Bell Covered Bridge, Vincent Ohio
When Ohio became a state in 1803, the lack of good roads and adequate bridges hindered farmers and merchants. An early and important road established in the state was the National Road and a well-known covered bridge on the National Road was the Y Bridge at Zanesville, built in 1832 and designed in that shape to cross both the Licking and Muskingum Rivers. Typically a plentiful resource in rural areas, wood was a natural choice for bridge construction. However, builders discovered that exposure to the elements significantly limited the useful life of wooden bridges. The need to construct bridges with longer useful lives led to bridge engineering developments. Eleven major trusses were used during the period of wood construction, including the kingpost truss, and its expansion for longer spans, the multiple kingpost truss, which was used for the Y Bridge. This was an early manifestation of the design to be used in the Bell Covered Bridge in 1888. It was also called the Buckingham design after Catherinus Buckingham, the builder of the Y Bridge. This was the design chosen by E.B. Henderson for the 1888 construction of the Bell Bridge in Washington County. In fact, Henderson built 28 bridges in Washington County over a 24 year period in the late nineteenth century, and only one of them did not use the Buckingham design. The kingpost design was not patented and therefore was more affordable and popular in Ohio than other designs.
The first permanent settlement in Ohio was located at the mouth of the Muskingum River in 1788, and it became the City of Marietta. Though Ohio was well endowed in natural resources, and was an attractive location for homes, farms, and businesses, the settlement of the wilderness was initially hampered by lack of good roads. Early Ohio roads were not sufficient to meet the needs of farmers and merchants. The improvement of existing roads and the establishment of new roads was an early concern of Ohio's counties as residents sought better roads and permanent bridges. In 1803, when Ohio was admitted to the Union, there were no substantial or designed bridges in the State. It was said in 1836 concerning Washington County, "There is one obstruction to the growth of this place, which its inhabitants ought to set themselves earnestly about removing. It is the want of good roads and bridges in the vicinity. That a traveler should be compelled to pay heavy ferriages over little streams and to head runs for want of bridges, in the neighborhood of such a town as Marietta, is a circumstance not at all to its credit and quite as little to its profit." The first covered bridge in the state was built in 1809 in Columbiana County.
The National Congress met in the late 1700s to discuss the problems of transportation, and in 1806, Congress passed the National Road Act. The Act provided for the establishment of the National Road, going west from Cumberland, Maryland to Richmond, Indiana. A well-known covered bridge on the National Road was the old Y Bridge at Zanesville, built in 1832 and designed in that shape to cross both the Licking and Muskingum Rivers. The truss design used in this bridge was an early manifestation of the design to be used in the Bell Covered Bridge in 1888. A truss is the framework of beams and braces that allows a bridge to support its weight and the weight of the load crossing the bridge. Wood was commonly chosen for the construction of bridges, but wooden bridges were susceptible to deterioration from exposure to the elements and generally had a useful life of less than 10 years. The need for longer-lasting bridges led to the development of 11 major engineering designs for covered bridge trusses, increasing the expected useful life of the bridges to 80 years or more. The basic multiple kingpost truss, consisting of a series of vertical posts and braces forming multiple triangles, was referred to as the Buckingham truss for Catherinus Buckingham. The son of an owner of the Muskingum and Licking Bridge Company, Buckingham designed and built the two-lane multiple kingpost truss known as the Y Bridge at Zanesville in 1832. E.B. Henderson then chose that design, which was unpatented and affordable, for the 1888 construction of the Bell Bridge in Washington County, as well as for 27 other bridges that he built in Washington County over a 24 year period in the late nineteenth century.
Early bridges were sometimes built on wood pilings instead of stone abutments to reduce costs, but foundations of sandstone or limestone were known to last much longer. Stonework was usually priced by a 24.75 cubic foot section called a perch. It could be cheaper if the same builder did both the bridge and the stonework. E.B. Henderson was a competent stone mason, and could therefore do both jobs. One of his most outstanding stonework examples is the abutments of the Hills Bridge in Washington County.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Ohio county officials still preferred shingle roofs for covered bridges, though metal roofs were being used on homes and other construction at the time, because the wooden roofs were reliable and cheap. The purpose of building a roof over covered bridges was to protect the trusses from moisture which could lead to deterioration of the structure.
In the nineteenth century, Ohio had an agreement with the Federal Government that provided the state with funds for roads and bridges. If additional funding was needed, residents of the immediate area would be asked to contribute. By the late nineteenth century, steel truss bridges were becoming more popular for major routes, but covered bridges were still favored in rural areas and on back roads because they were more economical.
Washington County contains Ohio's oldest existing city, Marietta, and a portion of the Muskingum River. The late nineteenth century saw many covered bridges built to span the Muskingum, including the first in 1859 that facilitated transportation between Marietta and Harmar. In the early 1880s covered bridges were built to span the Muskingum at Lowell and Beverly, both of which were destroyed in Ohio's devastating flood of 1913.
Western Washington County was also the site of many late nineteenth-century bridges, many crossing Wolf Creek and its branches. Among them were three remaining bridges, including the Bell Covered Bridge built by E.B. Henderson in 1888, the Harra Bridge built by Rolla Merydith in 1878, and the Shinn Bridge built by E.B. Henderson in 1886. All three of these featured different truss designs. The Shinn Bridge was one of two western Washington County bridges known to have been built after a drowning or near drowning in the area. The other was the Henry Bridge, also built by E.B. Henderson in 1894. Like the Bell Bridge, Henry featured the multiple kingpost truss design.
Wrought-iron tie downs are a distinctive engineering technique employed in southeastern Ohio to counteract the frequency of flooding. The Bell Bridge features such tie downs, which were anchored to the abutments. Another similar example of this is at the Barkhurst Mill Bridge in Morgan County, Ohio, built in 1872.
Covered bridges were built in Ohio over the course of about 80 years, and there were over 3,700 bridges in the state at one point in the mid-1800s. The number of covered bridges built throughout the rural countryside of the United States in the late nineteenth century reflects the pattern of life at that time. It is likely that a growing population and a sense of adventure led many people to travel and settle in rural areas, which were dissected by creeks, streams, and waterways. Bridges were necessary to assist in the travel, settlement, and subsequent daily life of an increasingly mobile population. However, toward the end of the century, iron and steel began to replace wood as the favored bridge construction, material. Washington County was noted for its continued use of wood structures all the way to the beginning of the 1900s.
Like most rural communities of the late nineteenth century, the community in which the Bell Covered Bridge was built was founded upon agricultural pursuits. At least four farmhouses were built within approximately one mile of the bridge during the late nineteenth century as people traveled to the area to establish homes and settle the land. The construction of the Bell Covered Bridge in 1888 assisted these individuals in their travels and daily lives, including accessibility to the nearest village, Barlow, Ohio.
The Bell Covered Bridge is a covered multiple kingpost through truss design bridge crossing over Falls Creek (Southwest Fork of Wolf Creek) on Bell Road (Barlow Township Road 39) in Washington County, Ohio. Built in 1888 by Ebenezer B. Henderson, the bridge was rehabilitated in 1998, and later closed in August 2005 for repair of termite damage, but was reopened to traffic shortly thereafter. Except for the periods of rehabilitation and repair, the bridge has continuously remained open to traffic since it was built. The floor, sides, and trusses of the bridge are constructed of wood and the roof is made of metal. The bridge also features sandstone abutments.
The Bell Covered Bridge sits over Falls Creek in the rural countryside of Washington County in southeastern Ohio. The bridge was originally used for horse-powered transportation and was later modified to allow motorized vehicles to cross the creek. The bridge is still in use today. The design of the bridge is a covered multiple kingpost through truss. The floor, sides, and trusses of the bridge are constructed of wood and the roof is made of metal. The bridge also features sandstone abutments. The Bell Covered Bridge continues to display many of its original characteristics and was renovated in 1998.
Ebenezer B. Henderson (1835-1903) built the bridge in 1888. Henderson also built three other bridges in the southeastern Ohio area in the late nineteenth century that still stand. These included two other multiple kingpost through truss designs - the Henry Covered Bridge built in 1894 in Washington County, and the Blackwood Covered Bridge built in 1879 in Athens County. Henderson also built the Shinn Covered Bridge in 1886 in Washington County, which features a covered Burr arch-truss design. The Burr arch-truss design was a modification of the multiple kingpost truss design, and was created by Theodore Burr at Waterford, NY in 1804, indicating that the multiple kingpost truss design was in existence prior to that date. However, it was the design of the Y Bridge in Zanesville by Catherinus Buckingham in 1832 that is credited as the example of multiple kingpost truss design that was followed by later builders. It is estimated that about 95 bridges using multiple kingpost trusses remain in the United States, about 10 percent of all covered bridges in the country. Multiple kingpost trusses have spans that range from 36 to 124 feet, and those that remain were built between 1849 and 1983.
Henderson was a prolific nineteenth-century Ohio bridge builder who resided in Beverly, Ohio. Unlike many other bridge builders of the time who remained in their home counties, Henderson was known to travel the eastern and southern parts of the state to build his bridges. Counties where he worked included Coshocton, Guernsey, Jackson, and Muskingum, and he also bid unsuccessfully on bridges in Hocking and Pickaway Counties. In addition to his bridge-building skills, Henderson was a competent mason and could therefore build the bridge abutments as well. One example is the abutments of the Hills Bridge in Washington County, designed by the Hocking Valley Bridge Works. Although Henderson's bid to build the bridge was unsuccessful, he did get the contract to construct the foundation for it. During a 24-year period at the peak of his career, from 1872 to 1896, he built 28 bridges in Washington County, 27 of which were multiple kingpost trusses (also known as Buckingham trusses), and one of which was a Warren truss at Watertown over Wolf Creek. Henderson's longest bridge was the Stillwell Bridge over the Muskingum River in Muskingum County. While it appears that much of his work was as a self-employed bridge builder and mason, he had an association with the King Bridge Company as an erector.
The Bell Covered Bridge was constructed in 1888 and sits across Falls Creek in Barlow Township. The bridge is located on Bell Road in northwestern Washington County, Ohio, three miles from the village of Barlow. A serpentine gravel road leads up to the bridge and the surrounding land consists of forests, farmland, and cow pastures. The village of Barlow was established in July 1818, which was named for Joel Barlow, a diplomat, and politician involved in settling parts of the state of Ohio in the early late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
Just south of the bridge sits the original farm property of the Bell family from which the bridge derives its name. A descendant of the Bell family still lives on the property. Two other properties north of the bridge also formerly belonged to the Bell family. Several houses in the vicinity date back to the same time as the bridge. The community remains devoted to agriculture, the nearby farmhouses still stand and the bridge continues to provide for the daily transportation of an average of 80 cars per day.
The Bell Covered Bridge was rehabilitated in 1998. The project description prepared by ODOT in preparation for the renovation notes that damaged and missing bridge members were to be replaced with similar members using authentic construction methods. The report also states that the original design plans are not available for the structure, but plans for the renovation were developed on the basis of field observations and measurements. In addition, the report indicated that the contractor would avoid damaging the structure. After renovation, the recommended maximum gross vehicle weight was established at 15 tons.
The bridge features a traditional 'barn red' burgundy color with white trim. Sign nameplates with the name and universal covered bridge identification code number (35-84-12) that refers to state, county and individual bridge hang on both sides above the entrances. The bridge exhibits a gable roof with a moderate open overhang. A 10-foot guardrail extends from the entrance of the bridge on either side of the road on the approach. According to the ODOT historic bridge report, the bridge has a total length of 64 feet, a deck width of 18.3 feet, and vertical clearance above the deck of 9.2 feet. The exterior of the bridge is fabricated of wood, covered by a metal-clad gable roof. The bridge is built upon a foundation of sandstone abutments. The bridge is anchored to the sandstone abutments with wrought iron tie-downs. Both the rear, or south side, abutment and the forward, or north side, abutment consist of a wing wall on each side and an abutment face directly under the bridge deck. At the time of renovation in 1998, approximately 2.3 square feet of replacement stones were needed. The ODOT project report mandated that the replacements were to be local sandstone similar to the existing stone. The existing bridge seat was lowered in the area of each truss to accommodate the floor system and to level the deck with the abutment backwall.
The interior of the bridge is unpainted and has a vertical clearance above the deck of 11 feet, 4 inches. The interior width is 15 feet, 7 inches. Inside, the bridge showcases the covered multiple kingpost through truss. The multiple kingpost truss design is an expansion of the kingpost truss, which is the oldest truss design, and which is primarily used for bridges with spans less than 30 feet. A kingpost is a central vertical post used as a bridge support. The basic kingpost truss has two diagonal supports, called diagonals, which meet at the top of the truss, one horizontal beam, called a ceiling joist, which connects the diagonals together. The kingpost connects the top to the horizontal beam below. The multiple kingpost truss design has a single post in the center with panels at a right angle on each side of the center, and diagonals pointing toward the center.
A bridge of this design can span up to 100 feet. This design was necessary for the Bell Covered Bridge due to its length of 64 feet. The bridge consists of a wooden floor and two wooden tracks to further support and guide passing traffic.