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Antrim township covered bridge is tribute to group

August 02, 2004|by DON AINES

GREENCASTLE, PA.

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

After a night of heavy rains, Conococheague Creek ran high, fast and muddy under Martin's Mill Covered Bridge Sunday, but it was nothing like the storm that knocked the span off its stone piers 32 summers ago.

That the bridge has survived 155 years is a tribute to the members, living and dead, of the Martin's Mill Covered Bridge Association which undertook the task of rebuilding it after Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972 and on two other occasions when it was threatened with demolition or teetered on the brink of collapse, according to Antrim Township Administrator Benjamin Thomas Jr.

Built in 1849, the bridge has outlived the association which disbanded last year when it turned over ownership to the township. Glenn Hykes, a past president, said it was a good move to preserve the bridge for future generations.

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"The township has the ability, the resources, the continuity" to do what was becoming increasingly difficult for the association, Hykes said. Using what was known as town lattice construction, Hykes said Martin's Mill is the second longest of the more than 200 remaining covered bridges in Pennsylvania.

Although Thomas said the township took ownership of the 205-foot bridge and its adjacent park in December, the ceremonial handover was held Sunday as several dozen people gathered on the West Weaver Road approach. It was one of many events scheduled for the Greencastle-Antrim community's 35th triennial Old Home Week.

Time and the elements have not been the only threats to the bridge, according to John Buchanan, a former association member. In 1958, the Franklin County Board of Commissioners closed the bridge and announced it would be razed, he said.

Formed in response to that decision, the association saved the bridge from demolition, restored it and reopened it to traffic in 1965. In 1972, the floods generated by Agnes pushed the bridge off its foundation and smashed it against trees downstream, according to an association history for the bridge's 150th anniversary in 1999.

In less than a year, the bridge was salvaged from the creek bed and rebuilt, according to the booklet. Buchanan said the piers were raised four feet to protect it from future floods.

During Sunday's ceremony, people were asked to recount their memories of the bridge. Adele Henson said her late husband, Kenneth, helped with the layout of a booklet for the 1973 rededication.

He returned from a long meeting one night, pleased that the task was near completion, she said. Three hours later, he died.

"He was in a happy mood when he went to bed that night," she said. "Those are the memories my children and I have of Martin's Mill Bridge," she said.

By 1986, however, traffic and some flawed bracing from the 1972 reconstruction left the bridge tilting precariously, according to Alfred Bonnell, another former association officer. About $70,000 was raised for the third restoration of the bridge, which was completed in 1995, he said.

Except for holidays and special occasions, the bridge has remained closed to vehicular traffic since 1986, according to Hykes. Sunday, the bridge was open to vehicles under 4,000 pounds and it will open again from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, Thomas said.

Gates on either end allow pedestrians to pass, but it was an accident a few years ago that prompted the transfer of ownership, Buchanan said. A boy on a bicycle was injured when he hit one of the gates and the resulting lawsuit drove up insurance costs, he said.

Antrim Township Supervisor Larson Wenger, who drove an ancient GMC pickup across the bridge, raised the question of why covered bridges were covered.

"It was a kissing bridge," said Dr. Evon Barvinchack, the last association president, referring to stories that courting couples would linger in the dark recesses during buggy rides.

The real reason was somewhat more prosaic, according to Bob Reymer, a member of the Theodore Burr Covered Bridge Society of Pennsylvania.

"The roof protected the timbers from the elements," he said.

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