An estimated 80 to 90 people attended a public hearing, dinner, and concert at the covered bridge near Ceylon on Thursday evening in perfect weather. Among the guests was Marsh Davis, president of Indiana Landmarks, who pointed out that the bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The event was held to boost the prospects of getting a grant of almost $400,000 from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA) to help repair the bridge, which is the last covered span across the Wabash River — the official river of Indiana.
The bridge is 150 feet long and about 21 feet wide and was erected as an open bridge in 1860, then was covered in 1879, according to Doug Milligan, Geneva town manager and an activist in preserving the bridge.
The overall cost of the proposed repair and rehabilitation project will be around $440,000, including a $44,128 local matching amount that would be required by OCRA.
The meal of ham, beans, cornbread, and beverages was supplied by Commonwealth Engineers of Indianapolis, which is working on this project with people from the Geneva-Ceylon area.
The music came from the Limberlost String Band, composed of amateur musicians from Berne, Geneva, Portland, and Winchester.
Everyone on hand was asked to sign an attendance list to be presented to OCRA as evidence of support for the project. Cash donations were accepted, too.
The hearing featured several speakers, starting with Amos Schwartz of Geneva, a professional covered bridge restorer and an expert on such old-fashioned construction techniques.
Schwartz, who grew up in the Geneva area, has been around the covered bridge for several decades and said he remembers when school buses were driven across it. The bridge has been closed to motorized traffic for a long time and is open only for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Schwartz said the bridge had been close to collapsing, but he and helpers shored it up so it is safe and will not fall.
Adams County Commissioner Doug Bauman noted that the backers of the grant have been turned down twice and wished them well by saying he hopes "the third time's the charm."
Larry Macklin, executive director of the Adams County Economic Development Corp. and a former state senator who has been heavily involved in environmental and preservationist efforts for years, told the crowd that the covered bridge restoration "will come to fruition. I can almost guarantee it."
Macklin also said there is "a direct relationship" between tourism and economic development, with the bridge being a tourist site.
Steve Krull, superintendent of the Decatur-Adams County Parks and Recreation Department, said grants are essential for such things as this bridge project, since the cost of restoring the bridge would be 2,5 times more than his department's annual budget. The park department controls the bridge, which is in a county park.
Krull went on to praise the idea of linking the bridge to the hiking and biking trail that is planned between Geneva and Berne.
Joe Schwartz, a local resident, told the audience that his parents once lived near the covered bridge and he recalled crossing it many times, so he is glad to see it being kept and used.
Gary Habegger, president of South Adams Trails Inc., said tying the bridge to the Geneva-Berne trail is a great idea.
Davis told the people that there were hundreds of covered bridges in Indiana, but fewer than 100 remain. He described covered bridges as "an indispensable part of our heritage" and said a covered bridge in the state that had been destroyed by a tornado in 2008 was reconstructed using the pieces left after the storm.
Davis lauded the "great craftsmanship" in the 19th century to build such bridges and called that skill "a testament to the people who came before us."
He said to those involved in trying to save the bridge, "You're doing all the right things" and said he is very grateful that Amos Schwartz is on the board of directors of Indiana Landmarks.
Tom Young of the Jay County Historical Society said, "I realize how important these old structures are" and stated that it's "incredible" to see them last so long. Young said that repairing the covered bridge "will be a monument for generations to come."
Milligan had the last word, or the last two words, saying the need for the IOCRA grant is a "no-brainer.