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Arsons, progress took toll

Sunday, September 23, 2001

Several of the area's original covered bridges were deliberately destroyed.
SALEM -- Covered bridges once dotted the landscape, nearly as plentiful as barns and just as evocative of the country's pastoral heritage.
Columbiana County alone is estimated to have had more than 100 of the structures. Dozens of others were sprinkled throughout Mahoning, Trumbull, Mercer and Lawrence counties.
Eight original covered bridges remain in the area.
In examining what became of many of the Mahoning and Shenango valleys' lost bridges, a story of progress, neglect and vandalism unfolds.
Newspaper account: As early as 1930, an article in The Vindicator, headlined "Doomsday Nears for Ohio's Covered Bridges," noted the passing of a covered bridge that crossed the Mahoning River in Center of the World. The Trumbull County community is near the intersection of state Routes 82 and 5.
At the time, the 119-year-old bridge was among Ohio's oldest. Built for $300, it was superseded by a $70,000 steel structure.
Decades ago, many engineers viewed the bridges not as historical artifacts but as aging relics that were costly to repair and unable to withstand the weight, size and volume of modern traffic.
In the early 1930s, one of the area's largest covered bridges was razed to make way for a modern span. The 105-year-old, 250-foot-long covered bridge crossed the Mahoning River on U.S. 224 near Edinburg in Lawrence County.
Mahoning's last: Mahoning County's last original covered bridge was replaced in the mid-1950s. The bridge, its age not established, carried Berlin Station-Ellsworth Road over Meander Creek about two miles southeast of Ellsworth.
But progress wasn't the sole destroyer of the old bridges. Fires also are to blame.
Flames ruined one of the few remaining covered bridges in Lawrence County in 1953. The bridge, its age unclear, was in North Beaver Township near Mount Jackson.
Arsonists were blamed for a 1959 blaze that destroyed a covered bridge on Park Road in Warren Township, Trumbull County. A fire official said it appeared gasoline or some other combustible fuel had been poured the length of the bridge and lighted.
The bridge, more than 70 years old, burned and collapsed into the Mahoning River.
History: Columbiana County's covered bridge history is rich and sad.
What is believed to be the first covered bridge in Ohio was built in the county in about 1809. It crossed Little Beaver Creek near its confluence with the Ohio River, not far from East Liverpool.
Although that bridge is long gone, its stone abutments are said to still stand amid the thick forests that border much of Little Beaver Creek.
The county also is home to the most remaining covered bridges in the area, boasting four original structures.
But there should be three more on that roster.
In 1988, vandals burned the McKaig's Mill Covered Bridge on Wayne Bridge Road, Wayne Township. The structure was built in the 1870s.
Arsonists entered Scenic Vista Park, Center Township, in 1993 and torched the 115-year-old Sell Covered Bridge.
In 1995, arsonists struck again. This time their target was the 116-year-old Miller Road Covered Bridge in Center Township.
It was the last covered bridge in Columbiana County still open to vehicular traffic.