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Pa. bridge turns 150

August 23, 1999

Martin's Mill Covered BridgeBy DON AINES / Staff Writer, Chambersburg

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer




GREENCASTLE, Pa. - Before the felt-tipped marker and spray paint, the graffiti artists of earlier generations apparently used pen knives to immortalize themselves on public structures.

"Jess + Tony 99" is scrawled in bright pink spray paint on one of the posts inside Martin's Mill Covered Bridge. A few feet away "T. Homer 1871" is carved into a beam, while just above it H.R. Homer carved his or her name in 1880.

In the 150 years since the covered bridge on Weaver Road was built by Jacob Shirk, it has suffered more serious indignities from Mother Nature and government than the fading insults of vandals. Sunday more than 100 people gathered in Antrim Township to celebrate the bridge's sesquicentennial and dedicate a plaque to a government project that should help preserve it for decades to come.

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Pennsylvania is home to a quarter of the nation's covered bridges, according to Thomas Walczak, president of the Theodore Burr Covered Bridge Society of Pennsylvania. He said 213 of the approximately 850 covered bridges in the United States are in this state.

"Years ago we probably had 1,500 or more covered bridges in Pennsylvania," the Newcastle, Pa., man said. Lancaster County has the most with 30, followed by two dozen in Washington County, 20 in Columbia County and 14 each in Perry and Bedford counties.

Covered BridgeMartin's Mill Bridge is one of just two remaining in Franklin County, according to Dr. Evon Barvinchak, a member of the board of directors for the Martin's Mill Covered Bridge Association. The other is the Anderson's Mill Bridge in neighboring Montgomery Township.

Walczak, whose society has about 650 members, said the county had at least five covered bridges at one time.

Built in 1849 at a cost of about $25,000, the bridge is the second longest still standing in Pennsylvania, according to Walczak. The longest is the Academia-Pomeroy Bridge in Juniata County at 278 feet.

It is also among the oldest. Walczak said the Sam Wagner Bridge in Montour County is among the few older ones, built in 1832.

Martin's Mill Bridge provided a way across the Conococheague for more than 100 years until 1958, when the Franklin County Commissioners declared it "hazardous, unnecessary and financially burdensone," according to Barvinchak. That led to the creation of the association, which now owns the bridge.

The association rehabilitated the bridge and it reopened to traffic in 1965. Seven years later, however, flooding from Tropical Storm Agnes washed it 200 yards downstream.

About two-thirds of the bridge was salvaged and rebuilt, Walczak said.

When the bridge was rededicated in 1973, Greencastle attorney Rudolf Wertime said Miss Pennsylvania rode across it in a surrey, unaware that the driver, the late Noble Sites, had a pet black snake under her seat.

In 1986, a state study of county, township and privately-owned bridges determined again that the bridge should be torn down. The association again came to the rescue, correcting the bridge's list, raising the stone piers and reinforcing the structure, said Wertime, who helped form the association.

The most recent work to preserve the bridge was a $58,000 stream bank erosion project to prevent undermining the stone foundations. State Sen. Terry Punt helped secure the funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

He was on hand for Sunday's celebration.

Today the bridge is opened to pedestrian and bicycle traffic, but cars are restricted to a few holidays and special occasions each year.

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