Stafford: Think now about restoring historic bridge to 1871 original

This New Year’s Eve, while many of us are pondering the year to come, a part of Douglas Bailey’s mind will have wandered off to 2062.

That’s the year the historic Enon Road Stone Arch Culvert — saved five years ago during a half million dollar project and celebrated last month with a posting of a historic marker — will reach the end of its 50-year expected lifespan.

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At that crucial point, Bailey says, time will present those interested in preservation the rare opportunity to restore the bridge to what it was in 1871 – assuming, of course, that they’re interested at all.

Rock by rock, layer by layer, the bridge was built across the upper gorge of Mud or Muddy Run by 34-year-old Clark County stone mason Samuel S. Taylor, one of three brothers who followed in their father’s footsteps.

This was the same Taylor son who had returned from service in the Union Army and Navy with commendations for his role in getting messages from Cairo, Ill., to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant during the siege of Vicksburg.

During his professional life, he would work on the structural supports of numerous area notable area buildings: The Arcade Hotel, the City Building and the Mill Run Sewer project under Springfield’s downtown; the massive East Street Shops, the Clark County Infirmary, and the Clark County Jail and Sheriff’s Residence; and the still-standing Brown house in Enon, along with bridge abutments straddling many area waterways.

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But the Enon Stone Arch Culvert was Taylor’s first public project, commissioned by Clark County and Mad River Township for $450 and the wooden remains of the 1842 bridge the culvert replaced.

On Rocky Point Road half a football field’s length west of Old Mill Road, the bridge’s location was the result of two things: The relatively short span of stream at that point and the site’s proximity to two railroad sidings that would allow farmers to get their crops to market.

The Old Enon Crossroads, as that stretch of Rocky Point then was part of, served as a farm-to-market road, meaning the bridge would have to had bear for decades the the weight of heavy wagons and steam farm machinery constantly crossing it to do business of the state’s largest industry: agriculture.

In the applications for the bridge’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places, Bailey said the success of Taylor’s bridge, which by then had stood for 140 years, “attests to the suitability of its design for its purpose and setting.”

Translation: It had stood the test of time.

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But when Bailey filed the report, a 1970s repair project had added a concrete deck and steel guardrails as attractive as the shag carpet of that era and as historically appropriate. Moreover, the historic construction was effectively out of sight and out of mind, something Bailey himself discovered by sheer accident.

Springfield attorney Charles Swaney, whose family history on the Mad River Township land near the bridge extends to the 1800s, asked the Tecumseh Land Trust to evaluate the Swaney land for farmland preservation.

When Bailey, who lives in Yellow Springs, went out to do the survey, Swaney mentioned the bridge that he, his brother and cousins had played in as children and his sadness that the bridge was slated to be torn down.

After taking one look, Bailey, who has evaluated bridges, buildings and mill sites in “three of four states,” said simply: “You can’t tear this out.”

In New York, he said, the bridge would have to have gone through a state inspection and evaluation before that could happen. And although Ohio has a well-respected state inventory of structures, this bridge had somehow slipped between the cracks, Bailey said.

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One reason: The technical name for the structure is a culvert, not even a bridge.

Another: Its real beauty is not apparent from the roadway, but only below the roadway where Taylor and his crew assembled the stream-worn pieces of dolomitic limestone from a nearby quarry, cementing them together with mortar fired in local lime kilns.

As Bailey put it in the National Register application: “Those who at closer range have been able to view the culvert and the natural scene it brackets immediately grasp and proclaim the culvert’s venerable charm, (self-) apparent importance and singular locale.”

In short, seeing was believing.

Although admitting that the scene is of modest side, Bailey wrote that the view “evokes a time long past when the countryside was full of farms and sleepy roads. As such, the culvert has integrity of feeling.”

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He argued that evokes the feeling of the past and the spirit of the time – one of the most elusive aspects of history.

Bailey said all that would have been lost had so many not lined up to save the bridge: Township Trustee Kathy Estep; the Enon, Clark County and Ohio Historical societies; the Turner Foundation, which called in its engineer to help document the bridge; and the Clark County Engineer’s Office, the Ohio Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway administration.

“There were so many people involved, and they all made correct decisions,” he said.

Bailey, who likens preservation to politics because it involves “the art of the possible,” says he would have preferred the bridge to have been converted to a one-lane road with stone railings to bring it closer to its original feel.

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But, given modern practical demands, he finds himself beyond grateful for all who contributed to a project done in a way that preserves that possibility for the future.

In a way, the historical marker put in place last month on the bridge celebrates both Samuel Taylor’s achievement and the achievement of all involved in the preservation project.

To Bailey, the marker also is a kind of asterisk and reminder to those working at preservation today – and a note to those so moved to in the future – that it “really takes a set of (special) circumstances for something to be protected.”

And that’s why today, a part of his mind meanders to 2062.

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“We need (the bridge) to be in the active work space of people’s minds and hearts … when they see the opportunity and pipe up.”

But for that to happen, someone will need to walk the land below the bridge. Someone will need to see beyond the word “culvert.” Someone will need to believe in “the integrity of feeling. Someone will need to ensure the project doesn’t fall between the cracks.

By then, a lot of water will have crossed under Samuel Taylor’s bridge.

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