EATON — The Christman covered bridge was built in 1895 and the bridge was the first bridge at this location, which was true for many of the bridges. Prior to the erection of the bridge, fording the stream was the only means to cross from one side to the other. Crossing the stream on an elevated structure alleviated the hardships of crossing the stream during wet and, possibly, flooded conditions.
The bridge spans Seven Mile Creek on Eaton-New Hope Road just northwest of Eaton in Washington Township. The bridge was named for Solomon Christman who owned the farm at this location. Mr. Christman owned and operated a water powered sawmill downstream from the bridge near his homestead. It is reported remnants of the old millrace can still be seen about 200 yards west of the bridge.
Iron bridges were breaking onto the scene about this time. The iron truss bridge on St. Clair St. over Seven Mile Creek in Eaton was built in 1887. The question of whether to build wood or iron bridges was debated in the county and the Christman Bridge was built amidst a storm of controversy.
Evret S. Sherman’s reputation as a reliable bridge builder won him the contract for the wooden bridge although his bid was not the lowest. He received $1301 for building the superstructure. Harry C. Foster did the masonry on the abutments and received $499 for his labor. The stone for the abutments was hauled from the nearby Eaton Stone Company quarry with a total cost for the project of $2,452.
The Christman in Winter
As you recall from my first article, this was the covered bridge I spent my adolescent years playing under, around, and inside. I will relate some personal stories, as well as stories that have been told over the years.
Christman Looking East towards Eaton-Gettysburg Rd.
I grew up on the east side of the bridge on the east side of Eaton-Gettysburg Rd. Although we farmed 160 acres and milked about 40 cows, my brothers and I still found time to play and, eventually, to get into mischief. I remember Bobby Nickleson was one of the kids in the neighborhood who we used to play with. I wonder what Bobby is doing today? I haven’t thought about Bobby in years. Like with all of us, our life paths diverge and we lose track of each other. Who is a childhood friend you haven’t thought about in years?
My brother, Bill, and I had bicycles. They weren’t anything fancy. We were at most the second owners of the bikes and probably third or fourth owners but they got us around and we could go fast on them. As I recall, both bikes showed up around the house about the same time, and since I was oldest, I picked mine first. My bike was very sleek and fast. Bill’s bike was slow and cumbersome. We used to love starting on Eaton-Gettysburg and, pedaling as hard as we could, making the slight turn onto Eaton-New Hope, going down the hill. Coasting through the bridge with the wind blowing through our hair and against our faces was so much fun as we heard the running boards in the bridge slap against the flooring that created a loud echo throughout the bridge. We thought we were living.
Of course with a group of boys, we all tried to outdo each other by seeing who could go down the hill the fastest through the bridge. A certain recipe for disaster. One nice warm summer day as I was riding the bike through the bridge, my speed going down the hill was too excessive and I went into a stinging nettles patch. Although it was a soft landing, I come out of the patch thinking my whole body was on fire! Wikipedia describes it like this “many hollow stinging hairs called trichomes on the leaves and stems, which act like hypodermic needles, injecting histamine and other chemicals that produce a stinging sensation when contacted by humans and other animals.” Ya think! I could hardly walk by the time I got to the house. I think Mom gave me several baths to get the needles out, but to be frank, it was all a blur. All I know is, my skin had never felt that way before or since. I wish that experience on no one. Needless to say, I went a little slower going down the hill towards the bridge from that day on.
Nettles Patch on Right
Speaking of my brother Bill, he had his harrowing experience one day on the west side of the bridge on his bike that was built like a tank. Now that I think about it-boys and bikes, not a good combination. Bill was on his bike and was fascinated by something he saw off the corner of the bridge. To get a closer look, while he was still on his bike he pushed it from the roadway, down the embankment onto the ledge of the abutment. As he was picking up momentum going down the embankment, he lost his footing on the pedals and he couldn’t stop. The next thing I heard was him crying out like he was dying. He had went over the side of the abutment and landed beneath the bridge on his bike. As I was making my way to see what was wrong, I just knew this was going to ruin MY day. Now I was going to have to deal with him and his recovery all the while cutting into my play time. As I made my way onto the abutment, I looked down and he was lying next to his bike crying. I changed my tune a little and jumped to see what I could do to help. Fortunately he was for the most part fine. I think it frightened him more than it hurt him. The free fall ride was softened by him landing on the soft creek bank and his bike had a big spring that took most of the jar from the fall.
Bill Rode His Bike from This Abutment
Bobby, Bill and Bobby’s dog used to like to catch crawdads and snakes. I really was not into that. I could never catch the crawdad without being grabbed by its claws and snakes gave me the creeps so I left that to them, while I looked at the bridge wondering how it supported a vehicle crossing it. Other stories included scarecrows falling from rafters while cars went through the bridge and disturbing couples who were watching the submarine races, as my parents put it, at a pull-off next to the bridge.
Attached to the Christman
I came across this picture of a scripture verse attached to the Christman. God thought it was so important that he commanded us to save our heritage through our landmarks. Therefore, for our own good and the good of future generations, we should cherish and preserve our covered bridge heritage.
J. Stephen Simmons is a retired Preble County Engineer. His bridge columns are part of a series on behalf of the Preble County Convention & Visitors Bureau’s celebration of 2016 as the “Year of the Covered Bridge.”