Protect Our Past: Bell Bridge

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 the 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 NRHP 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.