Today, we admire those old bridges which have withstood the test of time.
Long before concrete and steel were used to build bridges, there was an easily obtained product which was useful for building a bridge. It was inexpensive and readily available. The product was wood.
During the 19th century, literally hundreds of bridges were constructed from this natural product.
As more and more roads were constructed and people desired to go from one side of the creek or river to the other without having to go several miles to a spot which could be passed through shallow water the need for bridges was felt.
There were several types of bridges in this county, but the majority of them are either Smith Truss or Howe Truss bridges. Both styles served the same purpose, but each was constructed in a slightly different manner.
Of course, the flooring was made of wood which necessitated the cover which helped keep the flooring relatively dry and protected.
The eaves which came to a peak in the middle of the cover allowed the rain and snow to quickly go off the roof, allowing more stability to structure.
It is said that many a swain would stop under the cover of the bridge to steal a kiss from his girlfriend. Some of the bridges may still have initials cared high on the rafters, some are initials of the sweethearts who passed under the shelter, others from boys who for whatever reason wanted to prove they could climb up to carve initials where they would not easily be seen.
Greene County has preserved several bridges, some of which are only “walk through;” others can still be driven through by automobile or bicycle. All have an historic past and if tales could be told by inanimate objects, no doubt there would be many to share.
Some folks might remember when the Cemetery Road bridge was to be moved from south of Xenia to Yellow Springs.
Ralph Ramey, then Director of Glen Helen, rescued the bridge which was to be replaced. All was in readiness for the move. The center section of the bridge was the portion to be moved, and that section had been anchored in anticipation of the move the next day. However, there was an unexpected amount of rain and the bridge broke from its moorings and might have floated away. However, it was saved, and the move took place with Ralph walking the entire route as the bridge, pulled by a truck, passed through Xenia on its way north.
The route was well-announced and so folks lined the streets to watch as the giant structure passed by.
Although some bridges have been saved and repaired, others fell not to the ravages of time, but to vandals.
Such was the case with the Washington Mill Road Bridge in Bellbrook which had served the community since 1850. The bridge was to be replaced and the citizens planned to move it to a park in order to maintain the old bridge while making way for a newer modern one. However on the night of March 10 someone set the bridge on fire.
When a new bridge was dedicated in October 1968, a ceremony of dedicating the new bridge and celebrating the memory of the old one took place.
Dewitt (Dee) Campbell served as master of ceremonies at the event. He read a history of the well-loved bridge which had been destroyed by fire.
His remarks included: “It was ghastly and unreal, like a bad dream…with the difference being that this time we couldn’t be shaken suddenly awake to discover the safety of our own bed. The old bridge resembled something grotesque, like out of Dante’s Inferno.
“The Sugarcreek-Bellbrook Fire Department, en masse, attended the fire to keep it under control throughout the early morning hours, until the bridge finally resounded with a thud as it fell bodily into the Little Miami, not unlike the vision of water disappearing down a drain. And indeed, many things went down the drain that bleak Sunday morning including our fond hops for an historical park site, with the bridge as the main attraction.”
Although there was sadness over the loss of the beloved bridge, there was also a time of celebration as the new $116,000 bridge was accepted by the Greene County Commissioners.
The road had been closed while the new bridge was being completed.
A special event at the opening was when Grace Turner Ritenour, who was born and lived in the village all her life, rode in a horse-drawn buggy across the new structure.
A permanent plaque was placed on the new bridge, in commemoration of the old structure.
Mr. Campbell completed his remarks with the following: “In conclusion may I just say. I spite of the tragic event of March 10, we have proved that working together as a community and with a singleness of purpose, we can accomplish whatever we set our minds to. In the months and years ahead today’s events should stand as a hallmark to our inseparability and to our ability to work together for that which is good for our entire community.”
Joan Baxter is a local resident and long-time historical columnist.