1880s.”
“This bridge was built in 1879 and was originally part of two spans that crossed Loramie Creek on what today is state Route 66. The Great Flood of 1913 severely damaged the bridge’s abutments,” Simmons told his audience.
Ohio History Connection (OHC) Chief Executive Officer Burt Logan detailed OHC’s five areas of responsibility (maintenance of the state archives, operation of the state museum, outreach, operation of the Ohio’s 58 historic sites, and historic preservation). “With 76 National Historic Landmarks, Ohio ranks third among the states,” Logan noted.
“The historic preservation movement was begun by Ann Pamela Cunningham, the founder of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association,” Logan noted. “She created the organization responsible for saving and restoring Mount Vernon. In doing so, she established one of the earliest preservation and heritage organizations in the United States.”
“Other early efforts included the restoration of Savannah, Georgia and Williamsburg, Virginia. All of these early efforts are examples of people seeing a need and finding the funding necessary to achieve their goals,” Logan noted. “This project is a continuation of such efforts, fortunately led by local individuals who recognized the need, found a creative way to utilize grant funds with local funds to finance a project that will long be seen as farsighted.”
Sidney’s Parks and Recreation Director Duane Gaier praised Sidney’s civic leaders who were responsible for the existence of Tawawa Park, and the efforts that have been made by today’s leaders to continue to enhance the park’s features, mentioning the bridge, the inclusive play area, and the extension of the Canal Feeder Tail that will eventually connect the park with the Great Miami Riverway.
Parks and Recreation Board Chair Amy Zorn was the final speaker. “This bridge connects the past with the present, and provides passage to the future,” Zorn told the audience.
Prior to cutting the ribbon, Barhorst thanked a number of individuals. “I want to thank City Council, for their ability to see both the possibility and the opportunity this project presented,” Barhorst stated. In addition, I want to thank City Manager Mark Cundiff, Law Director Jeff Amick, City Clerk Kari Egbert, Assistant City Manager/Public Works Director Gary Clough, recently retired, and Engineering Manager Randy Magoto, each of whom oversaw important facets of the project.”
“I also owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Eagle Bridge President Rock Frantz, who spent countless hours reviewing the project, and providing estimates so that I could apply for the project grant,” Barhorst noted. “Rock was with me the first time I saw the bridge, and despite my misgivings, assured me that what was then a rusting hulk could be saved.”
Barhorst also thanked Gaier, who he had put in charge of the weather. “I asked him to make sure that the weather was sunny, with no chance of meatballs,” Barhorst said, “and, he delivered!”