McCleery-Walter Covered Bridge
In 1864, during the Civil War and at the request of the Fairfield County Commissioners, Jacob R. "Blue Jeans" Brandt built his first covered bridge, carrying Leonard Road over Walnut Creek. It was named the McCleery Bridge for a nearby farm family. "Blue Jeans" would go on to build many more bridges during his long career, including quite a few that still exist today in various places around Fairfield County.
More than a century later, in the 1980s, Fairfield County's covered bridges were disappearing at an alarming rate. Most of them had been built in the 19th century and time had taken its toll. The McCleery bridge was deteriorating and the county engineer decided to replace it with a modern concrete and steel bridge.
Jim and Jane Walter decided to preserve what they could of this important historic structure, the oldest surviving covered bridge in the county, which is a multiple kingpost truss design. The timbers are unusual in that they are American Chestnut instead of White Oak, which was more commonly used at the time the bridge was constructed. Due to rot, they were only able to save 52 feet of the original 97 foot bridge. At their own expense, they moved the bridge to their property about 6 miles northwest (as the crow flies) of its present location. Jim was the president of the Fairfield County Covered Bridge Association at the time. According to an article in the July 7, 1985 Toledo Blade, Jim said, "I don't like to say how much it cost to move it because my wife doesn't want anyone to know how crazy her husband is."
Fortunately for us, their efforts saved the bridge. In 2005, Jim and Jane decided they wanted to share the bridge with the people of Fairfield County, and offered to donate it to Lancaster Parks and Recreation for use on the Fairfield Heritage Trail.
Park employees Bill Sands and Jim Thompson painstakingly replaced broken structural elements of the bridge and installed new siding to make it ready to move. Lancaster Parks and Rec, working with the Lancaster City Engineer, built the bridge abutments and approaches at its new location crossing Fetter's Run. AA House Movers, in Euclid, OH, was contracted to move the bridge.
Finally, on May 21, 2006, the 8.7 mile move began. A mother robin had built her nest in the bridge, and followed the move all the way from Jim and Jane's property to the new location on Fetter's Run, next to Thomas Ewing Jr. High. All reports are that the baby robins survived the trip and were fledged later that spring. The bridge was opened to the public later that year, and has carried countless riders and pedestrians across the creek ever since.
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