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Published: Monday, 10/1/2007

Hancock Parks plan to preserve 1895 iron span

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The Hancock Park District plans to have the bridge dismantled and stored, then repaired and reassembled. The Hancock Park District plans to have the bridge dismantled and stored, then repaired and reassembled.
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FINDLAY - Hancock Park District officials were thrilled when the county engineer proposed building a two-lane, wooden covered bridge near the entrance of Riverbend Recreation Area, but it took some outside forces to convince them the old iron bridge it would replace ought to be preserved.

Director Tim Brugeman said he'd investigated the possibility of relocating the 1895 iron span on Marion Township Road 241, but was deterred by the high cost estimates he was getting.

He had all but given up on the idea when he contacted David Simmons, president of the Ohio Historic Bridge Association, about coming to Findlay to make a presentation.

"He told me they were planning a new covered bridge on the site of an old iron bridge and wanted me to give a talk about old covered bridges," Mr. Simmons recalled.

"I said, there's a disconnect here - you're taking away real history and you want to put in pseudo history."

Mr. Simmons got park officials in touch with Vern Mesler, a Michigan man who specializes in iron bridge restoration, and the rest is history, so to speak.

"The plan right now is we go full speed ahead to try to preserve it," Mr. Brugeman said.

Park commissioners have offered a nearby site on park property where the dismantled bridge will be stored until it is repaired and ready to be reassembled inside Riverbend Recreation Area, a 176-acre nature preserve just east of Findlay.

The park district plans to apply for grants and raise funds privately to pay for the iron bridge project.

"It will be saved from demolition," Mr. Brugeman said. "It will be moved out of the way so they can do the covered bridge project. The old iron bridge will watch its replacement being built."

Tomorrow, both Mr. Simmons and John Smolen, a nationally known covered-bridge engineer from Ashtabula County, Ohio, and chief engineer on Findlay's covered bridge, will talk about historic bridges and discuss the Findlay project at 7 p.m. at the Lodge at Riverbend, which is located just south of State Rt. 568.

Visitors to Riverbend and the nearby Findlay Reservoir cross the one-lane, iron bridge to get to the park.

Mr. Simmons, who has worked for the Ohio Historical Society since 1976, said there's a whole lot of history in iron bridges though fewer than 100 remain in the state.

"If you look at the continuum of history and think some things are more important to preserve than other things, what is more representative of American history than the iron and steel industry," he said.

"And when you look at it from an engineering point of view, the contribution Americans made to the world of engineering was not in the covered bridge but in the iron bridge."

Hancock County will end up with some of both.

County Engineer Steve Wilson has been working on plans for the covered bridge for several years and was able to secure federal transportation funds to pay for the bulk of the project, which is expected to cost about $925,000. It is to be built next year.

Both the new covered bridge and the soon-to-be-relocated iron bridge seem to have widespread support.

Marion Township Trustee Max Stacy said the township lost its only other remaining iron bridge several years ago, which he thought was a shame.

"I think it's a historical society laying in a pile," he said. "We're pleased we can save this one for historical reasons and have it moved into the park."

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-353-5972.



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