Zech and I arrived at Little Buffalo State Park, located west of Newport, before the crowds arrived. The cool morning air, mixed with the warmth of the sun, promised perfect weather. From the appearance of the empty parking lot, we would have time to photograph the covered bridge with little interruption.
In all of my journeys, this was the first time I stopped to visit Little Buffalo State Park. I had driven past numerous times over the years, but on this journey to Newport, it was on my list of places to visit. The park takes its name from Little Buffalo Creek, which flows through the boundaries of the grounds. Exactly why it was called Little Buffalo Creek is not known, though tradition claims it was named after the buffalo that once roamed the region.
The park opened in 1972, with the main feature being Holman Lake, which was created by the damming of Little Buffalo Creek. The lake still brings many to the park to boat or fish.
The history of the park began with David Watts, who built a charcoal furnace here in 1808. With the erection of the furnace, the area was known as the Juniata Iron Works. In 1811 John Koch opened the Blue Ball Tavern which he operated until 1841. Around 1865 a farmhouse was built on the foundation of the tavern and that building still stands in the park today.
A short distance away is Shoaff’s Mill. The mill, which was built in the early 1840s, was purchased by William Shoaff in 1849 and remained in the family until it closed in 1940. The area became known as Shoaff’s Mill and was made up of eleven tenement homes, a blacksmith shop, a carpenter’s shop, and of course, the gristmill. Note: William was drafted to serve in the Civil War, but was exempted from serving. The reasoning was his mill produced flour used by Union troops.
Leaving the parking lot, we had this history in mind as we walked the well-maintained path that led from the parking lot to the covered bridge. In the morning light, the bridge seemed to glow with a light of its own. Clay’s Covered Bridge, also known as the Wahneta Covered Bridge, originally spanned Little Buffalo Creek roughly a mile west of its current placement. The bridge was located at Wahneta, which was the name of the spot where the bridge originally crossed Little Buffalo Creek and is currently under the waters of Holman Lake.
The bridge was built in 1890 by George Harting and in the 1970s was moved to its current location in the park. Spanning the Furnace Run Branch of the Little Buffalo Creek, the bridge is eighty-two feet in length, has a single span, and is a Burr Truss design. The bridge collapsed in January 1994 due to heavy snows, was rebuilt and reopened in 1997 for pedestrian use only.
We finished up our photography sessions as other visitors began arriving at the park. We left the covered bridge to explore other parts of the park, but the historic buildings were closed the day of our visit. We knew we’d have to make another journey to explore them, but for the day, we left the peacefulness of the park behind as we continued to explore Perry County.