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Some covered bridges in Pa. waiting to be found

April 08, 2000|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - When it comes to covered bridges in Franklin County, Martin's Mill Bridge may be the first to come to mind for some people.

It's a museum today, a physical reminder of an era long past when elaborate wooden bridges dotted the American landscape and resonated to the sound of clopping hooves. The bridge opened over the Conococheague Creek on Weaver Road in 1849. It connects Antrim and Montgomery townships.

A private, nonprofit association of volunteers has owned the bridge since 1962. The group raises money to keep it in good condition.

At 205 feet, it is the second-longest covered bridge in Pennsylvania. It opened to traffic over the Conococheague Creek in 1849.

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The association opens the bridge to traffic four times a year - Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day and before Christmas.

People like to drive through old covered bridges, but what many in Franklin County may not know is that they can do it any time any day over a public road.

Red Bridge - or Witherspoon's Bridge, both names are OK - spans Licking Creek about 100 yards above its confluence with the West Branch of the Conococheague. It connects Anderson Road off Pa. 416 in Montgomery Township north of the village of Welsh Run.

The bridge, 87 feet long and 14 feet wide, was built by S. Stouffer in 1883, according to a 1941 booklet titled "Old Bridges of Franklin County," written by Frederick Fleming Unger. Most of the 31 bridges in the book are stone arch bridges, but there are photos of the county's only two covered bridges.

Charles J. Stoner, 90, a Mercersburg artist and historian who has researched and sketched most of the stone arch bridges as well as the two wooden bridges, said only five stone bridges are still in use in the county.

Witherspoon's Bridge is just a stone's throw from Hay's Bridge over the West Branch of the Conococheague. It's one of the five stone arch bridges still in service.

Stoner said Witherspoon's Bridge is still in use because Anderson Road is limited to mostly local traffic.

Signs at both ends limit the height of passing vehicles to 9 feet, four inches and weight to 3 tons.

The bridge is owned by Franklin County, said Gordon Lambert, an engineer with Nassaux-Hemsley Inc., a Chambersburg, Pa., engineering firm under contract with the county to make regular inspections of the county's 100-plus bridges.

In most Pennsylvania counties, bridges are owned by the townships they're in. Franklin County is unique in that it owns all the bridges, Lambert said.

The county "inherited" Witherspoon's Bridge from a private owner about 60 years ago, he said. Most covered bridges were privately built in the 19th century, then turned over to the local government jurisdiction when they became too expensive to maintain, he said.

Lambert said he checks about 30 bridges each year to make sure they are safe. Witherspoon's Bridge is included in the regular inspection schedule.

He said the bridge has had no structural problems and is still in sound condition. The only worries are truck drivers who ignore the weight limit and the possibility that vandals could damage it.

He said county crews work on the old bridge when they have spare time. Periodic painting is all it needs.

Lambert said the county is blessed with many old bridges, including the two old covered spans. "We've really got some jewels here," he said.

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