EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is another article on Findlay area history adapted from a series written from 1959 to 1974 by the late R.L. Heminger, publisher and editor of The Courier.
By R.L. HEMINGER
Spanning the Blanchard River in earlier days were a number of covered bridges. They were popular in those years and they were found everywhere.
One of the various bridges which have spanned the river on Main Street in Findlay was of the covered variety. There are pictures in existence today showing the bridge with its extensive cover overhead.
The covered bridge on Main Street was the second to be built across the river. It was constructed in 1850 by order of the county commissioners, taking the place of the first span which had been erected in 1843.
The history of Hancock County written by Dr. Jacob A. Kimmell tells of the covered bridge as follows:
“In 1850, the contract for a new and better bridge across the Blanchard was let to Jesse Wheeler, William Klamroth and Edwin B. Vail for the sum of $1,500. It was a wooden structure, like its predecessor, but of a different plan, not only more pretentious in appearance, but a much more substantial piece of work. It consisted of two spans, being supported at the ends by massive stone abutments, with a pier in the center of the same material.
“The sides were elevated, it being a truss bridge and enclosed, with the whole bridge covered with a single roof. There was a double track for wagons with a foot path on either side.
“The bridge when finished and opened for travel was regarded as a superb piece of work.”
The Kimmell history goes on to comment on its success as follows:
“But in time, this structure wore out and became decayed and the business and travel of the county demanded a new bridge, one that would not only answer the purpose for which it should be intended, but which would also be an honor to the county and an ornament to the county seat. In 1873, the old covered bridge was torn down.”
The new bridge in 1873 was an iron structure and stood until 1889 when the large bridge with its extensive superstructure which many Findlay people today remember was constructed. One reason for this new bridge in 1889 was to provide a means for street cars to cross the river. The older span was not large enough for this purpose. It was in the early 1930s then that the present (1966) bridge was built.
Many types of animals have crossed the river over the years, but not many elephants. When circuses came to town, of course, and there were parades, there were elephants. There’s an interesting story of an elephant and the river that goes back a good ways.
Writing in the old Toledo Times, some years ago, D.L. Spangler of Gilboa said, in speaking of the river’s covered bridges:
“An interesting tale has come down to us relative to the old covered bridges is concerning a circus manager who was taking an elephant from Findlay to Ottawa. He attempted to lead the huge beast across the covered bridge at Gilboa.
“The elephant had been trained in India and was a very intelligent animal. He put one foot on the bridge and tested it out and decided, in his elephant mind, evidently that it was not capable of holding his bulky body. The owner swore at him and he whipped him. But not an inch would the stubborn animal move. His owner was compelled to take him to a shallow place in the stream and lead him across the river in that manner.”
Mr. Spangler went on to comment that the covered bridges were favorite places for the village boys to play.
“At night, those bridges were pitch dark,” he wrote. One fellow who lived across the river from Gilboa never crossed the covered bridge at night without first firing a revolver down the river to warn any would-be molester that he was ready to meet them with arms.”
Mr. Spangler also told of a damage suit which was filed many years ago by the owner of a small craft near Gilboa against the owner of a larger boat which was carrying grain down the river, claiming his vessel had been damaged in a collision. He won judgment for $10.