Covered bridge fans find a lot to celebrate in northeast Ohio's Ashtabula County during its annual Covered Bridge Festival, taking place each October.
You can tour the bridgesby bus during the festival or take self-guided tour of the covered spans with the aid of a map available from the Ashtabula County Covered Bridge Festival Web site.
The map I ordered conveniently split the bridge tour into two parts, each covering about 70 miles. It's possible to see all of the bridges in one day, but we enjoyed planning our own leisurely tour over two days to allow plenty of time to get out at each bridge to take photos.
Here are a few of my favorite Ashtabula covered bridges:
The Smolen-Gulf Bridge-This 613-foot-long bridge honors former Ashtabula County Engineer John Smolen, who began advocating covered bridges as safer, more durable and more economical alternatives to metal and concrete bridges during the early 1980s. Smolen argued that deterioration caused by road salt made replacing most concrete or metal bridges necessary after 50 to 75 years, while covered bridges' roofs and tendency for salt to act as a preservative on wood acted to protect the spans, making them ultimately less costly to maintain. This bridge, built in 2008, spans the Ashtabula River on County Road 25.
West Liberty Street Bridge-Dedication of this bridge, the nation's shortest at 18 feet long, was a highlight of the 2011 Ashtabula Covered Bridge Festival.
Windsor Mills Bridge-This 1867-vintage span once sat at the heart of a late-1800s mill town. The town disappeared with the demise of the mills in the early 20th century, and the bridge closed after falling into disrepair in the 1980s. The bridge reopened to traffic after a 2002-2003 renovation, and I think it is among the prettiest covered bridges in the county.
Harpersfield Bridge-This bridge's hybrid combination of a wooden span attached to a metal truss bridge hints at its interesting history. The 228-foot-long bridge over the Grand River was Ohio's longest covered bridge until construction of the Smolen-Gulf span. The wooden portion, built in 1868, replaced an earlier bridge lost to a flood. Floods washed away the bank supporting the bridge's north end in 1913, so the county added a 114-foot steel truss extension. I like this bridge because a covered walkway added in 1992 allows for safe pedestrian passage across the bridge.
Graham Road Bridge-This bridge originally spanned the Ashtabula River elsewhere, but the county moved it to a park and closed it to vehicular traffic in 1971. It is a great stop for a picnic.
The 29th annual Covered Bridge Festival happens October 13 and 14, 2012 at the Ashtabula County Fairgrounds in Jefferson, Ohio. Activitiesinclude bridge tours, farmers market, quilt show, parade, kids' rides and games, crafts, food, musical entertainment and the introduction of the festival Queen and her Court. Festival tickets cost $3 for one day or $5 for two-day pass. Children under 12 are free.