As you follow the old Michigan Road just as it passes into Ripley County from the south, you’ll encounter this one-lane stone-arch bridge. Built in 1913, it’s known by many names: Shepard Bridge, or Nobles Ford Bridge, or County Bridge #38.
The view was unobstructed on a visit I made here ten years ago:
This bridge is in a fascinating place, marked on the map with the orange star.
To its west is the vast Jefferson Proving Ground. The U.S. Army took the land, displacing many farms and towns, in 1941 to build this munitions-testing ground. The Army blew up ammunition and bombs here! The majority of it no longer serves that purpose and is today a wildlife refuge.
To its east is US 421. The Michigan Road’s oldest alignment follows the road labeled Old Michigan Road. But with the rise of the automobile in the early 20th century, the Michigan Road became an early auto trail. So that it could pass through bustling Versailles and Osgood, the auto trail was routed along what is now US 421 from here about 22 miles north to the little town of Napoleon. The two alignments come back together there.
This rerouting happened after the Shepard Bridge was built. It had the effect of saving it from eventual demolition. If this alignment had become US 421, this bridge would have been replaced with a bridge designed to handle modern highway traffic.
It was unusual for a stone-arch bridge to be built in 1913. The stone-arch era is heavily consigned to the 19th century. By the early 20th century, bridges of iron, steel, and reinforced concrete had become much more common.
Ripley County is unusually rich in stone-arch bridges, with at least 12 still open to vehicular traffic. A few of them are inside Jefferson Proving Ground and thus carry limited traffic. The ones for which I’m able to find data were built after 1880. The Shepard Bridge is the newest of them.
The Michigan Road borders Jefferson Proving Ground here. You can see a bit of the chain-link fence that surrounds JPG just over the rise in the bridge deck.
This bridge has had some work done on it that appears intended to stabilize it. On an autumn day in 2008, after a long drought, I drove by and noticed the creek was dry. So I walked under the bridge to have a look. The stones appear to be in no more than fair condition. I imagine the brown stuff is some sort of cement intended to keep stones in place.
Concrete was poured where the arches meet the creek bed — on Oct. 1, 1997, as you can see. I’m sure this stabilizes the bridge a little.
The concrete is poured such that the upstream end forms a point, so that debris is more likely to flow around and not get hung up. This 2008 photo shows it:
With the destruction of the Middletown Bridge in Shelby County, this is the last stone-arch bridge on the Michigan Road. I know of a large stone culvert on this alignment just south of Napoleon, as well.