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The Netcher Road Covered Bridge was completed in October 1999
The Netcher Road Bridge - the 16th Ashtabula County covered bridge - was completed in October 1999 Photo: Ardith DeBow

Ashtabula Covered Bridge Festival

Nostalgia reigns each fall in Ashtabula County, as preparations are made for another edition of the Covered Bridge Festival. Local residents are proud of their heritage and eager for visitors to come and enjoy the splendor of an autumn day in the country.

Astabula County borders the south shore of Lake Erie at the northeast corner of Ohio. It is part of the Connecticut Western Reserve, land settled by pioneers around 1800. Rivers and creeks were scattered over the rolling landscape, resulting in the construction of bridges, many of them covered to protect the wooden structures from the weather. The bridges have become icons to county residents. Not only are they a part of the area's heritage, but the bridges are a visual reminder of simpler times.

Over the years, many of the bridges were replaced with modern spans, until in the 1980s, there were just 12 bridges remaining from the documented 53 built during the 1800s and early 1900s. Today there are 16 covered bridges, four of them recently constructed, and a 17th scheduled for construction in 2002. Late in 1999, county commissioners announced plans for the construction of a 550-foot-long covered bridge over the Ashtabula Gulf, a span that would qualify it as the longest covered bridge in the United States.

The county already holds the title of home of the longest bridge in Ohio. The 228-foot two-span Howe truss bridge spanning the Grand River in Harpersfield Township was built in 1868 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A flood in 1913 washed soil away from the north end of the bridge and changed the river channel. The steel bridge was then attached and a walkway added in 1991-92 when the bridge was renovated.

On the occasion of the construction of the State Road covered bridge in 1983, the idea for the Covered Bridge Festival was born. When 200 people were expected at the bridge dedication, 2000 showed up! Ashtabula County commissioners asked the county planning commission to plan another State Road bridge dedication which included a mini-parade, crafters, dancing and music. It was decided to hold the event at the Ashtabula County Fairgrounds, and that the events and contests would all have an old-fashioned theme and all displays would be handcrafted. The sale of souvenirs provides working capital for the next year's event.

A huge success with attendance estimated at 5,000 its first year, the Covered Bridge Festival has been recreated the second full weekend of each October since 1984. Many of the festivals also served to recognize another "new" covered bridge or completion of the renovation of an existing bridge. The 1999 festival attracted about 45,000 visitors.

Over the years various kinds of entertainment have been added. Today, Civil War re-enactors gather, musicians stroll the grounds and various individuals and groups, including square dancers, perform. Van tours to the bridges are scheduled and leave from the fairgrounds. Antique cars, trucks and farm machinery are displayed and demonstrated, and wood carvings and quilts are on display and for sale. One event unique to the festival is the miniature bridge contest, where prizes are awarded in several categories to those who have created the best model. At the 1987 festival, a parade was added to the list of activities. Each year a specially designed calendar featuring photos of the bridges is produced and sold. In addition to activities at the fairgrounds, there are planned events at many of the bridges with refreshments, souvenirs, bake sales, crafts, and educational displays.

Extensive project documentation includes a 13-page narrative; thirty 8 x 10 color photographs; a program from each year's festival; promotional brochures; several brochures for the dedication of bridges; an essay on the "Construction and Renovation of the Ashtabula County Covered Bridges"; a press release; a copy of the 2000 Ashtabula County Covered Bridges calendar; and several videotapes: Bridges by Man, Colors by God and Scenes of Ashtabula County Covered Bridges and the Ashtabula County Covered Bridge Festival.

Originally submitted by: Steve C. LaTourette, Representative (19th District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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