Investigators Still Looking Culprit Of Humpback Bridge Fire

By
Tyler Buchanan - Athens Messenger staff reporter

Dateline
Updated Thu, Aug 15, 2013 1:56 pm

For the second time in the storied history of the Ponn "Humpback" Covered Bridge, investigators want to know who, and why, someone would destroy it in a deliberate blaze.

Two months after the State Fire Marshal's Office ruled the June 6 fire to be incendiary in nature, there's yet to be a break in the case. No suspects or motives have been identified in the destruction of Vinton County's oldest and longest covered bridge.

A Blue Ribbon Reward of up to $5,000 is still being offered for any information leading to the arrest and prosecution of those responsible.

While fire brought down the bridge, history finds that fire also contributed to it's birth.

The first bridge over Raccoon Creek was built in 1848, two years before Vinton County was formed. County officials then commissioned a new bridge in 1870, complete with stone abutments, according to the book, "Vinton County, Ohio History and Families," written in 1996.

That bridge survived just a few years before being destroyed.

"Some miscreant ... set fire to the bridge across Raccoon Creek," the Gallipolis Journal reported in June 1874.

Arson was reportedly a common occurrence in the area at the time, as the Journal goes on to suggest that "surviving neighbors" wouldn't mind if "the bodies of a few outlaws living there were safely deposited beneath the meadow violets."

Weeks later, the county commissioners offered a $1,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of the culprit, a hefty sum at the time.

But one McArthur newspaper, The Vinton Record, defended the steep reward. Without teaching the "incendiaries" a lesson, the paper argued, their further destruction would cost the county much more in the long term.

And so another bridge, built that year in 1874, was constructed. Unlike those before it, the Ponn "Humpback" Bridge would be known for its significant longevity.

Nearly 100 years later, the bridge joined the National Register of Historic Places.

The "humpback" moniker stemmed from it's unique curved construction, where the middle of the bridge was built slightly higher than either end.

For much of its history, the bridge accommodated through traffic over Raccoon Creek on Township Road 4, also aptly known as Covered Bridge Road. As the bridge's stability weakened over time, cars were eventually rerouted with an accompanying bypass bridge.

Until the very end, pedestrians equipped with spray paint, cameras and a lifetime of memories were welcomed.

A week after the former bridge was burned down, whose "incendiary" was never found, commissioners ordered a special tax levy on June 6, 1874 to build a new one.

Exactly 139 years later to the day, the oldest covered bridge in Vinton County burned down early in the morning of June 6, 2013.

Anyone with information is encouraged to call the State Fire Marshal public tip line at 1-800-589-2728.

The original reward offer was withdrawn long ago, while the new one sits unclaimed. For now, the mysteries of both Ponn "Humpback" Covered Bridge fires remain unsolved.

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