Miami County's Eldean Bridge
Where Yesterday and Today Are One
Story Judy Deeter, bridge photos by Matt Bayman
TROY - It is sometimes fun to visit an historic site and think of living in a long-ago world. It may be an old house, automobile or century-old clothing that stirs our imagination. Here in Miami County, the Eldean Bridge (a covered bridge) is a place where the past and present seem to meet.
The bridge, located on Eldean Road east of County Road 25-A between Troy and Piqua, has stood over the Great Miami River since 1860. It also connects Miami County’s Staunton Township on the east side of the river with Concord Township on the west side of the river. It is considered to be one of the best covered bridges in Ohio.
The bridge was built with two-spans using what is known as the “Long truss” design. The “Long truss” design was invented in 1830 by Col. Stephen Harriman Long (1784-1864). Local historian Thomas B. Wheeler once said, “Colonel Stephen Long, the famous explorer (Long was well-known for his exploration of the western United States; Longs Peak in the Rocky Mountains is named in his honor), invented the Long truss, a series of braced supports between the kingposts. This plan was popular in the 1830s and 1840s and then lost favor with bridge builders.
The Eldean Covered Bridge, however, was built with the Long truss and is only one of five in Ohio which employed the Long truss.” (Troy Daily News, Oct. 8, 1970)
Today, the Eldean Covered Bridge is the longest of the remaining 21 Long truss covered bridges in the United States that is true to Long’s 1830 patent and that retains its original historic form.
People sometimes ask why bridges built in the 1800s were covered. Several reasons are given in historical records. Perhaps the most important reason, however, is that bridge builders wanted to preserve the structure of the bridge for as long as possible—prevent deterioration. Back then, bridges were made of wood instead of iron.
Wood exposed to weather will rot or break down. By covering the structure of the wooden bridges, builders preserved them for longer use.
The Eldean Bridge was built by brothers James and William Hamilton, who owned a stone quarry on the south side of Piqua, at a cost of $4,044.68. The cost included $1,337.68 to build the center pier and two abutments, $2,632 for the wooden structure of the bridge and $75 for extra work. Later, fill material and wing-walls were placed at the ends of the bridge.
Most of the bridge was originally made of white pine with a floor of green elm. As the bridge floor was repaired, oak was often substituted for the green elm. It is believed that the white pine timbers came from Michigan on a canal boat. Canal boats on the Miami and Erie Canal stopped at a lock less than a half mile from the bridge. Wood shake shingles on the roof of the bridge came from Winona, Minnesota. Some historical records indicate that approximately 500 perch cut-stones were used for the abutments and pier. A “perch” was a long-ago length of measure. A perch was 5 ½ yards (or 16.5 feet) in length. The cut stone for the abutments and pier probably came from the Hamilton brother’s quarry.
When the bridge was built, it was known as Allen’s Mill Bridge because it was near the Allen and Wheeler flour mill. Historian Thomas Wheeler said in his book TROY THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, “The Allen and Wheeler flour mill at the canal lock three miles north of Troy with its cluster of houses had always been referred to as Allen Mill.”
According to former Miami County Engineer Doug Christian, the bridge was referred to as the Marshall Bridge in many newspapers articles and county history records because it was next to the Marshall family farm on its east end.
The name Eldean appears on historical records in the late 1800s. It is a contracted form of the name Ellen Dean Wheeler. She was born in 1882 as a daughter of Miami County resident T.B. Wheeler (an ancestor to historian Thomas Wheeler).
As a young girl, the shorter version of her name was used to describe the nearby mill, grain elevator and houses. An 1894 Miami County map shows Eldean Station in the area of the bridge. The name Eldean, therefore, came into use for the bridge and nearby area after Ellen Dean Wheeler’s birth in 1882 and the making of the map in 1894.
There have been many repairs, renovations and changes to the bridge down through the years. Old photographs show where vandals destroyed sideboards on the bridge and graffiti covered its wood. Long ago images also show that at one time advertisements for local businesses were painted on the bridge’s hub rails—rails inside the bridge near the bridge floor. When first built, one could not see the river from inside of the bridge. There were no openings in its side walls. Today, the bridge has windows in its walls; those passing over it can see the river. A major renovation took place in 2005 and 2006. It continues to be inspected annually and repaired as needed.
The old bridge is considered both a Miami County and American treasure. In 1975, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places (#75001492). In 2007—in honor of the Bicentennial of Miami County—an Ohio Historical Society historical marker was placed at the site. (The Ohio Historical Society is now the Ohio History Connection.) The marker was funded by the Miami County Milestones Committee (a Miami County Bicentennial committee), the Troy Foundation, the Miami County Foundation and the Ohio Historical Society. Although the marker stands on the western side of the bridge in Concord Township, Staunton Township trustees were responsible for its placement and they dedicated the marker in September 2007.
It should also be noted that the bridge was featured conference brochures for two National Covered Bridge Conferences.
For further information about the Eldean Bridge, contact The Troy Historical Society at (937) 339-5900 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Research materials regarding the bridge can also be found at the Troy-Miami County Public Library Local History Library, 100 West Main Street in Troy.