Thursday, September 6, 2012

Those Places Thursday - Old Bridge Gets New Life

The following story and art work is from the collection of my Gumpy, Keith D Jones, titled "It's Nothing But Personal". The collection is dated 2008 and was self published in Indiana.

Original painting by Keith D. Jones - Bridgeton Covered Bridge
His story recounts the rebuilding of the historic Bridgeton Covered Bridge in Parke County, Indiana. Construction began in early 2006 and was completed on 1 October 2006. I'm proud to note that students and staff from my undergrad, Wabash College, participated in the reconstruction effort (see "Wabash Men Join Community in Rebuilding Covered Bridge", 1 June 2006).

An Old Bridge Gets A New Life - Bridgeton, Indiana
by Keith Jones

Small towns are like people, they have character, interesting landmarks and often a long history. That's what I was thinking when I crossed Raccoon Creek on a covered bridge going into Bridgeton, Indiana. We discovered this small town many years ago when we were in Parke County searching for the many covered bridges in the area. This became our special "get away" place, one where we often took a picnic lunch and sat under a large shade tree where I could see the bridge and old mill.

I would let my mind go back in time to 1868 when the bridge was first built. It remained strong and sturdy because it was built with huge beams by craftsmen using only hand tools. They used horses and oxen to haul the large logs to the saw mill. In my minds eye I could see little by little the frame go up and the carpenters putting on the siding and cutting the windows and roofing. 
Pencil sketch by Keith D. Jones, 1997 - Bridgeton Covered Bridge
This magnificent red structure would set my mind in motion. I ended up taking pictures and making a few rough sketches for future reference. All this time I was making a mental picture of the painting I would eventually produce. It was several years later at Christmas time, about 1965 and we had a big snow storm so I decided it would be a good day to start my painting of the Bridgeton scene.

With the picture and sketches that I had made it all came together fast. The fact that it was snowing made it easy to paint the bridge during the winter. I have had several opportunities over the years to sell the painting but I have refused to sell it because the money soon goes and you are left with no painting. Now after 43 years I still have a painting that will remain in my family.

In April of 2006 [ed. - 28 April 2005] the bridge was set on fire by a man, that, in my opinion, no doubt had mental problems. He was eventually caught and sent to prison for the crime of arson. The town of Bridgeton was devastated. The bridge was their main attraction and center piece for festivals, fairs and even weddings. The people of Bridgeton had a real problem. What could they do? Churches, schools and other groups tried various fund raisers but the cost of a new covered bridge would be over $150,000.

Then an engineering company from Terre Haute came to the rescue. They offered to rebuild the bridge like the old one. The State of Indiana offered them a stand of poplar trees to cut and use for the large wood frame. This has all come about and the little town once again has a bridge and scene likened unto the original, however, new.

The point I find most intriguing is not just that the bridge was restored but that it was restored by individuals and industries that still have a heart for people and it would seem, a respect for the past. I am glad that I have a picture of the old bridge and mill. No, it's still not for sale.

God bless the people of Bridgeton and the people that worked to restore and rebuild the bridge; and may the new (old) bridge project be remembered in history as a people project.

Family Connection to Parke County
Parke County considers itself the "Covered Bridge Capital of the World". My second-great-grandmother, Matilda Jane Lambert O'Brien, was born in Parke County. I'd like to think that she crossed that covered bridge during her early days before the family moved to Shelby County, Illinois.

I'll have more on the Lamberts and the connection to Parke County in future posts.

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