Bridge is listed with the U.S. Parks Department on its Registry of Historic Places
- Cheri Russo
Communications and Marketing Manager
Lancaster – Lancaster police and fire officials are investigating a fire on the historic John Bright Number 2 Covered Bridge at Ohio University Lancaster as arson. The fire occurred early this morning and was reported by a passerby on the Lancaster City Bike Trail. Preliminary damage estimates are as high as $20,000 due to the need to dismantle areas of the bridge and interests of historic preservation.
"The fire was set at the intersection of structural members about mid-span on the bridge. Some assessment will need to be done to determine if a main beam will need replaced. Two to four joists and areas of decking will need replaced," said Lancaster Campus Dean Jim Smith. "The bridge is listed with the U.S. Parks Department on it Registry of Historic Places and is a significant aspect of campus and community history in support of the Lancaster Festival."
The bridge was built in 1881 by August Borneman.It originally spanned Poplar Creek near Carroll, but was relocated to the Lancaster Campus in 1988 for preservation. Another bridge was also relocated to the Lancaster Campus a few years later. Lancaster Campus Assistant Professor of History Mark Nevin has been conducting research on the bridges.
"The bridges were moved to OUL because they were no longer really useful.The vehicles that were crossing them were too large and they no longer really supported modern traffic," said Nevin. "But, there was a move to preserve these bridges because it's really a vital part of Ohio's heritage. Ohio and Fairfield County were really leaders in covered bridges in the 19th century. We had more than 270 wooden bridges of all types here in Fairfield County in the late 19th century and Ohio itself had many more."
The bridge is closed to the public until further notice.Both ends will be barricaded to protect the public. There is no timeline yet on when repairs will be made.
"The fire damaged the original deck constructed in the 1800's. It is not replaceable," said Interim Physical Plant Director Mark Bateson. "The fire was started underneath. Support posts underneath were damaged and there are two large holes in the deck that goes across the bridge. Until we dig into it farther, we're really not going to know how much of the underneath is damaged."
Nevin said there are only about 20 covered bridges left in Fairfield County.
"Unfortunately in the last 20 years or so there have been a number of the old, wooden bridges that have been burned around the state. It's really a shame.The John Bright Number 2 Covered Bridge is well over 100 years old. It has some architectural features that are really unique," said Nevin. "It has a reverse bowstring style truss, which is a very rare bridge design. Very few bridges in America have this design. It's certainly something we want to preserve, keep and treasure."
"This fire could have destroyed the entire bridge," said Bateson. "I don't know why somebody would do that. We're lucky it's still standing."