By Ed Runyan
When Zach Svette, Trumbull County MetroParks operations director, recently noticed a gap beside a post alongside the Western Reserve Greenway hike and bike trail, he decided to investigate.
He hiked a small path that led downward until he could see what was below the trail.
What he saw shocked him: a 25-foot-high, 35-foot-long sandstone arch bridge over Baughman Creek that he didn’t know was there and would later learn was built between 1853 and 1864.
“I said words you can’t use in the newspaper,” Svette recalled of his reaction, realizing the size of the arch was a concern because he knew that it would be costly to repair.
That part of the trail is elevated, so he suspected there was a culvert down below built up with soil, but he didn’t imagine it was something so big.
“It’s a beautiful bridge,” Svette said. “When you look at it, you see no metal, nothing around the bridge. It’s not fastened up.”
The arch is in one of the only parts of the trail that isn’t flat. It’s about a mile northeast of the center of Bristolville.
Svette would learn later that erosion on the east side of the trail, near the south end of the arch, was causing the pole to move. That was happening because the stream had changed course and was now running alongside the trail instead of away from it.
He also later learned that wooden rail timbers under the trail, used as retaining walls, were rotting – as they would be expected to over many decades.
As a result, Svette closed the part of the trail between Hyde-Oakfield Road and Mahan-Denman Road while an inspection of the arch was done.
Because of the scope of the job and after consultation with bridge engineers with the county engineer’s office, an engineering firm was hired for about $5,000 to evaluate the problem and write a report to the MetroParks board.
Based on the report, the bridge will remain closed at least two more years while Svette and the MetroParks board evaluate what type of repair to make, have engineers design the repair, acquire the funding for it and have it completed, Svette said last week.
The least-expensive repair will probably cost $150,000, Svette said. The cost could go much higher, for example, if the stream needs to be rerouted.
Luckily, the closed part of the trail can be routed around fairly easily, Svette said. The north-south Oakfield North Road is a short distance east of the trail and adds only a third of a mile to the trip.
Surprisingly, the sandstone arch is only a small part of the problem, according to the report. The arch is going to need only minor repairs, despite its age.
The bridge is formed with v-shaped stones about 4 feet long and 2 feet square “that hold themselves in place,” Svette said.
John Brown, MetroParks board president and Warren councilman, said he had ridden his bicycle on that part of the trail 100 times, “And I never knew there was a bridge under there, certainly not an 1865 Keystone bridge.”
Brown said the bridge was part of the 714 railroad line that brought iron ore to Youngstown from Ashtabula at the end of the Civil War. From that standpoint, the arch has historic significance.
From a practical standpoint, it has to be fixed so no one gets hurt, Brown said. He believes there are government funding sources that may be available to help, so he’s already begun talking to elected officials about it.
David Simmons, president of the Ohio Historic Bridge Association, said any stone bridge built in the 1850s or 1860s still in operation is significant and unusual.
“You’ve got a link to Ohio history,” Simmons said. “I’d say it’s a fairly significant structure.” He said he could not estimate how many such bridges there are in the state.
The MetroParks board acquired a lease in 1997 from the Ohio Development Rail Commission on the land that was used to build the Greenway, according to a copy of the lease at the MetroParks board office. The cost to Trumbull County was $1 per year.