Preble County's Roberts Bridge is a historic landmark of national importance.
It is Ohio's oldest covered bridge and the last example of the double-barreled or dual wagon-way bridge in the state. There are only six double-barreled remaining in the United States and Roberts Bridge is the oldest of these. It is the second oldest covered bridge of any type in the nation. Recently it was reported that Roberts Bridge is the last example in Ohio of the once-common Burr truss. Built just over a quarter century after settlement began in our area, Roberts Bridge is among the earliest non-domestic structures standing in Preble County.
In 1829, having obtained a contract from the U.S. government, Orlistus Roberts began building a covered bridge where the turnpike form Rossville crossed Seven Mile Creek on his property, in section 14 of Gasper Township about two and one-half miles south of the village of Eaton.
With the help of his apprentice, James Campbell, Roberts built the bridge of local poplar, beech and Oak, resting it on abutments of limestone quarried from nearby Rocky Run. All bolts, nuts and nails were hand forged by the builders. Roberts died before completion of the bridge that bears his name and it was finished James Campbell. Campbell later married Mrs. Roberts and all three are buried in a family plot north of the original bridge site on the former Roberts farm.
For nearly 160 years, Roberts Bridge was in use at its original location. Over the years, many repairs were made and the bridge was modified to accommodate changes in vehicular traffic. Most obvious were revisions made to the portal design as vehicles became larger. In 1962, the bridge was restored and in 1974, important structural repairs were made. By the 1980's nearly all of the protective structure and some framing were no longer original. However, the actual load bearing bridge was intact.
As covered bridges were lost and double-barreled bridges became a rarity, Roberts Bridge came increasingly to the notice of historical and engineering communities. In 1962, the Ohio Society of Professional Engineers recognized Roberts Bridge in a dedication ceremony. In 1971, Ohio Historical Society nominated the bridge to the National Register of Historic Places.
In April 1938, right-of-way negotiations began in preparation for re-routing U.S. Route 127 south of Eaton (the former turnpike) to the west, straightening the route and avoiding two railway crossings. The re-routing permitted the continued existence of Roberts Bridge, as it was no longer required to carry heavy traffic and large trucks. At the same time, its isolated site became a liability. On August 5, 1986, the bridge was vandalized and heavily damaged by fire, even as discussions of its relocation and preservation began.
On the day following the fire, a group of concerned citizens joined in their resolve to restore Roberts Bridge. The Preble County Commissioners appointed a committee comprised of Chairman Heber Felton, Royal Harris, Carl Rankin, Audrey Gilbert, Stephen Simmons and Nick Vaniman to determine the feasibility of restoration, relocation and funding. It was determined that, since the original Burr trusses and the loss was mostly replacement material in the protective structure, restoration of the landmark was important. Relocation of the bridge to a more accessible and secure site was considered necessary. A proposed tax levy for restoration was defeated in May 1988 but interest remained strong and a new effort was mounted.
A reorganized Roberts Bridge Committee, not under the direct auspices of the county, made up of all members of the original committee and additional members Janice Shock, Gen Acheson, Herd Bennett, James Hardin, Kenneth Yost, C. Craig Grisso, Daryl Michaels, Tim H. Miller, Rick Daily, Melanie Link and Chairman Seth Schlotterbeck, started the task of raising private funds. Looking to the future, school children were given the opportunity of purchasing shingles for the roof at fifty cents each.
The site in Eaton was prepared and plans were made for moving the trusses. A custom-made steel girder dolly was crafted by Ivan Kramer, Joe Kramer and Lloyd Kramer, who spent three months researching its design with County Engineer Stephen Simmons. Seats and steering wheels were installed on each side of the dolly for control of the axles. The movers' greatest concern was negotiating an "S" curve at the bridge on Consolidated Road.
The move took place on September 20, 1990. The truss-loaded dolly was pulled by a 1911 Case steamroller, furnished by the Kramers. A Preble County dump truck was fastened to the rear of the dolly to act as a brake. The move took five hours and drew crowds of spectators.
In February 1991, the trusses were removed from the carriage, placed on the new footers, and work on the protective covering began, mostly with volunteer labor and materials. Much of the siding came from a 100-year-old tobacco warehouse razed in West Alexandria. Paving brick from the Old Camden Pike, laid at both approaches to the bridge. By the end of the summer, the work was completed.
For his part in preserving this bridge for reuse, County Engineer Simmons received the Ohio Department of Transportation's initial Historic Bridge Preservation Award in 1991.
* Source, 1992 Preble County History book.
The Bridge is on Water Street just south of Main Street.
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