New life on trail for old bridge?

The city of Seymour might have use for at least some of the remaining pieces of the Bell Ford covered bridge.

Officials hope to be able to incorporate a portion of the bridge, which collapsed and fell into the East Fork White River, in the design of a future walking trail on the city’s south side near Freeman Field Park.

Segments of the bridge have been in storage in Jackson and Greene counties since the west span fell into the river in 1999. The east span collapsed seven years later in 2006.

The idea is still in the very earliest of stages, but could be a way of preserving and displaying an important part of the county’s history and attracting tourists to the area, Mayor Craig Luedeman said.

“There will be some people who think it’s a waste of time and money,” Luedeman said. “But I think it could draw a lot of attention here if we do it, and it will restore a piece of our history.”

The Bell Ford bridge, built in 1859, was one of three covered bridges in the county. The other two still stand, in Shieldstown north of U.S. 50 and along State Road 235 between Medora and

Vallonia. Both remaining bridges continue to draw tourists from around the state and country.

Warren Martin, Jackson County highway superintendent, said he’s had some conversations with city officials about the Bell Ford bridge, but wasn’t sure how great that interest was.

The county still owes $123,000 in federal bridge money it received from the Indiana Department of Transportation to rehabilitate the bridge. That money was used to remove and clean up the bridge when it fell into the river the second time.

Martin said the county may not have to pay back the money if the bridge is rebuilt in the county. But he wasn’t sure if that was the case.

He said the idea hinges on whether Seymour is successful in obtaining grant money to create the walking trail.

“But I would like to see it stay in the county,” he said of the bridge.

In 2008, county commissioners voted to give the bridge to the city of Lawrence in Marion County, so that it could be rebuilt in Fort Benjamin Harrison State Park. Those plans fell through in 2012 after a change in leadership in the city of Lawrence. A new mayor decided obtaining the bridge wasn’t a priority.

“There was a change in how they felt their money needed to be spent,” Martin said of the deal with Lawrence.

He said there have been no conversations with Seymour about whether the city would have to pay the county for the bridge.

But Luedeman said he hopes the city and county can reach an agreement for the city to get the bridge free. That’s because it will have to be re-

engineered, and the city would have to come up with funds to rebuild it.

“We haven’t played with the numbers yet, but we would have to look at all the options,” Luedeman said.

Luedeman said he and city engineer Nathan Frey plan to work with INDOT in the near future to seek road money for a south extension of Burkart Boulevard that would loop back to Freeman Field, the park and the new walking trail. Part of the project also would include an overpass over the railroad tracks south of town near Silgan, he added.

That project, however, is another four to five years out, he said.

Although the bridge has been sitting untouched and unused for years, Martin said there is still plenty of it in good enough shape to rebuild.

“It’s a unique bridge because it has cast iron fittings called shoes that hold it together, unlike the other bridges,” he said. “A big portion of that is still left and there are still some timbers and other miscellaneous pieces, enough to construct a fair structure.”

Author photo
January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.