A Vallonia couple live within sight of one of Jackson County’s best known structures — the nation’s longest historic covered bridge.
Until Saturday, however, Melvin and Linda Wheeler had never attended one of the Friends of the Medora Covered Bridge’s Dinner on the Bridge events.
Look for that to change in the years to come.
“This is the first time we knew about it,” Melvin said. “We’d have been here before.”
Melvin, who grew up in Vallonia, recalls traveling across the bridge in his younger years.
“I used to go through it all the time looking for my date in Medora,” he said.
“It wasn’t me,” said his wife. She also grew up in the Vallonia area, and they moved to their home a couple of miles away about 35 years ago.
The 434-foot bridge, built in 1875 by Joseph J. Daniels, was closed to traffic in 1972 but remains open to pedestrians and bicyclists today. The Burr truss design bridge took nine months to build and cost $18,142.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the bridge was renovated in 2011. Of the more than 600 covered bridges built in the Hoosier state, 90 are still standing, according to the Indiana Covered Bridge Society.
The Wheelers said they’ll be back for future dinners on the bridge.
“The menu was excellent, and it was very good,” Linda said.
Like the Wheelers, Garry Wells of Seymour, who attended with his wife, Stacy, said he planned to return for future dinners.
“I like history, and that was what drew me out here,” he said.
Wells said he might even get his father, who also is a history buff, and mother to come down from Indianapolis next year.
The Bloomington native said he even managed to win a door prize valued at $38.
“So we basically got our money back,” Wells said.
The cost to attend was $20 per person, and the money raised by the event goes back into preserving the bridge and maintaining the property around it.
Morris Tippin, who helped organize the friends group and the dinner, said the event went well.
But it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of volunteers, Tippin said.
Flooding in the middle of July left behind a mess, but a county highway department crew helped clear the road of debris into the picnic area on the west side of the bridge.
“The picnic tables were all covered in mud,” Tippin said. Volunteers helped clean the tables.
The friends group haspurchased a zero-turn mower to help maintain public access areas on both sides of the bridge, which is a mile east of Medora.
They also continue to work to provide security for the bridge and hope to get electricity to the bridge this coming year.
“That’s going to cost us some money,” Tippin said.
Tippin said electricity would allow for additional lighting and help the group add speakers for an audio system for events such as Dinner on the Bridge.
Volunteers with the friends group also maintain a guest register containing the names of visitors to the bridge; purchase and provide brochures about the bridge; make presentations at schools and for other groups; and pick up trash.