On Dec. 4, 2003, a dedication of the covered bridge at the Lake County Fairgrounds occurred. It was its 125th anniversary.
Built over the Little Flat Rock River in 1878 near Milroy in Rush County, Ind., the bridge was in use until a new highway displaced the bridge. Through the preservation efforts of Harold Wheeler's father John, the Shelbourne, or Milroy as it was named, was dismantled and brought to its present site to grace the Lake County Fairgrounds for the last 80 years.
It has witnessed the changes from horses to automobiles and still serves today as a reminder of a bygone era, a childhood memory of most of us who grew up in Lake County.
The bridge was the work of Archibald M. Kennedy and his son Emmett. Archibald came to Indiana in 1828 and began building small bridges in 1853.
1870, the year he began building covered bridges, was also the year Kennedy was elected a state representative. He was elected again in 1876. In 1886, he was elected senator from Rush and Hancock counties.
The construction of the bridge is a Kennedy trait. His bridges were built of Michigan white pine and oak timbers that were prepared for framing with bolt holes bored before being brought to the site, the beginnings of prefabrication. The inside Burr arch was used by Kennedy to allow maximum length in the bridge span without supports underneath.
A bridge built by Kennedy and Sons in 1891 cost $5,000 and took 15 to 25 men to construct. By this time, the company was the Kennedy Brothers.
Of the 18 bridges built in Rush County, as of 1988 only seven remain in use. The covered bridges have survived as long as they have because of their basic purpose; the cover protects the wood structure of the bridge. Although weather is not a major hazard, fire is a destructive element of covered bridges, destroying two in the past two years, the work of vandals.
We owe a debt of gratitude first of all to John Wheeler for his foresight in historic preservation, to Fairgrounds Superintendent Jeff Popka and to Donna Martin for their interest in and work done on the restoration, and to Gerry Scheub and the Lake County Board of Commissioners for their support of historic preservation through the painting and reroofing of this beautiful bridge.
Preserving our history is a cooperative effort. It is because of that spirit of cooperation that we can look with pride upon this most important historic bridge, which has found a permanent home in the equally historic fairgrounds, a fairgrounds park unique to Indiana. Indeed, it is a Lake County treasure for all of us to enjoy.