One of the best things about this time of year is the proliferation of festivals. They didn’t amount to much last year, but now we seem to be ignoring the pandemic and are supporting this kind of event bigger and better than ever.
The Washington-Greene County Covered Bridge Festival is one of my favorites; it was highlighted on my calendar. I determined that there would be ten festival sites this year, two in Greene County (a little too far for this nonagenarian) and eight in Washington County. Checking the list, I realized that I had visited six of the closer ones in recent years and that it was Mingo Creek County Park’s turn in 2021.
Initially this wasn’t a very exciting prospect. The Henry and Ebenezer bridges are fun to inspect, but really are quite mundane examples of this interesting technology. But, it was a lovely day and I had been cooped up at home most of the week and was prepared for an adventure. Fortunately we “nonnies” don’t require much excitement for our adventures.
Google Map advised me it was fifteen miles and forty-one minutes, McMurray
Road to Bebout, and in to the west end of the park. That looked interesting; I was more familiar with the route down 88 to Finleyville and into the park’s east end. Before SmartPhones and Google Map I relied on roadmaps and seldom got lost. This time I was tooling along, close to the park, when my phone notified me I had left the “preferred route”. Sure enough, I soon found myself in Finleyville after all.
I retraced my route to the wrong turn I had taken and eventually got back in my phone’s good graces. The entrance from the west was very pleasant; soon I was following Mingo Creek and the adjacent hiking trail downstream. Ultimately, I found Henry Bridge, parked, and inspected it.
As covered bridges go, there is little to distinguish Henry Bridge. Twelve feet wide, it spans thirty-six feet over Mingo Creek, in a particularly attractive setting. Depending upon sources, it was originally constructed on this site sometime after 1841 and no later than 1881. Spoiler – it has been reinforced by the addition of steel I-beams under its deck.
CIW (conventional Internet Wisdom) tells us that Henry is a queen post truss bridge. The simplest truss design, suitable for short spans, is a king post truss, featuring a floor girder, a rugged vertical post at midspan, and diagonal braces sloping down from the top of the post to the supports at each end. When the required span increases, either the slope of the diagonals must be reduced or the overall height of the truss dramatically increased. At about thirty feet neither option is practical.
Instead this builder added another post, locating the two inner posts at the third points of the span, a design that CIW calls a queen post truss. This definition is unacceptable to us structural engineers; ours requires the addition of another diagonal between the inner posts, to insure stability. The early bridge builders agreed with us; the Henry bridge does indeed have an interior diagonal.
Henry has been well maintained for its many decades of life. In addition to the aforementioned I-beams, it is obvious that the roof has been replaced, probably several times. It is painted barn-red, inside and out, a shade that is complementary to both summer’s vivid green and to the palette of the autumn leaves.
Henry’s sister bridge is upstream about a mile and a half. Similar in size and appearance, the Ebenezer Church bridge has a much different history. A century ago, while Henry was enjoying middle age spanning Mingo Creek, Ebenezer was located about twelve miles to the southeast, in Fallowfield Township, carrying a small country road over the South Branch of Maple Creek as it meanders toward Charleroi.
I remembered Russ Smith telling me that the Ebenezer Church bridge had originally been close to his home when he was young, so I asked him to refresh my memory. Russ is the son-in-law of my late cousin Harry and a long-time friend. He and his siblings, Rick and Cathy, responded with major nostalgic contributions.
They grew up living near a rural crossroads about halfway between Charleroi and California, dominated by the Ebenezer Methodist Church and a nearby covered bridge. An old-fashioned country store, a gas station, and a Dairy Queen completed the Norman Rockwell picture. When I-70 was constructed, the bridge was in its path. Someone had the foresight to relocate it to Mingo Creek Park, a decision for which we are all grateful.
A few years later disaster struck from another direction – Route I-43, the Mon-Fayette Expressway. Its intersection with I-70 completely obliterated the old cross-roads community. Sadly, Ebenezer Church was demolished along with the other homes and businesses. Fortunately, its heritage has been recorded by the Historic American Building Survey (HABS), and the Library of Congress has a detailed history and description of it, supplemented by twenty-one photographs. Reading this survey makes one wish the church, too, had been relocated to Mingo Creek Park. And maybe the general store and gas station, as well.
Ebenezer is thirty-two feet long; the I-beams added to support it are six feet longer, to accommodate piers for a bridge that had occupied this site earlier. Otherwise it is very similar to Henry. The date of its initial construction is unknown. The church was built in 1883.
The actual festival was impressive; nearly one hundred vendors hawking everything from crocheted potholders to Alpaca vests, and an impressive crowd of festival fans. My sole purchase was the ingredients for garlic sauce (I am trying to replicate Aladdin’s Eatery’s sauce that complements grilled lamb).
All told, it was a pleasant adventure on a lovely autumn afternoon, and I enjoyed the opportunity to visit two covered bridges that are old enough to make me feel middle-aged.