Debra and Bart Barnes survey the plans for the new Bridgeton Covered Bridge.
Bart says the bridge, which was destroyed by arson in May, should be ready in time for the next Covered Bridge Festival.
When Bridgeton residents set out to rebuild their most famous landmark, they learned the appreciation of the historic structure extends far beyond the borders of the tiny community.
The Bridgeton Covered Bridge Association's (BCBA) effort to rebuild the bridge began almost immediately after the 137-year-old Bridgeton Covered Bridge was destroyed by arson in the early morning hours of May 28, 2005. Kids from the community set up a card table at the scene of the fire and collected around $2,400 in donations. Others followed suit, and soon a local initiative developed into a nationwide push.
Thanks to a grass-roots fundraising campaign and the contributions of some unlikely allies, BCBA Treasurer Bart Barnes said the reconstruction of the bridge will be completed in time for this year's covered bridge festival.
"It's amazing, over 137 years, how many people had emotional ties to this bridge," he said.
Barnes estimated around $170,000 has been collected so far, including donations from residents of Bridgeton and beyond. Barnes said he has received checks accompanied by letters from people around the country, people who remember taking their wedding photographs or baptizing their children at the bridge. Barnes has even heard from the New York State Covered Bridge Society, whose members collected $205 at their 2005 Christmas meeting in lieu of an annual gift exchange, and the Ohio Covered Bridge Association, which publicized the rebuilding effort on its web site.
While raising funds is a crucial element of the bridge's reconstruction, the donation of building materials and services has been just as important, Barnes said. Terre Haute architecture firm MMSAE has volunteered to design the bridge according to original specifications, a service Barnes estimates at around $80,000. Three area sawmills will collect and deliver the timber needed to rebuild the bridge, and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources has offered to procure any odds and ends the BCBA needs from state forests.
Nine months after the bridge was destroyed, the physical rebuilding process has officially begun. The first loads of timber are beginning to arrive (at a staging area donated by a local property owner, no less) and crews have started restoring the stone abutments, in keeping with the materials used in the original construction. Barnes said the BCBA plans to incorporate sections of the bridge that survived the fire into the project, with an eye toward preserving its historic significance.
"We want to put a bridge up here that (original bridge designer) J.J. Daniels would be very proud of," he said.
The BCBA will hold a fundraising auction in Bridgeton April 29, and is currently soliciting donations of goods and services. Barnes pointed out that all donations, which should be delivered by March 1, are tax-deductible. For more information, call Debra Barnes at (765) 548-4095.