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Bells Mills Bridge to close until end of September during maintenance

| Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Bells Mills Bridge, the only covered bridge in Westmoreland County, will be painted a slightly different shade of red within the next few weeks.

The 162-year-old span is undergoing a $157,000 maintenance project, county engineer Henry Fitz said.

“I think it's going to look pretty sharp when we're done,” he said.

The wooden bridge that straddles Sewickley Creek between Sewickley and South Huntingdon townships has undergone a pressure washing and litter sweep in preparation for the fire-retardant paint, Fitz said.

A slate-gray metal roof will replace the shingles, he said.

The road — Route 3012 in Sewickley and State Route 3061 in South Huntingdon, locally known as Bells Mills Road — has been closed since July 30.

Drivers should expect the project to last until the end of September and use the posted detour through Yukon and along the creek before returning to Route 136, Fitz said.

Work was delayed a week while crews waited for the paint to arrive, he said.

This is the first major maintenance to the bridge since 1988, when the enclosure was entirely removed, Fitz said.

Back then, timbers were replaced on the decking of the bridge and it was repainted before the structure was returned to the bridge, he said.

Aside from restoration of a 6-foot section of siding that was replaced in 2009 after it was damaged in a fire, only routine maintenance has been performed on the 106-foot-long structure, Fitz said.

“The bridge was in dire need of a cleaning from all the salt on vehicles in the winter,” he said.

Named for the Bell brothers who operated a gristmill in the 19th century, the bridge was built in 1850 by architect Daniel McCain in a burr arch truss design.

It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

“It's certainly a unique landmark for the county, and I applaud the county for taking it over and preserving it,” said Joanna Moyar, education coordinator for the Westmoreland Historical Society.

“It could have easily gone by the wayside like other covered bridges,” she said.

Pennsylvania has 208 covered bridges, including 23 in Washington County and seven in Greene counties. Ten bridge sites in those counties will be featured during the annual Covered Bridge Festival Sept. 15 and 16.

Fitz said covered bridges were built to protect the wooden structure from the weather and may have served to calm horses that would have otherwise been spooked by moving waters below.

Bells Mills Bridge has a four-ton weight limit and six-foot, six-inch height restriction, he said.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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