The Welle Hesse Covered Bridge
You won't find the bridge or even any traces of the bridge abutments today in Sugarloaf Township, following its collapse into Fishing Creek in July, 1981. An attempt was made by the state to prove that an overloaded oil truck from Bloomsburg had damaged the bridge, but a resultant suit was found in favor of the Boyer Oil Company. Facts brought out in the case revealed that the roof had blown partially off at some point and the bridge lay open to the elements before the state made necessary repairs.
Former Benton postmaster, William Mather, remembers Rural Delivery (RD) 2 mail carrier Bruce Crawford previously reporting that something was wrong with the bridge. Bill Mather's examination of the bridge revealed that the South roof line was bowed, and the incident was reported to the state. The state closed the bridge and piled loads of gravel at both ends of the bridge. Bridge neighbor Shirley Lockard remembers walking her bike across the bridge ten minutes before it collapsed. Shirley, husband Frank and son David were riding "around the block," and just after crossing the bridge it collapsed in a huge roar.
Grassmere Park was created from the John Wesley Hess farm, when son and daughter-in-law Joshua and Rachel Hess opened the park in June, 1889, as Hess's Grove. The name Grassmere came later, a takeoff on the French word "mere," meaning lake. The park gained prominence between 1890 and 1915 during the boom years at that end of the county. Budd Hess, now 84, recalls that for a time the B & S Railroad owned what is Grassmere park and the name probably came about during their ownership. The railroad iron stakes still ring the property, except along the creek where high water has left its toll over the years. Later, a Long familiy owned the park, Budd remembers, and eventually the ownership came back to the Hess family. Grassmere Park had Wednesday and Saturday dances in the original 40' by 40' dance hall, which eventually was enlarged and made into a roller skating rink. Later in the building's history, there was a brief flirtation with dances on Wednesday night in the skating rink which attracted, in the writer's opinion, "the wild and the restless from the hills and vales of Northern Columbia County to what had to be an all out stomp." He writes that Carlton Laubach pronounced it a "Hell hole," forbade his children's attendance, and condemned it." Obviously, that pronouncement prompted higher attendance!
The village of Laubach was between Camp Lavigne and the town of Central, on the west side of Fishing Creek, in Sugarloaf Township. The village was originally called Guava, for reasons we don't understand, during the period between September 4, 1882, and March 31, 1906, when the U. S. Postal Service maintained a Guava Post Office, and is still referred to as "Guava" by many people. The name Laubach came from the name of the first postmaster, Andrew Laubach, the grandfather of Dr. Frank Laubach. The stop on the B & S railroad was called "Laubach's Station."
The bridge, built in 1871 by Clinton and Montgomery Cole, was named for Welle Hesse, who owned the farm on the East side of the bridge with his wife Jane. Welle Hesse's daughter, Geraldine, became the wife of George Follmer, and they for many years continued living in the Hesse property. George Follmer was a gentleman farmer, kept a few animals, made a little maple syrup and raised a few crops. He was also a foreman at the ACF plant in Berwick. George's wife, Geraldine, was an original Hess and she is a legend in her own right, beginning teaching of first and second grade at the Sugarloaf school when she was 16 or so and teaching at least 50 years at that location.
Everything from the covered bridge up the creek was
pretty much "Hessville," including Grassmere Park which is
still in Hess hands. For example, the corner stone of the Christ
United Methodist Church calls it the Hess Memorial Church and at one
time all windows in the Church had been donated by a Hess.
Shirley Lockard prizes the piece of wood from the covered bridge given to her by Gertrude Stowe. On the piece of wood, is an old picture of the bridge. David Laubach remembers the bridge simply as the "covered bridge," since "when you grow up in Guava, there is only one of everything." Dick Sutliff and Robert Lewis would sometimes sneak a smoke in the bridge, but David Laubach remembers that many kids used to get off the school bus there and walk the rest of the way home for the same purpose.
Welle Hess Covered Bridge No. S1, Grassmere Park, was designated structure #79003175, National Register of Historic Places.
As a postscript, an Arizona reader asks why there always seemed to be a curve at either end of a covered bridge. She correctly observed that blind spots caused numerous accidents.
Just as a frame of reference, this picture was taken between Laubach, and Grassmere Park, just below the present home of Shirley Lockard.
After the collapse of the bridge, the South entrance to he old George Follmer property was closed.
|Both photos courtesy of Kelly Yost|
|Looking at the North side of the Welle Hesse bridge. At the far end of the bridge, a sharp turn to the right made visibility difficult.|
We'll finish the story with a broad clue as to its present whereabouts when we tell you that two years after it tumbled into Fishing Creek it was reconstructed by Ed Campbell at Ed and Dick's Old Fashioned Ice Cream stand. It is still there, although today the restaurant beside the bridge is known as the Old Heritage House.
Photo courtesy of Ed Campbell
Ed Campbell, a Benton native who lives in Lightstreet, constructed a 16-foot replica of the 112 year old original bridge on the grounds of his Heritage House Family Restaurant on the Orangeville-Lightstreet highway. After the bridge pieces were pulled from the creek by state employees, they were laid out at the Sugarloaf township municipal building like a giant jigsaw. Ed was the high bidder for the remains of the bridge. Two years after the bridge fell into the water, construction of the replica began.
Photo by David Kline