By Ed Runyan
Several officials connected to the Western Reserve Greenway hike and bike trail recently got a shock when they learned of the existence of a unique 1800s stone arch under the trail that spans Baughman Creek in northern Bristol Township.
But for some Bristol residents, it’s always held special memories.
Zach Svette, Trumbull County MetroParks operations director, discovered the arch while examining an erosion problem there.
John Brown of Warren, MetroParks chairman and an avid bike rider, said he biked over the bridge about 100 times and never considered the possibility that something so impressive was there. The bridge has high wooden railings on either side and is grown up with vegetation along the sides.
“I never knew there was a bridge under there, certainly not an 1865 Keystone bridge,” Brown said.
Some residents of Bristol Township, however, say residents of the lower part of the county can be excused for not being aware of their historical gem for a couple of practical reasons – such as the remoteness of the location on a dead-end road and the railings obscuring the view.
But the bridge and other parts of the former Ashtabula Youngstown and Pittsburgh Railroad line there have a special place in their hearts.
“I don’t know much about it, but I grew up playing on it,” said Gene Wildman, 78, whose great-grandparents, grandparents and parents lived in a house on Mahan Denman Road close by.
Lisa Hillman King also grew up near it and now has the ultimate front-row seat to see the stone arch, Baughman Creek and the surrounding woodlands.
She lives in a home on a hill above the creek that she’s been told was one of the first homes in Bristol Township. She thinks it’s likely that the site was selected because of the beautiful view of the creek, she said.
“There’s tons of history in this area,” she said. “It’s extremely interesting to me. It’s the history of the town.”
She remembers the times she and other family members would run up the hill so they could get a look at the passing trains, she said. There also was a working dam on the west side of the arch that fed water to a pump house that moved water up to the trains.
Local historian Wendell Lauth said the creek was named for Abraham Baughman, who came to the township in 1804 and built a log cabin along the creek, one of the first homes in the township.
The stone arch apparently was built in the 1850s or 1860s during construction of the railroad, which provided a way for iron ore to be transported south to the Mahoning Valley and coal to be transported north.
It also provided a way for people to travel and caused train stations to spring up along the line, including one a short distance south of the stone arch at Hyde Oakfield Road in what is sometimes called North Bristol. That station was called the Oakfield Station.
Another station, known as Spokane, was located east of the square in Bristolville near today’s King Brothers Feed and Ready Mix on state Route 88, Lauth said.
Hillman King says the stone arch has gotten a lot of interest from people using the bike trail in the years since the trail was constructed on the former rail line, which ceased operations in about 1975.
Hillman King said she has seen many people taking photos and enjoying the scenery at the arch, and she likes to see people enjoying it the way she does.
“I think it’s really cool,” she said, with winter providing the best scenery. The back of her house has a raised deck with a view of the creek and bridge. Her father even painted a wall-sized mural of the scene and gave his children a smaller-sized reproduction for their homes.
“It’s near and dear to our hearts, but finding out something is wrong with it is kind of upsetting,” she said of the stone arch.
To fix the erosion problem, officials are considering funding options for repairs to the decaying wooden planks between the bridge and the trail with costs potentially reaching into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Hillman King said people near the bridge wonder why the cost would be so much to ensure that people walking and riding bicycles can use a bridge designed for trains, but they also appreciate anything officials can do to preserve the landmark.
“It’s good someone’s looking out for it,” she said.
John Neff, who can see the stone arch from his house on the north side of Mahan Denman Road, said he believes people traveled past the arch more often decades ago, before another bridge over Baughman Creek was removed, causing the neighborhood to be cut off from through traffic.
“There’s not much of a reason to come through here,” he said. “The people on the bike trail come and take pictures of it in the fall and winter. It’s a nice, little bridge.”