This article appeared in the March 2002 issue of American Motorcyclist.
By Bill Kresnak
Parke County, Ind., is famed for its covered bridges so I thought I’d head out on my trusty Suzuki SV and find a few.
I’m headed toward Mansfield, because I know there's a spectacular covered bridge there: a 247-foot structure that sits near a dam and a mill with a water wheel.
This bridge was built by Joseph J. Daniels, one of the most prolific bridge builders in Indiana. It’s estimated that he built about 50 bridges in this part of the state, 20 in Parke County alone, in a career that stretched from 1850 into the start of the 20th century. The Mansfield bridge was built in 1867.
This bridge didn’t hold up well over time, requiring major rebuilding several times. As a result, the Mansfield bridge is in pretty good condition, with some new wood replacing the aging timbers and weathered boards.
New wood or old, though, it’s difficult to comprehend the loads these bridges could carry. The road bridges, like this one, had to support wagonloads of hay back then, and pickup trucks full of cargo in more recent years. But Daniels also built a number of covered bridges for the railroads during his career. At the time, steam locomotives could weigh as much as 20 tons. And before these bridges were replaced, they handled locomotives weighing 60 tons. All on aging wooden beams. Amazing.
Nearby is the perfect place to spend a few moments contemplating all that. It’s the old Mansfield town jail, now converted into an ice cream shop.
I have a map that pinpoints the area covered bridges so I consult it, and find that there’s another J.J. Daniels original not too far away in the little town of Mecca. All it requires is that I jump from the Black route to the Red route. Yeah, I can do that.
The Suzuki and I pull into Mecca, population 331, to discover that the 150-foot-long covered bridge here sits next to a one-room schoolhouse, offering two views of life a long time ago.
The bridge, built in 1873, is now closed to traffic. But it’s still a central part of Mecca life, serving as a kind of town hall for a variety of community activities, including Easter sunrise services and Christmas caroling.
The schoolhouse next door was built in 1874, and the interior is furnished in turn-of-the-century style, with wooden desks aligned in neat rows, bonnets hanging on hooks by the front door, and a portrait of George Washington above the chalkboard.
By the time I leave Mecca, the afternoon is getting along, so I aim the Suzuki vaguely toward Rockville. Cruising the countryside, I end up near the town of Dana, then spot another relic of the past: a rare round barn set back from the road. As I approach, a rider on a Harley-Davidson pulls into the driveway and heads toward the house. I follow.
It turns out that motorcyclist Roger Hazelwood owns the farm. He says the three-story barn was built in 1916 from a Dutch design, and he invites me inside to take a look.
The rumor I’d heard was that round barns became fashionable with some religious groups because they allegedly had no corners where the devil could hide. But Roger tells me they were built this way because it’s more efficient than a square for feeding animals or milking cows.
Either way, it’s an interesting alternative to the barns we’re used to.
It’s dusk when I climb back aboard the Suzuki and check my map again. There’s one more bridge I can catch on the way back to Rockville. And best of all, it’s got a reputation for being haunted.
The Sim Smith bridge, near the town of Montezuma, is yet another of Mr. Daniels’ monuments, but at a mere 84 feet long, it’s hardly one of the most impressive. According to locals, though, it may be his most interesting.
Many years ago, they say, a man and his niece were returning home in their horse-drawn wagon from Rockville when they had an unexplainable encounter. As they approached the bridge, they clearly heard the “clip-clop, clip-clop” of a horse’s hooves echoing in the wooden structure.
They waited to let the oncoming vehicle pass through the bridge. And waited. And waited.
The ghost buggy never emerged.
Since then, there have been a number of reports of supernatural occurrences at the Sim Smith bridge, including sightings of a phantom native American woman.
I hang around until it’s fully dark, but no spirits appear.
I can hardly complain, though. Thanks to the bridges of Parke County, my entire day has been filled with ghosts of the past.