Nation’s Shortest Covered Bridge, Geneva
Ashtabula County is home to 18 traffic-bearing covered bridges including this diminutive 18-foot-long span.
Fewer than 12 miles from America’s longest covered bridge — Ashtabula’s 613-foot Smolen-Gulf Bridge — you’ll find its diminutive cousin: an 18-foot span billed as the nation’s shortest traffic-carrying covered bridge. And while it’s not among Ashtabula County’s collection of historic structures, it fits in just fine.
“This is covered bridge country,” says John Smolen, former Ashtabula County engineer and founder of Smolen Engineering in Jefferson. Of the county’s 18 spans open to traffic, 12 are historic structures and six are modern versions. The 18-foot West Liberty Covered Bridge is the latter and opened in 2011 as a fix for a damaged culvert. It is a fitting tribute to the county’s covered-bridge culture, right down to the beams.
“It was built with local timber,” Smolen explains. “People donated logs to be taken to a sawmill and cut for the lumber to build the bridge … I went out in the woods and picked out what we wanted: species and size and all that.”
Geneva city manager James Pearson arranged funding for construction. A local mill processed the wood, and roofing materials came in as a donation. When it was time to build the bridge, Ashtabula County called on its own. Students from the Ashtabula County Technical and Career Campus (at the time known as the Ashtabula County Joint Vocational School) took part in a real-life lesson as they built the structure.
Smolen explains that there’s a reason covered bridges were once the most reliable way to protect vital crossings.
“First off, salt doesn’t harm wood, generally speaking,” he says. “We know what it does to steel.”
Wood is also lightweight, a renewable resource and naturally absorbs impact, whereas the rigidity of other building materials must be compensated for in a bridge’s design.
“[With] wood, you’re exempt from having to take that penalty,” Smolen says. “And it’s aesthetically pleasing.”
94 W. Liberty St., Geneva 44041, 800/337-6746, visitashtabulacounty.com