Sunday, November 9, 2008

Ackley Covered Bridge

"At one time covered bridges were as much a part of any journey as are today's traffic signals." So says noted Americana historian Eric Sloane. Henry Ford knew this and when the opportunity arose to have one placed in his ever-growing Village, he didn't think twice.
Seven miles from William McGuffey's birthplace, near West Finley Pennsylvania, one such bridge spanned what was then known as Enlow's Fork of Wheeling Creek. It was built in 1832 by Daniel and Joshua Ackley, from whose land the great oak timbers came. There was much help from the men of the community in its construction.
One can actually see, feel, and hear what it was like to cross Ackley Bridge by horse and carriage

Forrest Samuel Ackley writes about the Bridge... This account comes from Adolphus W. Ackley’s “The Book” which is a family genealogy written and compiled by “AW” for his heirs and the family. The Ackley Covered Bridge How it was Built and a little History  In November 1962 Joshua's grandson Forrest Samuel Ackley, wrote an account of the Ackley Bridge and a copy of this account was furnished to me by Lois Guthrie of Columbus, OH. There are some slight differences in this account and that of Joshua's granddaughter, Elizabeth Lucille; any remarks I may have regarding this will be in parenthesis. Forrest Ackley's account: "Ackley Bridge, which was recently replaced with a timber- decked I-beam bridge, was located on the Greene and Washington County line in Richhill Township in Greene Co., and West Finley Township, Washington County. It was recently purchased by Henry Ford to be transported to Dearborn, Michigan to be re-erected at that location. The bridge was constructed in 1830 (Lucille said 1832), during the first administration of President Andrew Jackson. At that time the stream was known as Enlow's Fork of Wheeling Creek and when it became necessary to bridge the stream to accommodate traffic caused by an influx of settlers, a meeting of the citizens was held to determine what course to pursue. Some of the citizens thought that the new structure should be constructed of hickory in honor of the man who was then President, Andrew Jackson, who had been given the nickname "Old Hickory". A large number of very fine trees of this species was growing at the time on the slope south of "Smokey Row", approximately one mile south of the bridge site. However, after much discussion, the idea was abandoned due to the fact that it was felt that this type of wood would warp too easily and would also probably deflect too much, and white oak was substituted in place of hickory. The white oak timber used in the construction of this bridge was secured from the land of Joshua and Daniel Ackley, approximately a half a mile south of the structure. The stone used in the abutments was secured from a quarry nearby. (James Parker, Sarah Jane's grandson, who was only 18 years old at the time, said that he got the stone to build the bridge from Daniel and Joshua and paid them both for them.) After the abutments were built, the timbers were cut and hauled by ox teams to the site of the work, then hewn to the size and shape desired. All work, of course, was done by hand. Afterwards, they were skidded into place on the abutments. The roof consisted of oak shingles split from the best timber available, shaved with a draw knife to the proper shape. One side and one end of each shingle was shaved to a feather edge, then a hole was punched in the thick edge near the butt end by means of a shingle punch. This was done in order to prevent the shingles from splitting when nails were driven. (Almost no covered bridges had shingled roofs). The sidings or weatherboards were an inch thick, sawed with a vertical saw. This saw was known at the as an up-and-down and was operated by hand. The floor was constructed of two- inch planks made of oak timber. (Lucille states that the lumber was sawn on Joshua and Daniel's saw mill; Sarah Jane did bring a large sawmill blade with her from Luzerne County but the saw mill wasn't constructed until several years after the bridge was built. Daniel Clouse owned a saw mill just down the road from the bridge so some of the timbers may have been sawn by him.). To continue Forrest's quote: The nails used in the shingles and weatherboarding were of cut-nail type and were made in a small steel mill located on the bank of Wheeling Creek, about two miles upstream from the Ohio, opposite McCulloch's Leap, which is now within the city limits of greater Wheeling W.Va. Much of the steel from which the axes, saws, log chains, etc., were forged came from this steel mill, which was one of the pioneer steel mills in this part of the country. Incidentally, it was the forerunner of what is known as the Wheeling Steel Corp. During the 107 years of its existence, the roof of this was removed three times. The original roof lasted until 1860, was replaced in 1890 and again in 1920. The old bridge was constructed of good material and in a workmanship manner that withstood many onslaughts of the elements. Probably the closest call it ever had was on the night of July 10 1902, when the water reached its greatest flood stage in the valley. During this flood, a frame house which stood approximately 100 feet west of the bridge was washed away, but no damage was done to the bridge. It is interesting to note that this bridge was constructed by men who were in their teens or twenties. It was constructed as a community enterprise and pride was taken in the workmanship. More than 100 men took part in its construction and several of them are buried in the old Teagarden Burial Ground within a stone's throw of the bridge site. An examination of the grave stones will show the following names of those who took part in the construction; John Cummins and Abraham Teagarden. In other cemeteries further removed will be found the following names; Daniel Ackley, Joshua Ackley, Baker McGuire, Daniel Clouse, Messrs. Daily, Durbin, McKerriham, Stickles, Supler, Wise, and many more who took an active part in the construction of this bridge. There are a large number of direct descendants of the builders living in the vicinity today. One of these men, George Allison, is a great grandson of Abraham Teagarden. This information was given by William Baker Teagarden, who was born in 1810 and died in 1892; living all his 82 years within a half mile of the bridge. The old bridge is said to have superseded an older bridge, a grapevine bridge, over which white men and Indians passed on their way across Ackley Creek, or Enlow's Branch of Wheeling Creek, as it is known. The builders not only labored at their task but they toiled in danger; they were targets of arrows and rifle balls fired by the Indians in the hills who still roamed through the territory, some of whom resented this evidence of white man's progress." END OF FORREST ACKLEY ACCOUNT
(Thanks to the Ackley Family website for this bit of information)

The wooden covering on these bridges protected its structure. Unlike the structure of the bridge, the covering was inexpensive and easy to replace. A number of local folk at the time felt the bridge should have been constructed of hickory in honor of the then president, Andrew Jackson, known by his nickname, 'Old Hickory.'
105 years later, in the late fall of 1937, it was a rotting, deteriorating vestige of the past, and was scheduled to be torn down. Ackley's granddaughter, Mrs. Harleigh Carroll, acquired the bridge and gave it to Mr. Ford. By summer of 1938, it proudly stood over a man-made water way inside of Greenfield Village. The Ackley descendants, as well as numerous McGuffey descendants (for it has been felt that William McGuffey crossed this bridge), were at the dedication ceremony.Roy Schumann was in charge of the bridge restoration project, and he said that, "There was about eight inches of snow on the ground and it was ten degrees below zero. We went ahead and started tearing (the bridge) down. It stayed cold all the time we were there which was one of the best things because when we dropped a roof board (on the water below), the ice was there to catch it. All we had to do was pick it off. We tore the whole thing down. I would say we were down there about three or four weeks.

The next morning (after completion and clean up) it rained, turned warmer, and took all the ice out of the river. If it had done that a week before, and that ice hadn't frozen, it would have taken the bridge and everything down the river. The timbers were numbered and went back to the place they originally came from. We had to dig all the stones out of the bank and bring (them) back with us here. We went down there the first part of December and came back the 23rd of December. It was just two nights before Christmas when we got back."
The Ackley Covered Bridge as seen from the Edison Homestead garden
There are numerous stories associated with this wonderful piece of Americana. One in particular I shall repeat here. It was written by William Plants (sp.?) in a letter sent to Henry Ford in the 1930's. In part he writes: "One thing (might) be of interest to you in connection to the bridge, in about the year1879, when a lot of people in the hills of West Virginia - not far from this bridge, were very poor and not much schooling - there was a young man by the name of George Meris who made "lasses" (molasses) from sorghum cane, he fell in love and went a-sparkin' a young girl. He finally popped the question and wanted to get married. She said she had no dress except the old faded calico one she had on. He had .50 cents. They went to the little store and got calico enough for .35 cents to make a dress. And, dressed up in that they went up to the creek to this bridge, and so happened that the 'Circuit ridin' parson' came along. And they got married on this same Ackley Bridge you have. And he gave the preacher the .15 cents he had left of the 50 for his fee. THIS IS THE TRUTH."

I should like to quote from a website dedicated to the covered bridges of Michigan (
The Ackley Bridge was re-erected over a specially dug man-made river in Greenfield Village, where today it is seen and appreciated by thousands of visitors each year. Few covered bridges will ever find a safer or more pleasant environment in which to spend their retirement years.
Couldn't have said it any better.

The bridge is truly a highlight of the Village and I never tire of crossing it. And, I must say, I really enjoy hearing the sound of the horses hooves as they pound the wooden planks of the bridge. A sound and vision from the past like no other, and gives one a wonderfully reflective moment.
One of the most picturesque areas of Greenfield Village.

Please click HERE to go to the Ackley Family website


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