I had just made the left turn onto Seven Hills Road from Route 11, heading towards Chestnut Grove Cemetery when Zech asked if I noticed the sign for a nearby covered bridge. We were visiting Ashtabula, Ohio, to pay our respects to Philip Bliss, the noted gospel writer who died in the Ashtabula Train Disaster that happened here on December 29, 1876. Note: more information can be found here: Ashtabula Train Disaster and also here: Philip Bliss
I admitted I had not seen the sign, so I found a spot to turn around and following the signs we discovered the covered bridge spanning the shallow waters of the Ashtabula River. I pulled into the lot near the bridge and seeing the gate at the end of the lot was open, I drove through to the lower lot.
We got out and took in the covered bridge before us. “They definitely build covered bridges much differently in Ohio than back home,” Zech marveled as we both just stared at the massive covered bridge. What neither of us realized during our first visit was the Smolen-Gulf Covered Bridge is the longest covered bridge in the United States and the fourth longest in the world.
We walked along the old roadway to a point directly under the bridge and stared up at the structure that towered ninety-three feet overhead. The bridge is named after John Smolen, who designed the bridge in 1995, and the Crooked Gulf Covered Bridge that once stood at the location. Built at a cost of $7.78 million, the bridge opened for traffic in 2008. The bridge has a length of 613 feet and features a Pratt design. The Smolen-Gulf Covered Bridge was built in four sections and each one being supported by three concrete pillars.
The Crooked Gulf Covered Bridge had once crossed over the Ashtabula River at this spot. This bridge was built in 1867 with a length of one hundred and twenty feet. The exact structure type is not known, but most believe it had a Town Lattice structure. The Crooked Gulf Bridge was bypassed by a steel bridge and in 1949 (it became a victim of progress and was destroyed). The road to the lower lot where I had parked was part of the original State Road, which crossed the Ashtabula beneath the present-day Smolen-Gulf Covered Bridge.
Note: Since our visit, another covered bridge has been erected in the shadow of the Smolen-Gulf Covered Bridge. Known as the Riverview Covered Bridge, the pedestrian bridge now crosses the Ashtabula River connecting the parking lots on the eastern and western banks.
After we took some pictures from below, we drove up to the upper parking lot. We immediately noticed that there was a walkway on each side of the bridge and decided we had to go investigate this a little more. Walking along the road, we finally were at the bridge and entered the walkway that paralleled the road.
We entered the bridge and enjoyed the view as we walked the length of the bridge, carefully crossed the road and returned back to the parking lot on the opposite side of the bridge. The feeling of cars passing by at fast speeds both felt and sounded weird as the bridge gently vibrated as vehicles passed and the sounds of them passing echoed along the bridge.
And then the first big truck passed through the bridge. It was very unnerving as the bridge bounced and rocked as it passed through. I’m not going to lie – while I knew that the bridge was safe, I was ready to get off of it.
Once we returned to the parking area, we stopped at an information pavilion to read about the bridge and the Indian Trails Park. After reading it, we took a couple more pictures before driving to the western side of the bridge. We followed the old road to a small parking area. After taking pictures from this side, we continued towards the Ashtabula Train Disaster site a short distance way.
Note: I want to state that the path to get to the covered bridge is the edge of the road and on the day we visited, this road was extremely busy. Crossing the road should be done with extreme caution. The road curves at both ends of the bridge and visibility is limited.