Covered Bridges of Central Ohio

Visiting Xenia-Clifton-Troy-Russells Point

by David "Sumoflam" Kravetz

 

July 21, 2008: As I typically do, on the way back to Canada I try to find some interesting back road drives so I can see more of this wonderful country we live in.  On this trip I decided to hit a number of covered bridges in Central Ohio.  I have grown fond of covered bridges, which I have seen in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and even Ontario.  They always seem to be in very scenic areas over nice streams and rivers.   This particular trip would take me north of Cincinnati to Xenia, Ohio and then north into the Troy/Piqua area and then towards Russells Point and Indian Lake.  I mapped out a number of these bridges along the way.

 

Initially, I drove into Cincinnati and then towards Columbus on I-71 to exit 50 towards Mt. Pleasant.  Highway U.S. 68 north would take me into the heart of Ohio where I could see a number of old covered bridges.  The map below shows the first few locations.

 

 

My first stop along the way was the West Engle Mill Rd. Covered Bridge.  From U.S. 68 I went west on East Spring Valley-Paintersville Rd.  I took this to Engle Mill Rd. and turned left.  The bridge was off to the side of the road.

 

This bridge is pretty dilapidated now and is not in use. It was supposedly built in 1877 and goes over the Anderson Fork of Caesar's Creek.  It is 135' long is built with a Smith Truss.

 

The West Engle Mill Rd. Covered Bridge, built in 1877

 

From Engle Mill Rd., I headed back out to Paintersville Rd., turned right and then turned left on Winchester Rd. and headed north where I eventually got back to US-68. I followed that to US-35 and went East. I needed to take the Old 35 exit and then back track west to Ballard Rd. near Jamestown, Ohio. Along the way on US-35 I could see the bridge.  To get to it I had to go to N. Ballard Rd.  and make a left.  This took me right to the base of the highway.  Here I came across the Ballard Rd. Covered Bridge.

 

This bridge was in a scenic location and is usable, but driving over it I found that the road was a dead end on the other side.  Nonetheless, this was a nice place to visit.  This bridge goes over the north fork of Caesar's Creek.   It was built in 1883 and is about 79 feet long.  It was based on a Howe Truss.

 

Drive through cornfields down Ballard Rd. to the covered bridge

 

Some views of the Ballard Rd Covered Bridge, built in 1883 by J.C. Brown

 

I had to return back up to old 35 and then turned left. I followed it past Straley Rd. and Stringtown Rd.  I then turned right on Nash Rd. which wound its way through farmland.  As it crossed Route 42, it turned into Charleton Mill Rd.  This road meandered through woods and farmland.  The next bridge then came into view. 

 

The Charleton Mill Rd. Covered Bridge goes over Massies Creek near Wilberforce, Ohio.  This 119 foot long bridge was built in 1882 (though the numbering on the bridge indicates it was built in 1870) by Henry Hibble and is also a Howe Truss bridge.

 

The Charleton Mill Rd. Bridge

 

More views of the bridge, built in 1882

 

From this bridge I continued west on Charleton Mill Rd. to Wilberforce Clifton Rd.  I took the next left and followed the road through Wilberforce and then on to Stevenson Rd.  This road meandered up and down through some forest and down to Jones Rd.  This is where I came upon the Stevenson Rd. Covered Bridge. This bridge was off to the left and is not in use any longer.

 

Like the Charleton Rd. bridge, this bridge also goes over Massies Creek.  It was built in 1877 by the Smith Bridge Company (though the numbering on the bridge indicates 1873).  In 1975 it was restored, but was finally closed to traffic in 2003.  This 95 foot long bridge is a Smith Truss.

 

The Stevenson Rd. Covered Bridge

 

This bridge is in a very scenic area.  It was built in 1877

 

From the Stevenson Bridge, I returned back to Wilberforce-Clifton Rd. and headed north towards Clifton, Ohio.  I stayed on the road all the way to Clifton.  The following is a typical scene along the road at this time of the year...high corn stalks and red barns and silos along the way.

 

 

My focus on Clifton initially was the Clifton Mill Covered Bridge, but I got plenty of wonderful surprises in this small town.  It is one of those places that I was thrilled to discover along the backroads of Ohio.  Clifton is home to one of the largest water-powered grist mills still in existence.  The town itself had a population of only 179 in the 2000 census.  The big attraction is town is the Clifton Mill, which sits along the scenic Clifton Gorge of the Little Miami river.  Apparently, this small town was also home to Isaac Kaufmann Funk (of Funk and Wagnalls fame) and also to Woody Hayes, the famed coach of Ohio State University football.

 

 

I arrived in Clifton Mill around noon so I figured I would eat lunch at the mill (at the Millrace Restaurant).  I was happy I did!!  The restaurant is part of the old country store in the old mill building.  It sits next to the watermill and overlooks the beautiful scenery of the gorge.  I ordered a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, which was made on wholewheat bread made on the premises.  It was fabulous.  I also perused the country store, much more "country store" than the Cracker Barrel ones I have seen so often. The mill is also famous for its Christmas Lights and decorations.  I hope I can take Julianne up there this Christmas.  That would be fun.

 

 

The Clifton Mill front and back views

 

The Clifton Mill Country Store (with some dried oranges)...I got some buckwheat pancake mix for home

 

 

A close up of some old fashioned pickle jars

 

The Millrace Restaurant...rustically comfy; the watermill as seen from the balcony of the restaurant;

drinks are served in mason jar cups

 

After lunch I took a walk around the grounds. The weather was perfect...not too hot, even though it was mid-July.  The river ran below the mill.  There were a number of small waterfalls.  And the Covered Bridge was there, still decorated for Christmas.

 

Waterfalls, the gorge and the waterwheel

 

A couple of views of the Clifton Mill Covered Bridge, built in 1997 but still looks quite rustic

 

Sign over the old gas station and store

 

Some scenes from the old Clifton Mill gas station, which is no longer in use

 

After the pleasantries from lunch and the walk, I drove around the small village.  There were some nice buildings and scenes, even a small little post office.

 

Some scenes from the town of Clifton

 

I left town and headed north and came across another pleasant surprise on the outskirts of Clifton...one of those totally unexpected places that just literally made the trip.  On the left side I saw a small non-obtrusive sign that said "Fish Decoy Company".  Just the name sparked interest...what in the world is a fish decoy?  So, I turned around and pulled up to a small little shack.  It looked closed, but as I got to the front to take a look, a friendly gentleman (named Steve Robbins) walked out and asked me to come in.  This was such a delight and is a prime example of how every little place has a story.

 

 

The quaint little Fish Decoy Company shop in Clifton, Ohio

 

This shop was established by Steve Robbins, who is a self-taught fish artist, originally from Minnesota.  He told me stories of his growing up in Northern Minnesota where he would ice-fish.  The ice-fishermen would use wooden, handmade decoys to lure the fish  that were underneath the thick ice.  He also spent time fishing the many lakes in the summer.  He developed an interest in the decoys and learned the art.  The decoys he makes are predominantly for use in "darkhouse fishing" for sturgeon, pike and musky, which is mainly done in the northern states of Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.  The term “Darkhouse” is the name used by winter, spear fishermen to describe their ice shack.  Unlike the conventional hook and line ice fishing shack, which has windows, the Darkhouse is windowless.  Spear fishermen require a dark environment so they can see into the water.  Briefly, darkhouse spearing involves selecting a suitable location on the ice, cutting a hole in the ice, and placing a Darkhouse over the hole.  A wooden fish decoy, which has been weighted to sink in the water through the open hole, is used  to attract a fish.   The fisherman then uses a spear to harvest the fish, which swim in to investigate the decoy. 

 

Some typical darkhouses

 

Each decoy Steve Robbins makes is hand-carved from sugar pine. He uses a combination of chisels and handmade carving knives to shape them. They are then hand painted with acrylic paints to achieve the look of real game fish or brightly colored folk-art; He does not use any power carvers or airbrushes.  The decoys are then given a hand-rubbed paste wax finish and glass or tack eyes. The decoys are weighted and balanced and could be used as they were originally intended, but most will never see the water.

 

 

Some typical decoys, some by Steve Robbins and others are antique

 

Decoys: finished and in the works

 

More works by Steve Robbins (click here for more)

 

Steve's shop not only sells decoys, which he makes, but also a number of lures and he also carries the spears that are used.

 

Hundreds of decoys

 

Fish spears and more stuff

 

Steve Robbins is not only a designer and crafter of these decoys, but he is also a "angler artist" and has created some nice works for display.

 

 

Steve shows off one of his favorite pieces; busy with a wall painting

 

Detail of one of his paintings; Steve talks about ice-fishing; part of a muskie with a captured fish...

all from one piece of wood, except for the teeth, which are real

 

Indeed, I was baited in and loved every minute of the visit!!

 

I spent a lot more time than I wanted to with Steve Robbins, but I was glad to have spent the time I did.  I was finally back on my way north with a couple more bridges left to visit before heading back to Ontario.  I headed north on Route 72 all the way to I-70 and then went west to I-75. I then went north to exit 78 which would take me into Eldean, Ohio.  The city park has an old Covered Bridge, that is still usable.

 

Map to the next two bridges

 

This bridge was originally known as Allen's Mill Bridge.  It was built over the Great Miami River in 1860 by the Hamilton Brothers. It is 224 feet long making it one of Ohio's longest covered bridges and the longest using a Long system truss.  The design is based on a patent by Colonel Stephen H. Long which added strength through a series of hand-driven wedges. Much of Colonel Long's bridge building experience came from his employment with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. While working for the railroad, he developed a plan for a new covered bridge truss that became nationally known as the Long truss. Long patented his design in 1830 and this is considered to be America's first science-based bridge design.  In 1835 and 1837 he patented improvements to the design.

 

The Eldean Covered Bridge, built in 1860

 

 

A couple of side views of the Eldean Bridge

 

From Eldean, I headed back to I-75 and four more miles north to exit 82, where I exited east towards the town of Fletcher, Ohio.  This is a modern covered bridge, built in 1998 over Gustin Ditch in Fletcher, near the Fletcher cemetery.  It is only 47 feet long.

 

Some views of the New Fletcher Covered Bridge, built in 1998

 

Further north for the last two bridges

 

I continued east on Ohio 235 towards DeGraff where I then headed north continuing through the countryside on 235.  I followed this all the way to CR-13, a small country road through Amish country.  There I saw plenty of sheep and an Amish man who hid his face as I took a photo of the horse cart.  I also missed getting a photo of three Amish boys on a giant wagon full of hay.

 

An Amish man with his plow horses and some sheep relax in the yard of an Amish home

 

Just down the road from there was the single lane McColly Bridge.  This bridge was built in 1876 by the Anderson Green Company using a Howe truss.  It is 135 feet long.

 

 

The McColly Bridge in Ohio Amish Country, built in 1876

 

From here I went back to 235 and headed further north until it met with Ohio 708, which I then took north towards Russell's Point, Ohio.  I got to 366 and turned right to drive along Indian Lake until I got to CR-38, where I made a left turn north.  This led me to the Bickham Covered Bridge, which would be the last of my bridge visits on this trip.

 

The Bickham Covered Bridge was built in 1877 using the same design as the McColly Bridge.  It has a 106 foot span over the south fork of the Miami River.

 

The Bickham Bridge on CR-38

 

A car passes on the bridge which was built in 1877

 

I had to return back to Russell's Point and on the way I stopped by an old fashioned drive-in where I ordered a couple of hot dogs and some ice cream.  I really enjoyed this little stop.

 

Coney Dogs, Fried Pickles, burgers and Ice Cream in Russell's Point, Ohio

 

Finally, on the way back I passed by Indian Lake again.  There were a few islands that had lodges or cabins on them.  A really nice place to live.

 

 

The expansive Indian Lake and the falls by the side of the highway

 

After passing the lake I headed back to I-75 and back on through Sarnia to Woodstock.  It was a wonderful day through the countryside of Ohio.

 

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