Around 2:00 a.m. on August 10, 1971, a young couple crossed a covered bridge on Rome South Rd., about a mile south of Rome, Richland County, Ohio. They noticed a small fire burning on the bridge, but later told authorities that they didn’t report it because “they didn’t want to become involved.” The young man even told his father about the incident when he arrived home, but the father told him he should “forget about it and go to bed.” A half-hour later, when Richland County Sheriff’s deputies and firefighters from Franklin Township and Shiloh arrived, all they could do is watch as the bridge, now engulfed in flames, fell with a hiss into the Black Fork below. The fire destroyed 97 years of history and the last original covered bridge in Richland County.
The bridge had been Richland County’s only covered bridge for 41 years. Another bridge crossed the Clearfork River south-east of Bellville. In August of 1930, C. F. Bell, working for the Cleveland Cartage Co., had just loaded his double trailer truck with pickles in Butler. Bell was on his way to Cleveland and had just crossed the bridge on the Bellville-Butler Rd., later State Rt 97, when his trailer broke through the planks and fell to the river below, dragging the truck with it. Bell was uninjured, but the bridge, the only one on the Clearfork to survive the flood of 1913, was destroyed. The bridge was dubbed the “Hero of the Clearfork” after the flood. It stood for another 17 years until the automobile accomplished what nature could not. A replacement bridge was built quickly and called “pickle bridge” by locals until it was dismantled in 1952 when St. Rt. 97 was rerouted.
Why is a covered bridge covered? Some believe it’s to provide shelter during a storm or to ensure the horses wouldn’t get spooked as they crossed the bridge, but the main reason is to provide protection to the truss or wooded skeleton of the bridge. Without a covering, bridges would last maybe five years. Covering the bridge would extend the life of the bridge indefinitely. Covered bridges were popular throughout the 1800s, up until the 1870s when steel truss bridges became common. The two bridges mentioned earlier were built in the mid-1870s. The person responsible for the fire was never caught and it took officials over a year to decide to construct a new bridge.