Pickle Bridge

There are not a lot of bridges in Richland County that have their own name, but there was once a famous covered bridge between Bellville and Butler that earned itself a noble title in 1913, and then a few years later swapped that moniker out for a new name that was not quite so dignified.

This is the story of Pickle Bridge.

From Bellville to Butler

Today if you want to go from Bellville to Butler you just take State Route 97 and it is a pretty simple jaunt.  Back in the 1800s, however, and for half of the 1900s, the Bellville segment of that highway didn’t exist, and the route to Butler took a different path out of town on Durbin Road.

A half mile out of town—just before Durbin climbs up a wooded hill into the next valley—the Butler road cut north in order to follow along the Clear Fork River, and crossed the river on a beautiful covered bridge.

This bridge was built in 1867, and it stood up in sturdy and valiant service for over 50 years without the benefit of a name.

The covered bridge between Bellville and Butler as seen from afar on Durbin Road.
In olden days the covered bridges served as a community bulletin board. In this view of Bellville’s bridge it is easy to see ads of all sizes posted just inside the entrance where the light was good.

The Trial of Character

Any bridge of that era that survived half a century was made of sturdy timbers because they had to carry teams of oxen hauling serious wagonloads of produce. 

The covered bridge outside Bellville proved to be sturdiest of them all when put to the test during the legendary Flood of 1913.  While all the bridges of the Clear Fork River—large and small, including iron clad railroad bridges—washed out, collapsed, or failed during the mighty torrent, the scenic little covered bridge held its ground.

It was thereafter named The Hero of the Clear Fork.  The title was painted right on its clapboard siding just to make sure anyone crossing the bridge would know of its mythic stature among county landmarks.

Hero of the Clear Fork wearing its title.
Bellville’s covered bridge was known as The Hero of the Clear Fork after it was the only bridge in the area to survive the Flood of 1913. To recognize how remarkable that was, just look at these two bridges, a few miles downstream toward Butler, during the deluge.
Bellville’s landmark bridge spanned the Clear Fork from Durbin Road a half mile outside town. The site is easily found today by the rounded turnout on the south side of the road where through traffic once curved around the bridge lane.

The Second Test

Barely a generation had passed as water under the bridge before The Hero faced a challenge of a different sort that proved to be its downfall.  From 1913-1930 the bridges of Richland County saw a dramatic transformation in the kind of vehicles that rolled across their spans; transitioning from mostly horse-drawn transport to predominantly gas-driven.  Most automobiles weighed considerably less than loaded farm wagons, so the new traffic posed no particular stress to timber frame bridges.

But one day in 1930 the motor vehicle that slammed across The Hero was a truck hauling a load of pickles…apparently very heavy pickles.

The driver was halfway across the span when he heard a great snap of the supporting timbers beneath him.  He gunned the engine in a panic to race up the ever-steepening ramp, hoping to get his front wheels on solid ground, but it was too late.

The catastrophe of that day launched a thousand pickles boating down the Clear Fork, and obliterated the good name of Bellville’s Hero.  When the State put up an iron trestle bridge to resume traffic it was known forevermore as Pickle Bridge.

Though The Hero survived Richland County’s most devastating flood in 1913,
it faltered under the weight of a pickle truck in 1930.

What’s In a Name

In the early 1950s State Route 97 was redirected to become the road we know today—running out of Bellville north of the Clear Fork—eliminating the need for a bridge.  At that time Pickle Bridge was removed…so it has been more than 80 years since The Hero crossed the Clear Fork, and more than 60 years since there has been any bridge there at all.

Ask around Bellville today and you might be surprised how many people still have something to say about a bridge that hasn’t even been in existence during their lifetime. 

No one really wants to stop believing in their Hero.

All that remains to be seen today at the site of Bellville’s Heroic bridge is the south abutment on the banks of the Clear Fork River.
The sandstone blocks that once stood midstream in the Clear Fork to hold up the historic covered bridge can be seen today in Bellville, not far from the bandstand, as elements of an impressive gated wall.

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