Bridge to be saved

Grant approved for covered bridge; Work to start in 2020

You can look but you can’t cross.

The Hills Covered Bridge – also known as the Hildreth Covered Bridge – has been closed to pedestrians for more than two years.

But in another two years, work to repair it can begin.

It’s one of the premier covered bridges in the region, 122 feet in length and covered with a metal and wood canopy, standing well above the Little Muskingum River on stone piers. Only five miles east of Marietta, the bridge is a favorite stop for both locals, tourists and visitors. Despite its height above the water, the lower structure has been inundated with water twice in the past few years because of flooding, and the county thought it prudent to close it to pedestrians.

The bridge was closed to vehicular traffic more than three decades ago.

ART SMITH The Marietta Times The Hills Covered Bridge, a favorite sightseeing stop for locals and visitors to Washington County, has been closed for more than two years because of structural problems. A grant application to repair it was approved last month.

Washington County Engineer Roger Wright said rot has set in on the structural members holding the bridge up. Work to repair it will be complex and require craftsmen with specialized skills, he said.

A month ago, he said, a grant application to the federal government was approved, and the work will probably be scheduled in the 2020 fiscal year.

“We were able to get rather good funding,” he said. The federal government through two programs will pay 95 percent of the cost, which Wright estimated to be between $700,000 and $750,000.

The bridge building technique used involved carefully fitted timbers cut with shear keys, resembling the joints a cabinet maker would use but on a much larger scale, he said. No nails are used, and the weight of the bridge itself secures the joints tightly. But rot was found in some of the overlapping joints, and if one gives way, Wright said, it could drop the entire structure.

“It wouldn’t collapse, but you wouldn’t want to be on it when that happened,” he said.

Wright said Ohio is fortunate because there are enough covered bridges needing repairs to keep craftsmen in business.

“They’ll take off the outer siding, then take apart the lower chord and repair it. We’ll be looking for any other structural members for defects,” he said.

Wright noted that the bridges were originally covered to keep weather and moisture off the deck and structural parts.

“Some have caught fire and burned down, so we’ll put on a new roof and coat it all with fire protection and retardant,” he said. “We’ll install LED lightning to discourage vandals, put a bit of asphalt for parking, I think it will be really, really nice. Hopefully, people will be able to enjoy it for another 50 or 100 years.”

The bridge was completed in 1881.

Newport Township trustee William Bowersock said the bridge has strong significance for the community.

“People get their wedding photos taken there. My granddaughter had her graduation photo taken at the bridge,” he said. “There are lots of reasons we’d like to have it restored.”

Hills Covered Bridge

•Location: Newport Township on Ohio 26 about five miles east of Marietta.

•Age: Built from 1871 to 1881.

•Builders: Hocking Valley Bridgeworks.

•Problems: Structural rot following floods in the past five years.

Source: County engineer and Times research.