A Rainy Bridge Tour Brightened My Day

 



The Caine Road covered bridge in Ashtabula County crosses the West Branch of the Ashtabula River. It is pictured in October 2023.


I Visited the Ashtabula County Covered Bridge Festival

By Anna Krejci

My spouse and I toured the covered bridges in Ashtabula County this past Sunday. The nippy October air was perfect for wearing sweaters, and trees with vibrant red and orange leaf color surrounded us as we traveled up the highway to Jefferson, a small village in Northeast Ohio near the Pennsylvania border. Heavy, gray clouds hung low on the horizon.  The above looked so interesting on this day. Slight openings in the clouds revealed the partially obstructed blue sky and rays of sunlight poured through, somehow making the clouds look very dimensional and thick.

Rain was coming. Usually, rain on my excursion day dampens my spirits, but this time it helped me see the purpose and functionality of several nostalgic-looking covered bridges in the county.  Covered bridges were built with roofs overhead to shield the wooden beams, trusses, and floor from the weather, including rain that would cause the parts to rot and weaken. While I think covered bridges in the countryside appear quaint, first and foremost, they were practical and purposeful. A 2014 book called “The Covered Bridges of Ashtabula County,” was an interesting read; many of the bridges discussed dated back to the 1800s. In it, Carl E. Feather explains the rationale among the past residents regarding bridge building: taxpayer money was used, so it had to be spent wisely and thriftily. Feather stated that many of the bridges even lacked paint.

Some of the bridges in the county have been refurbished and some are even relatively new construction. My husband and I visited the Caine Road bridge built over the West Branch of the Ashtabula River. It was built in 1986, and we saw the Netcher Road bridge that crossed Mill Creek and that was built about 25 years ago, according to the book.  The third and final bridge we saw was the Doyle Road bridge, which had a much longer life than the previous two. Even as it rained on the outside of the bridges, I could feel the dryness when I walked inside of them. I could see how the covering worked so well at keeping the rain out. The inner workings of the bridges are quite impressive to see. The braces crisscross one another and create such a spatial network of support. It is artistic in a way that is also architectural and structural. The Doyle Road bridge had arches interiorly that had been added during a 1987 renovation to improve upon the trusses, Feather wrote in his book. I thought the arches looked smoothly formed and graceful. All parts of the bridges had a purpose.

Our self-guided tour of the bridges coincided with the Ashtabula County Covered Bridge Festival, held each year on the second weekend in October.  The county’s fairgrounds in Jefferson served as a home base for the festival.  Vendors sold their goods; there were food trucks, music concerts and more activities.  We had good shelter from the rain in the fair buildings.

In one of the fair buildings, I met Tammy Bevan, who owns Aurora Design. She also operates Best Friends Forever, where she and her long-time friend do laser engraving and artwork.  On Sunday, Bevan staffed a table filled with wooden ornaments, wall decorations and pieces set on shelves or tabletops. Wood is so sturdy and long-lasting, especially when it is cared for.  I picked up a small stand in the shape of a triangular evergreen tree.  We also looked at several ornaments, also made from wood.  The two stands we purchased were painted in tones of green. The ornament we got was mostly natural wood color, but its design displayed bare, winter tree trunks and branches painted with touches of white to resemble the snow. Here was some wood that was adorned, unlike some of the plain, albeit sturdy and functional, bridges that we saw on our tour.

Bevan kindly explained why she and her good friend paint their artwork. “I would say that when we paint our work, first that it is an expression of our inner selves, and we also love that it evokes feelings in others. [Here is] a quote I love that is relevant: ‘The external world is a canvas where you paint with the colours of your soul.’” Bevan quoted from the author Michael Beckwith. When asked how she and her friend paint their artwork, she replied, “We just start painting until we love what we see, and we also sometimes meld each of our ideas making one unique creation.”

It kept raining on my spouse and me during our return ride, and the wooden covered bridges provided a safe passage for us.  I was thinking about where at home to display the wooden ornamentation we found. Wood can be a blank surface to paint upon, and it can be part of a bridge.  The plain bridges contrasted with the adornments on painted wood, but both formed rich memories of the day.



The Netcher Road covered bridge, pictured in October 2023, was built in the late 1990s.





The Doyle Road covered bridge was upgraded in the 1980s. It is pictured in October 2023.




 

Works Cited

Feather, Carl E. The Covered Bridges of Ashtabula County, The History Press, 2014, Charleston, SC.