Monroe County is once again home to a covered bridge—after being without one for more than four decades.
Contractors completed work on the Cedar Ford Covered Bridge a few weeks ago. The bridge spans Beanblossom Creek in Washington Township and connects North and Old Maple Grove roads in the area.
Officials and the public gathered at the bridge on Sunday to celebrate the occasion. Monroe County Commissioner Julie Thomas said while the community was once home to several covered bridges, they were lost over time.
"This is a great day," Thomas said as she stood in front of the Cedar Ford Covered Bridge.
Thomas said it has been 134 years since the original Cedar Ford bridge was built by the Kennedy Brothers in 1885. Originally built in Shelby County over the Little Blue River, the Cedar Ford Bridge is a 127-foot long Burr Arch truss.
Thomas said the bridge remained in place there for nine decades before it was dismantled and stored. Jim Barker, a Historical Bridge Specialist with VS Engineering, said a member of the Indiana Covered Bridge Society pointed out to him that the disassembled Cedar Ford Bridge had been stored poorly and as a result, the pieces had started to break down.
"In short, it was heading for the trash heap," Barker said.
To preserve the historic structure, Barker purchased the bridge remains and began conversations with Monroe County about possibly reconstructing the bridge in a new location.
Thomas said while many county officials played a part in getting the Cedar Ford bridge to Monroe County, she highlighted specifically the efforts of former county Commissioner John Irvine. She said after the last remaining covered bridge in the county no longer existed, Irvine spearheaded the search for a new bridge. She said his persistence paid off when he found the Cedar Ford bridge.
Thomas said the next step was funding. Fortunately, the county was able to secure federal dollars from the Federal Highway Administration's National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation Program, which it combined with local money to preserve and reconstruct the Cedar Ford bridge. The project took 19 years to come to fruition and the final cost was around $1.6 million.
"A project like this requires tenacity," Thomas said.
The reconstructed Cedar Ford Covered Bridge, which reused many pieces from the original structure, is 200 feet east of where another covered bridge once stood. According to information from the highway department' office, the Smith Bridge Co. built a covered bridge in the area in 1871.
Jeremy Boshears, a local bridge historian, said the bridge was originally named "Milikan Bridge" but the name was later changed to "McMillan Bridge." In later years, local residents also called the structure the "Williams Bridge." That bridge was a Smith Truss, was 125 feet long and cost $2,646.80 to build.
Monroe County Council member Cheryl Munson, who used the former Williams Bridge, said it was restored in 1970 after 99 years of use. But, on June 29, 1976, the bridge was destroyed by arson and never replaced.
Munson said the story goes that two young men poured gas on the floor boards of the bridge, set it aflame and watched their work from the side while drinking beer. She said Bill and Mary Oliver offered a $500 reward at the time for the capture of the culprits. Munson said the local wine company had used the bridge to access to their vineyards across the creek. The two young men were eventually caught and convicted, she added.
Munson said having a covered bridge in this area of the community had been an important resource for those who live nearby. She said many used the original bridge and will use the reconstructed bridge as an important connection in the northwest portion of the county.
However, Boshears said covered bridges were more than just a way to cross a creek or a river. He said they were also a place for travelers and livestock to take shelter from the rain and a place to gather, go fishing or swimming. In addition, residents hung signs inside the bridges, advertising everything from a local service to finding a lost dog.
"It was the virtual bulletin board of the community," Boshears said.