Covered bridge in Chartiers Valley tops wish list
By John Oyler
Published: Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
I wrote last week about a wonderful weekend we spent in Indiana and Ohio, enjoying a train ride, a canal boat ride, a visit to an operating grist mill and three covered bridges.
Thinking about it this week has me wishing all these things were available to us here in southwestern Pennsylvania.
I probably shouldn't complain about covered bridges; after all there are more, nearly 200, in Pennsylvania than in any other state, including 23 in nearby Washington County. Nonetheless, after seeing a brand new one in Ohio, it is easy to wish we could find a way to build a new one somewhere in Allegheny County, perhaps in one of our parks.
The bridge we saw in Hueston Woods State Park is the sixth new covered bridge built in Ohio since 1983, all designed by engineer John Smolen. The other five are in Ashtabula County, in the northeastern corner of Ohio. The state has determined that a new covered timber bridge is cost-effective, compared with conventional modern bridges.
I wish someone in the Chartiers Valley would consider a covered bridge the next time one of our existing bridges must be replaced.
How about a joint project by Upper St. Clair and South Fayette to carry Boyce Road over Chartiers Creek with a covered bridge? That would certainly appeal to me.
Trains are a different story. Our closest historic railroad is the Oil Creek and Titusville Railroad, which runs trains from Oil City to Titusville through the lovely Oil Creek Valley in the summer. A ride on it is well worth the drive north to Crawford County.
A few years ago, the Pittsburgh and Ohio Central Railroad ran a tourist train from Carnegie to Arden, just beyond the Trolley Museum. We still regret missing that opportunity and wonder if there is any way it could be repeated. Better yet, wouldn't it be nice if they could establish a regular business running trains on this route for the benefit of tourists?
The historic railroad that we rode in Indiana is operated entirely by a not-for-profit organization with volunteers doing all the necessary work, from operating the trains to maintaining the tracks. The Pittsburgh and Ohio Central is a different situation — they own rolling stock and maintain 48 miles of track. One wonders how much revenue a tourist train would have to generate to make it worth their while.
I suppose it would take a joint effort of the Pennsylvania (Arden) Trolley Museum and the historical societies in Carnegie, Bridgeville, Canonsburg, and Washington to convert such a dream into a reality. I think the trip up the Chartiers Valley from Carnegie to Arden and back would be quite attractive to people in Allegheny County as well as to rail fans from all over the country.
The canal is a different problem. To provide a worthwhile ride requires at least a mile of working canal. This might be possible somewhere around Conneaut Lake where there still are significant remnants of the old French Creek Feeder Canal. That is an area that already thrives on tourist trade in the summer; a canal historic site would be a real bonus.
When the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal was built, in the 1830s, the Western Division followed the Kiskiminetas River to the Allegheny at Freeport, then came down the north side of the Allegheny before crossing the river on an aqueduct at about Eleventh Street, close to the location of the current railroad bridge. There certainly isn't any real estate available downtown or on the North Shore, but suppose we went upstream as far as Freeport.
Better yet, let's go up the Kiskiminetas to Saltsburg. They already have a Canal Park and put on a canal festival every summer. The Canal Museum that we visited in Metamora is run by the State of Indiana. If they can afford to sponsor a historic site, why can't Pennsylvania? I'd be happy to drive to Saltsburg for the opportunity to ride for a mile or so in a canal boat pulled by mules.
The grist mill in Metamora is also part of a state park, as is McConnells Mill, the one closest to us. McConnells Mill is operated during the summer; seeing it in operation easily justifies the short trip there. The mill itself, the recently reconstructed covered bridge there, and the marvelous natural features of the park are certainly a major asset to this area.
I suppose it is foolish for me to wish for things like these, but the fact they have been accomplished elsewhere suggests that they are possible.
John Oyler is a columnist for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-343-1652 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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