1875 covered bridge returning home to Fairfield County after residing in Perry County for over three decades.
LANCASTER/ THORNVILLE (OHIO)- When driving along Ohio Highway 13 in the direction of Thornville, one will not miss a unique covered bridge located off to the side of the highway, spanning a small lake. The bridge partially covered, revealing the skeletal truss design along the top half. With the exception of a metal roof and concrete abutments, the entire structure is made of wood. The bridge has been serving a narrow path to a farmstead for 30 years, crossing a small lake. The bridge is no longer in use today and the only way to access the structure is by foot through the weed-covered pathway, which used to be a driveway.
The farmstead used to be owned by Carroll Moore, who bought the bridge in 1986 and relocated it to its current location for private use. Now owned by George Censky, he offered Fairfield County the covered bridge for its journal home to its new site.
After two years of planning, the wish to return home will be realized come this fall. But why Fairfield County instead of Perry County, where the bridge is located? Easy question to answer: because the covered bridge originated from there.
Built in 1875, the covered bridge was originally constructed over Little Rush Creek on Gun Barrell Road, three miles north-northeast of Rushville. The covered bridge is 83 feet long, has a width of 13.5 feet and a height of 11.5 feet. The covered bridge is a Smith truss, a design that features interwoven diagonal beams but a cross between a Town Lattice and a Howe Lattice (whose X or Rhombus feature is found in per one panel).
The bridge was named after Mary Ann Ruffner, who emigrated with her family to Fairfield County, but whose life was very short and tragic. She was born on 26 May 1802 to Emanuel and Magdalene Ruffner but emigrated to the area at the age of three, carried by her mother on horseback. She married William Hill, son of George and Elizabeth Hill on 30 November, 1823, and later bore their only son, John, on 24 March, 1828. Unfortunately, under unusual circumstances, Mary Ann died six months later on 26 September, 1828. Her faith was Methodist and was therefore buried in a Protestant cemetary.
The bridge was deemed functionally obsolete because of the size of traffic crossing the bridge and was therefore put up for sale in 1986. Caroll Moore bought the structure with the intent to relocate it to Perry County, to be erected over a small lake on his farmstead near Thornville, which was completed later that year. Like in the upcoming project, the bridge was disassembled, hauled by trucks to its new home and then reassembled on new abutments. Although a necessity for reasons of cost, that option presents some concern for both Censky and Lancaster Parks Director Dave Fey because of the age of the structure and possible need to refurbish some of the parts already considered too worn for another move. Relocating the covered bridge in tact was ruled out because of prohibitive costs, plus the need to take down utility lines enroute.
Nevertheless, the Mary Ruffner Bridge is coming home but not to its original location. According to Fey, the plan is to erect the covered bridge at its new site in Landcaster: along the Sensory Trail, which is part of the Greater Landcaster Heritage Trail Network, which contains a series of bike and pedestrian trails that go through and around the city and surrounding areas (a link to the site where you can find the trails can be found here). Specifically, the bridge will be built near the Forest Rose School, a special school for students with developmental disabilities, even though the crossing will be open to everyone to enjoy.
Fairfield County was once home to over 200 covered bridges. After relocating the Mary Ruffner back home again, there will be 20 covered bridges still in service. For locals with a fond memory of the bridge on Gun Barrel Road, it will be a reunion with an old friend with a long history. For the new generation, it is a chance to learn about historic covered bridges and how they played a role in the development of roads in Fairfield County. For the families of Mary Ann Ruffner, a piece of their family heritage is coming home to stay.
And for Mary Ann Ruffner herself, knowing that her bridge will be moved home this fall, she’s already informed her Mama that she is coming home, and is working to have Ozzy Osbourne play for her bridge at its newly dedicated site, once open next year. 😉