Monday, December 17, 2012

The Five-Span Bridge

My interest was fixated on a bridge my grandfather Stephen Jackson helped build in my hometown of Paulding, Ohio. The adventure began when my husband Al and I made a trip across country in the late 70's or early 80’s to visit friends and relatives in various states and one of our stops was to see my childhood girlfriend, Gladys, in Holgate, Ohio. We reminisced about old times, we hadn’t seen each other since we were nine-years-old, but we had written back and forth over the years. 

Stephen Jackson
The next day we took a road trip with her and her husband Bob.  They took us to Defiance, Ohio to the last place where I lived in Ohio. I had been nine at the time my family of seven moved to Oregon so the area had really changed. It had been country and now was developed with houses. The old house had been torn down and someone had built a new home so it looked different, like nothing I remembered.

Me with brother James and Edwin in front of the house in Defiance, OH

We then went to see the bridge my grandfather had helped to build. Gladys said it was called The Five-Span Bridge. I had known about the bridge from my father talking about it but I never knew its name. The bridge crossed the Auglaize River in northwestern Ohio.  When we arrived, we got out of the car and looked at the plaque at the top of the bridge with my grandfather’s name on it. I took a picture with my old box camera but the plaque was far away and it didn’t really show up in the picture. 

Gladys told me the bridge was going to be torn down and a new one built in its place. I was disappointed because a landmark that my grandfather was somewhat responsible for would be gone. While we were standing there looking at the bridge, an old man in a pickup stopped and called out to us, “It will hold you, never fear. It is well built.” We all started laughing and couldn’t quit. The man drove off and probably thought we were nuts. 

Five-Span Bridge
Many years later I got curious about the bridge and wondered what had happened to the plaque with my grandfather’s name on it. I called several cousins that lived in Michigan but they had forgotten about the bridge. I called Gladys and she told me they had built the new bridge but she didn’t know what happened to the plaque - she was going to inquire about it. I called my cousin Paul, who lived in Finlay, Ohio, and he said he might have a cousin on his mother’s side who knew something about it because he had lived there a long time. I told him it might be in a historical museum and if he found it would he take a picture.  He said he would get together with his cousin and find out.

Soon, all I was thinking and talking about was the bridge.  My daughter and I searched the Internet for five-span bridges in Paulding, OH that crossed the Auglaize River.  All we found was information and pictures about the new bridge - no mention of my grandfather’s bridge, except that it had been replaced. We found out the new bridge was on US 127 north of Paulding and that they were doing work on its road. It's called 637 Bridge 5-span over the Auglaize River. It was built by Vernon Nagel Construction.

I wrote to Marilyn Smith, editor of Paulding Pathways, a quarterly historical newsletter published by an old Paulding County Genealogy Society. I also wrote a construction company that might know something about it but I seemed to hit a dead end.

Then one day, months later, I got a call from my cousin Paul and he said his cousin had found the plaque at the Paulding County Historical Society and they had gone together to take a picture of it. I had gotten Paul as excited as I was about the bridge. He sent me the picture of the plaque and I sent him a copy of the picture of the bridge I had taken those years ago.

Shortly after this Marilyn Smith from Paulding Pathways contacted me and said she hadn’t found the plaque but had discovered one of the members lived in the area when the bridge was torn down and her pictures said August 1983 for tearing it down and November 1983 (and some 1984) for building the new bridge. Marilyn also contacted Ohio Department of Transportation and the man in charge said the records of when the old bridge was built had been destroyed.

I decided the old bridge must have been built between 1908 and 1912 because my grandfather’s obituary said he was county commissioner of Paulding County, Ohio during that time and the plaque that had been at each end of the bridge had my grandfather’s name and that title on it. I also had the information on the plaque to go by and it said the bridge was built by the Oregonia Bridge Company from Lebanon, Ohio. It had the date 1912 above it so that might have been when it was completed.

Old family photo of bridge

Recently I found an old family picture of a five-span bridge in an envelope amongst all my stacks of genealogy materials.  It must have been my grandfather’s picture because it's from that era and looks like the region. When I found the photo I was thrilled because I felt it was my grandfather’s picture of the bridge he had built. The family had always been really proud of it.  Here was a gift after all I had gone through. With a little help from others I solved the mystery of the five-span bridge and the plaque with my grandfather’s name on it.

Then in 2010 my daughter Lorita and I drove back east for a family wedding. On the way home we stopped in Ohio and we stayed with my friend Gladys and her husband Bob for a few days. I told them the story about finding the plaques and they drove us out there to see the new bridge.  As we stood there on the bank of the Auglaize River and Lorita took a picture I thought how neat it was to bring this story to its completion.

New bridge 

Gladys and I in 2010


  1. Everything has a history to it that should be preserved and I am glad this plaque still remains.

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  3. My family has lived in the immediate vicinity of this bridge for the last 150 years. I live less than a quarter mile from it now -- it is visible from my back yard. I was 10 when it was torn down and replaced. My dad was fascinated by it and would take us down there to watch the construction. Even so, I had no idea of this part of its history. Thanks so much for your efforts, and for sharing them with the rest of us!

    I always thought that the bridge was built after 1913 because of the Great Flood that happened that year. But I talked to my older brother and he said that it was there during the flood, but one of the spans was washed away. He said it was the western-most span, and you could tell because it looked different from the other four. If you look close in your picture, you can see that the span on the extreme left-hand side of the photo is different from the rest. So that picture must have been taken after they repaired the bridge from the flood in 1913.

    Another little bit of trivia that might interest you is the fact that the little white farmhouse visible at the extreme right of your photograph (the bridge obscures it a little, but it's still visible) burned down in the 1960s. My parents had built a house just down the way and remembered when it happened.

    As for replacing it, the old bridge was only one lane. I remember waiting on the other side for traffic to cross so we could take our turn. Also, by the time it was replaced, the weight limit was only 4 tons (down from the 15 tons from the sign in your picture). So while it is sad that it's gone, it was definitely time for a new bridge.

    Again, thanks for the info and the pictures!