"Whatever it takes. The bridge will be rebuilt, because we will do it together," was the rallying cry for more than 100 Bridgeton residents crowded into Willow Rose Carriage House Saturday evening to discuss what to do about rebuilding the bridge the community lost to arson a few days earlier.
"We're glad to see everyone here. This has been hard on us all," Bridgeton Covered Bridge Association (BCBA) President Mike Roe said at the begining of the meeting, then his own emotions took over. "I'm a little emotional right now myself."
The painful loss was echoed throughout the room as each person took a moment to reflect on what the 137-year-old bridge meant to them and offer their support to the rebuilding effort.
"We need to leave petty politics behind and focus on the future so we can do this," resident Steve Herzog said to the crowd. "I live in the most beautiful town in the world. I feel safe here. I feel safe for my children to walk down the streets in this town. We can't let this person take that from us. We have to rebuild."
Architectual Engineer Ben Hill, who came to discuss the drawings and materials list for the replacement of the bridge, read an homage he wrote earlier in the day to vent his frustration.
He summed up what many felt in the room by saying, "A madman, from within our own midst, in one hour destroyed what we have fought a battle with time and Mother Nature to maintain for our children and grandchildren."
Estimates for restoring the bridge to its former design are $600,000 to more than $1 million, but people are offering assistance from around the country by contacting the website of Parke County Inc. (PCI). According to officials, the PCI Web site has received more than 4,000 emails from people as far away as Oregan offering assistance.
A Web site for the BCBA is being designed with a payment option available to people wanting to donate online. The URL address will be announced at a future meeting.
Other plans include contacting the Lilly Endowment, acquiring grant writing assistance, creating detailed plans on how people can donate trees from their property to supply native lumber materials for the rebuilding effort and many ideas for fundraising efforts. Committees will be formed for each of these areas at future meetings.
Two of the Parke County Commissioners in attendance announced that the governor and state officials were notified immediately about the community's tragedy.
"Gov. Daniels and all the state legislature members were made aware of the situation the morning of the fire," Commissioner Jim Reece said to the crowd. "We expect information will be forthcoming from the governor's office shortly with regards to financial funding."
Bridgeton Fire Chief Kevin Ratcliff received a standing ovation from the crowd when his turn to speak came.
"We got water on the fire within six minutes from being toned out, but a 137-year old bridge is pretty dry. There wasn't anything we could do except try to save the mill," Ratcliff said.
He informed the crowd that evidence was collected and that the federal authorities were involved in processing what was found.
With the bridge a complete loss and the Bridgeton Grist Mill receiving heat damage to the windows, Ratcliff raised questions about possible damage done to the dam.
"It's our third landmark in this town and we have to make sure that when the spring rains come we have the debris out of the river to ensure it's safety. We need to decide if we remove it all. or just take the debris out of the water."
With large pieces of wood and tin in the water from where the bridge fell, a spring flood could possibly force the debris into the dam, causing damage as it is forced downstream by rapid water.
The group decided the commissioners and owner of the dam should determine what is the best solution, but they requested materials be salvaged to make a monument for future generations to know what happened on April 28.
The next community meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on May 21 at the old school house in Bridgeton.