"I believe that the firemen saved the mill from going up in flames right along with the bridge," Bridgeton Covered Bridge Association (BCBA) President and Bridgeton Grist Mill owner Mike Rowe said. "When I arrived around 1:45 a.m., the bridge had just fallen into the river and was still burning with steam rising all over the place. I forgot all about the mill until a firefighter came and asked for the keys to get inside to check for damage."
That was when the firefighters on the scene told Rowe that steam rose off the mill when they sprayed water on the walls.
"They told me that the windows had all melted," Rowe said.
The building sustained no structual damage, but the heat damage to the Plexiglass windows on the east side and a few on the north side of the building will take all summer to replace.
"When we rennovated the windows the first time it took a year-and-a half to replace the panes in the original window casings," Rowe said. "But I think we can get them replaced over the summer this time."
Rowe plans to keep the mill open.
"It has been hard at times listening to the stories, some of them were so sad," Rowe said. "There were times when I wanted to just shut the door for a minute, but I couldn't do that. People were in and out all day long talking and taking pictures."
The mill has been open for 10 years and was just begining to see a steady increase in business, but the fire raises some concerns for Rowe about his business.
"We're a small rural community and I'm the only business open in the area sometimes," Rowe said. The historic landmark was a draw for his business since people that visited the bridge usually stopped in the mill also. "But we've got a pretty good business going locally with people, so I think we'll be fine."
The destruction of the bridge has also raised questions about the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival later this year.
"I don't think it will really affect Bridgeton much. There are people that are just die-hard festival goers that will come anyway," Rowe said of the tourist trade during the festival. "It might affect the tours of people just here to see the bridges, but I think they will come also. Many of them will want to see what happened to one of the most beautiful bridges in the county."
Rowe, like many of his neighbors, can't escape the emotional meaning of what has happened to the town.
"I was the luckiest person in the world. I was doing a job I loved in the most beautiful place in the midwest. I could look out my window anytime and see the waterfall and the bridge," Rowe said. "I already miss it so much."