Smolen Gulf

Smolen Gulf covered bridge spans Ashtabula and Plymouth townships. It is the nation's longest covered bridge. Photo by Carl E. Feather/Feather Cottage Media.
Smolen Gulf covered bridge spans Ashtabula and Plymouth townships. It is the nation’s longest covered bridge. Photo by Carl E. Feather/Feather Cottage Media.
Location:

State Road, between Ashtabula and Plymouth townships. From Route 11, take the Route 84 (South Ridge) exit at Ashtabula. Head west on South Ridge to three-way stop (State Road). Turn left to bridge.
Construction Date: Dedicated and opened 2008

Style:

Pratt truss, four spans

Length:

613 feet

Narrative: For a complete description of the construction of this bridge, please see “The Covered Bridges of Ashtabula County” by Carl E. Feather (The History Press, 2014), and video by the same.

As John Smolen researched replacing an old steel bridge on the steep, winding State Road in Ashtabula and Plymouth townships, he discovered that the route’s traffic count would qualify a new bridge project for federal assistance. He drew up plans, went after the money, and after six years on the drawing board, construction of the bridge started under Smolen’s successor, Tim Martin, in the summer of 2006.
Insert image 062 ”I knew it would be a landmark for the county,” Smolen says. “It was a deep valley and (the bridge) would have to be high up and a longer span. You start getting into it being the longest covered bridge in the United States.”
The 613-foot Pratt Truss bridge over the Ashtabula River on State Road is the longest in the United States. It dethrones the Cornish-Windsor Bridge over the Connecticut River between Cornish, N.H., and Windsor, Vt. That bridge is 449.5 feet long. Purists, of course, will argue the point that the Smolen-Gulf Bridge is a modern structure built with modern techniques and equipment.
Designed for modern truck traffic, Smolen-Gulf could, in theory, hold 16 loaded semi-tractors lined up end to end on both sides and not wince. Smolen says the fact that this bridge is on a busy highway – traffic count was about 2,500 vehicles every 24 hours – was key to obtaining funding. The project qualified for $5 million in federal bridge grants. The Ohio Public Works Commission kicked in $800,000, and the county’s share of motor vehicle gas tax footed the balance of the $8 million price tag.

Finding someone to build the project was almost as challenging as assembling the funding.
”No one has ever done this and the odds of somebody building another one is pretty slim,” observed Ryan Cochran, an owner of Union Industrial Contractors (UIC) of Ashtabula. “It is a very non-typical structure compared to just about any bridge we’ve ever built, and we’ve done some complicated projects,” Cochran said in a 2008 interview.
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