Protect Our Past

MARIETTA – The rhythmic sound of horse hooves no longer echoes through the Bell Bridge in Barlow Township like it did in the 1800s, but the historically bound covered bridge on Township Road 39 still takes on some sparse car traffic through 126 years of existence.

Located just northwest of Barlow, the little burgundy 11-foot-tall Bell Covered Bridge is one of the 10 covered bridges in existence in Washington County.

The structure has stood the test of time, and has only gone through one major rehabilitation in all of its existence, while still maintaining its original beauty that keeps it included as a tourist attraction and place for everyday traffic.

“People take for granted, because visitors do come here to see things that were built back in the early days,” said Barlow Township Trustee Corey Proctor.

The Washington County Engineer’s office, which has jurisdiction over the county bridges, continuously maintains, cleans and spruces up the bridge, and inspects it every year.

This year, Bell Bridge received a score of 6 on a scale of 0 to 9, with 9 being the best score.

“It’s not that it is deficient because of lack of maintenance, it just weren’t designed for today’s traffic,” said engineer Roger Wright. “Covered bridges, as all timber does, cracks and splits in the wood, so they don’t have a tendency to be in a good position.”

The entire body of the bridge is made of wood, covered over by a tin roof.

Wright said the 15 ton-bearing bridge that is consistently re-marked for safety and legal reasons means that no heavy equipment or vehicles can pass through, and that because of its rural location, sees less than 100 cars per day.

The bridge received its designation under the National Register of Historic Places in 2012, being one of the last few examples of a covered multiple kingpost through-truss design – the presence of a central vertical post used to support a beam below – still standing in the state, along with being a symbol of historic, horse-powered transportation of the late 1800s and early 1900s.

“It’s really a unique experience for visitors, because these were built 80 or 100 years ago and have stood the test of time,” said Christian Hudspeth from the Marietta-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, which offers driving tours of the bridges. “You get a natural beauty out there that not everyone else has.”

According to the report, the bridge was built in 1888 over Falls Creek, and its architect, Ebenezer B. Henderson, was a notable bridge builder at the time and resided in Beverly.

The bridge was rehabilitated in 1998 as a part of internal wear and tear of the wood, and later closed in August 2005 for repair from termite damage.

The bridge was opened soon after, and except for those two points, the bridge has been continuously open to traffic since 1888, according to the report.

“In my perspective and in my mind, it’s disheartening to see graffiti on them, because a lot of younger people don’t realize the importance of it,” Proctor said. “Luckily, we have a lot of volunteers that will go through and help clean it up.”

The engineer’s office continually maintains landscaping and cleans graffiti off the bridge, which lies in a very secluded section off the township road.

Regardless of its seclusion and the sparse traffic the bridge sees, its status means it most likely will not be going anywhere anytime soon.

“We wouldn’t be able to use funds to tear it down because of its NRHP status, instead we would have to remove it and put it somewhere else,” Wright said.

Protect Our Past

LOWELL – On a hill overlooking the Muskingum River at Lowell sits a three-story home built in the early 1800s.

The house joined the National Registry of Historic Places on Jan. 11, 1983, and is a local example of a historic site that’s been well-maintained and preserved over the years.

“The Jonathan Sprague House is built out of huge (sandstone) blocks,” said local historian Phillip Crane.

Budd Sprague, of Canton, is a Sprague family historian. He said construction on the house took about three years.

“It was about 1800 that he began the process of building his stone house,” Sprague said. “It took three years to build it. It was completed in 1803, the same year Ohio became a state. The sandstone came from stone quarried on the property.”

The house was built by Jonathan Sprague, a Rhode Island native. He, his father Joshua and brother William worked as carpenters in Rhode Island and moved to Pennsylvania when the Westward movement started.

Sprague said the three were Revolutionary War veterans and it was in Pennsylvania where they learned Rufus Putnam was putting a group together to travel west.

“They went there with this idea there was going to be a continuous flow of people moving into the Northwest Territory,” Sprague said. “Their purpose was to build boats for the settlers going to the Northwest Territory. They built the (flatboat) that carried Rufus Putnam and his group (to Marietta).”

Sprague said after Putnam arrived in Marietta, he realized there weren’t enough carpenters and builders to “get things going” and build the settlement. Jonathan, Joshua and William made the trek to Marietta in 1788 and built one of the blockhouses at Campus Martius.

Later, Jonathan and his family traversed the Muskingum River and landed in Lowell, what was then Waterford Township.

Crane said the house is spacious and has large fireplaces.

“The interior is very spacious inside and there are walk-in fireplaces,” he said. “It’s just the way you’d expect an old house to be.”

Sprague said the layout of the house has changed somewhat over the years.

“The basement was the kitchen area,” he said, adding that over the years a kitchen and dining area were added on the second story. He said the fireplace there was used for cooking and heating the house.

“The second floor was the main living space and had two bedrooms, which later one of the rooms was converted to a kitchen, and a screened-in side porch was added,” Sprague said.

Current owner Jean Wells, 79, said the kitchen is the only thing that has changed in the home.

“We didn’t want to (change anything else),” Wells said.

He said there were bedrooms on the top floor and fireplaces at each end of the home. One of the chimneys in the upper level has been removed because it had fallen into disrepair.

Wells said the floors, doors and windows are original, right down to the walnut doors inside.

“(The walnut doors have) the cross on the door and the open Bible,” Wells said.

She said the wood came from and was processed at a mill on the property, adding that, “The lumber from this farm helped build the original Blennerhassett Mansion.”

For many years, the house had a porch on it, but it was removed. It has since been rebuilt by the current owners. Sprague said they have brought the home back to its former glory.

“The Wells family have rebuilt the front porch onto the house so the appearance is much more in keeping with the original,” Sprague said. “(They) have done an excellent job in restoring its appearance and keeping it really livable.”