Warnke Covered Bridge, Lewisburg Ohio

Date added: November 14, 2023 Categories: Ohio Bridges Covered Bridges Childs Truss
South side, west portal, looking northeast (1975)

The Warnke Bridge was built to span Swamp Creek in 1895 by Evrett S. Sherman who came to Preble County, Ohio in 1886 in the wake of the great storm that had destroyed so many of the county's bridges. Mr. Sherman came here from Delaware County, Ohio, where he had lived and worked since coming to Ohio after the Civil War. Mr. Sherman brought a model of his Childs truss bridge to show the Preble County Commissioners, and they were so impressed that he was awarded several contracts to rebuild storm-damaged bridges. He worked in Preble County from 1886-1895. The Warnke Bridge was his last covered bridge. He finished it shortly after finishing the Christman Bridge northwest of Eaton over Seven Mile Creek.

Mr. Sherman lost a bid to build another covered bridge in 1896 and moved to Richmond, Indiana where he died a short time later. The Warnke Covered Bridge is the shortest covered span in the county and was built to replace an iron, pony truss bridge that was washed out in a flood. The county referred to this as a "repair" job, and therefore, no formal specifications and contracts are on record.

The bridge takes its name from John Warnke who owned the land on the north side of the bridge site. There used to be a swimming hole on the southwest corner of the bridge and the Warnkes and subsequent owners maintained a park and picnic area there. The park is gone now and the swimming hole has been wiped out by pollution. Early settlers in this area were subject to depredations by Indians. A young white girl was taken captive and taken by the Indians to a Salt lick along the banks of Swamp Creek where they made salt. The Indians kept the location of the Salt Lick a secret, but when the young girl was released a year later, she was able to take her family to the Salt Lick. Her family then proceeded to sell their own land and buy the land at the Salt Lick where they made salt for many years. This same family, the Tillmans, also operated a small water-powered sawmill and a small stone quarry along the creek. All of these operations had ceased by the mid-1800's.

Bridge Description

The Warnke Bridge is a one-span wooden truss covered bridge spanning Swamp Creek on Swamp Creek Road in Harrison Township sections 14/23, two miles northeast of Lewisburg, Preble County, Ohio. This bridge has vertical, high-boarded siding, a metal roof, concrete abutments, and projected portals.

This bridge is known as the Warnke Bridge and was built in 1895 on the rare Childs truss plan by Evrett S. Sherman. The Childs truss was patented in 1846 by Horace Childs of Henniker, New Hampshire. Mr. Childs was a master carpenter who built long truss covered bridges for his relative, Col. Stephan Long who patented the Long truss in 1830. For some reason, Mr. Childs never built a bridge using his own truss plan and it was not until 1874 that such a bridge was built here in Ohio by E. S. Sherman. The Childs truss is very like the basic multiple king- and queen-post truss plans in that it employs the triangular form where the diagonals are in compression and the verticals are in tension. The important feature of the Childs truss is the iron rods which are used as counterbraces. The Warnke Bridge is a 6 panel Childs truss, 51'6" long overall with a clear span of 46'3". The overall width is 18'6" with a roadway width of 15'2". The overhead Clearance is 13'2".

The top chords are 8" x 8" and the truss members are 7" x 7" and the lower chords are 1-3 x 12 and 1- x 12 dowelled together. Mr. Sherman suspended the floor beams of his bridges from the lower chords on iron stirrups that measured either 3/4" or 1". These later proved to be inadequate when heavier threshing rigs began to use these bridges and some floor failures occurred. Therefore, the county replaced these stirrups with 2" stock in the 1920s and also replaced most of the pine floor beams with oak in the 1920s. Then in the 1940's, due to increasingly heavy truck traffic, the county doubled the number of these oak floor beams in all the covered bridges, using some new beams and some salvaged from bridges that had been removed. The flooring of the Warnke Bridge is laid crosswise and raised oak plank runways were added later as protection for the floor. The shelter panels at each portal were removed in the 1910s because they had become a haven for rodents, termites and trash. The original roof was of red cedar shingles and according to former Preble County maintenance engineer, Seth S. Schlotterbeck, was almost surely replaced with another shingle roof before 1940. The county put a new aluminum raised-seam roof on the bridge right over the old shingles in 1961. When this bridge was built it was classified as a repair job for some unknown reason, as it was entirely new from abutments on up. Therefore, there are no formal specifications or contracts and we cannot be certain that the bridge was painted with the three coats of white lead and linseed oil specified for all the other Sherman-built Preble County covered spans. It probably received the same finishing paint job as the others, though, after its vertical siding of 8½" white pine was put on. The WPA painted this bridge in the 1930s, and the county painted it a gleaming white in 1961. Stone for the abutments of the bridge came from a quarry near Lewisburg. The west abutment suffered severe damage in a 1913 flood and had to be rebuilt. The original cut-stone was used and concrete wingwalls were added on each side.

The outward appearance of the Warnke Bridge is much the same today as when it was finished in 1895. An arson attempt was made in January 1972 that damaged the north lower chords and the bridge was closed to traffic while repairs were made. Preble County takes excellent care of this bridge which is quite evident in its appearance.

Warnke Covered Bridge, Lewisburg Ohio South side, west portal, looking northeast (1975)
South side, west portal, looking northeast (1975)

Warnke Covered Bridge, Lewisburg Ohio East portal, south side, looking west-northwest (1975)
East portal, south side, looking west-northwest (1975)