Stories told

Restored in Bridgeton

It’s Down the Road’s fifth blogiversary!
All month I’m reposting favorite stories from the blog’s early days.

In my early 20s not only was I out of school but I was working at things I’d long dreamed about — making software and playing music on the radio. You’d think I would feel like I was on top of the world, but somehow achieving these dreams just didn’t fulfill me. I was lonely; I became depressed.

When I felt the walls of my Terre Haute apartment closing in on me I distracted myself by going driving out in the country. One day I was driving back roads from northern Vigo County into southern Parke County and soon began seeing handmade signs pointing to Bridgeton. I was curious, so I followed the signs. The Bridgeton Road wound long, but abruptly entered a little town. Before I could even take it in, the road just as abruptly came upon a covered bridge.

I parked. It was still but for the wind and for water rushing beneath the bridge. Some of the structures looked like they came out of a wild-west movie, especially an old mill and what looked like a general store. I wondered whether the town was abandoned until I noticed some homes that, while in need of attention, had at some time been updated with vinyl siding and double-hung windows.

Even though the bridge was on the town’s northern edge, it was clearly the centerpiece, better cared for than anything around it. It needed a little attention — a coat of paint, a couple missing boards replaced — but was otherwise in excellent shape, especially considering “1868″ was painted over the entrance arch. It stood there sure, as if it thought it was the reason the town continued to exist. It seemed not to need traffic (the road had been rerouted over a concrete bridge) or even admirers to be self-sufficient.

I walked the bridge and admired it. I was delighted by its design. I could see the fingerprints of its designer and builder (J. J. Daniels, also painted over the arch) in the beams that fanned from the foundation to the roof and the regularly spaced trusses that connected its east side to its west. As I walked, the bridge stood solid, without shimmying, shaking, or groaning. The designer meant this bridge to last. And even after it was decommissioned, others clearly valued the designer’s desire and kept it in pretty good repair.

The bridge, and thinking of the men who built it and cared for it, soothed, calmed, and encouraged me. It put me in touch with the good people can do when something matters to them. It showed me that some things can last.

I saved Bridgeton for the toughest times. It was my ace in the hole. I never remembered the way, so I just drove vaguely north into the country until I found the signs. The trips were like going to the well for a drink of peace, and I always went home comforted and refreshed.

Soon I moved away from Terre Haute. Years passed, and I never made it back to Bridgeton. Then in 2005 somebody set fire to the bridge, destroying it. I didn’t realize until the arson that so many other people had a large soft spot in their heart for this place and its bridge. Emotions flowed freely as many, many people mourned the loss of their old friend. Out of this pain, locals decided almost immediately to rebuild. A new bridge was finished just in time for the 2006 Covered Bridge Festival, an annual celebration of all of Parke County’s 31 covered bridges.

So I decided to visit Bridgeton for the first time in 15 years as a detour along an autumn road trip. I was anxious. I was going to see that my old friend was gone, replaced by something new. But I was eager, too. When I reached Rockville, I detoured south on US 41 to a road that looked like a familiar turn, and as usual drove around until I found the signs pointing to Bridgeton. Soon enough I entered town, and there she was. I was excited to see her. She wasn’t an exact replica of the old bridge, but she was mighty close. (All of these photos are of the new bridge.) I felt like my old friend had never left. The designers and builders put great effort and care into rebuilding this bridge. Their fingerprints are in the two arches that span each side, and in the beams and trusses that keep her square. She is absolutely gorgeous.

The postcard shot was always from the north to include the little waterfall, and now is no exception.

That this bridge isn’t a carbon copy of her ancestor doesn’t seem to matter. What made the old bridge special was the spirit of the people who made it, the very humanity their efforts gave it. Such spirit was captured when she was rebuilt. She may be brand new, but it’s like she’s never been gone. And I left feeling comforted and refreshed, just like always.

Originally posted 2/13/2007. Read the original here.

I came upon another covered bridge while it was
undergoing restoration. Check out the photos.

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14 thoughts on “Restored in Bridgeton

  1. What a delightful repost to celebrate your blogiversary! Your bridge lifted your spirits, and your stories about it lifted mine.

    It’s reassuring to know that we’re not alone in caring about beautiful designs and good workmanship. My favorite sentence in your blog post is:

    “It was still but for the wind and for water rushing beneath the bridge.”

    That’s an extra touch that only a real writer would include. It made me feel as if I was walking on the bridge with you.

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    • Thanks, Scott, for saying such nice things. It’s been interesting to revisit these old posts. I’ve edited them all, improving them, as part of this process because I’ve become a better writer these past five years thanks to blogging. But the sentence you cite is as it was five years ago.

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  2. ryoko861 says:

    Why would someone want to set fire to something like that? I’m glad that it was rebuilt and will last. Covered bridges are just a couple of our nations last treasures! There are a couple in Lancaster County here in PA that were built by the Amish that I love driving through. And I’ve read that there are a couple right here in my area that I have yet to find.

    You probably would have been a great historian (maybe you were in a past life!). These artifacts from the past have a way of speaking to you and you so enjoy digging into their little history. I enjoy reading about them as well.

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    • You know, when I was in school I hated history class. Hated it. Such a snooze. I can see now that it was because what was taught seemed in no way relevant. When I’m out on the road, however, history seems relevant because its remnants are all around me. When I did the National Road across Maryland in 2009, I’ll never forget reaching Antietam Creek and suddenly all that boring civil war stuff I learned diggity-diggity years ago seemed like it might actually have happened!

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  3. You know, I was going to ask why they went to all the trouble to design and build covered bridges — why go to all the extra effort to cover the bridge. Wondering what the purpose was. But now I just hope the arsonist was caught, drawn, and quartered.

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    • The bridges are covered because the wooden truss structure is, as you might imagine, more vulnerable to the elements than a concrete, stone, or steel structure. The sides and roof protect the trusses. Sure, they’re wooden too, but they’re not integral and are easily replaced.

      The arsonist wasn’t drawn and quartered, but he was tried and convicted.

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      • That makes sense. I always thought they served as shelters for riders on horseback or wagons, during sudden downpours…

        Glad they caught the arsonist. Destroying what little history we have here in the Americas, as compared to anywhere in the “old world”, just seems especially criminal to me and raises me hackles.

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  4. ‘…thinking of the men who built it and cared for it, soothed, calmed, and encouraged me. It put me in touch with the good people can do when something matters to them. It showed me that some things can last.” Good googly, Jim! You are a talent :)

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  5. I remember reading somewhere that this is one of the most photographed spots in Indiana. I am not sure how that was determined.

    I’m glad you had a spot that helped restore your spirits in troubled times. I wonder if the comfort they offer is in their own endurance and even in this case restoration.

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    • It’s very picturesque — would not be remotely surprised if it really were one of the most photographed spots in the state. Finding it is still challenging though…

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