There are many covered bridges in the Midwest, but Michigan has only has a handful of covered bridges that are historic structures or, as in the case of the Ada covered bridge near Grand Rapids on the west side of the state, are designated historic sites.
A covered bridge first spanned the Thornapple River at the site in 1867, after the Michigan legislature authorized the township of Ada to borrow up to $3,000 to build or maintain bridges in the area.
William Holmes built the Ada bridge, using the truss system patented by Josiah Brown of Buffalo, New York, a decade earlier. The Brown Truss system was popular during the 1860s because of its economical use of lumber, and Ada was one of several covered bridges in Michigan originally built using Brown's trusses.
Brown must have taken pride in his work as workers discovered his name on some of the bridge timber during a 1913 renovation and repair.
The wooden bridge originally sat on wooden pilings, so decaying wood required work by 1913 to modify the trusses to a more modern Howe system and replace the timber supports with reinforced concrete. This work may have increased the bridge's stability, but the Thornapple River's tendency to flood still meant that farmers often had to drive wagons weighed down with large stones onto the bridge to hold it in place on its foundation during high water until construction of the Ada dam in 1926.
The wooden bridge remained an important route into Ada, but rerouting the highway, building a new concrete bridge further down the river, and closing the wooden bridge to automobile traffic in 1930 meant the covered bridge became a quaint reminder of earlier days and a quiet shortcut for pedestrians wishing to cross the river.
In 1941, the Kent County Road Commission and Works Progress Administration repaired and renovated the bridge. Workers used wood reclaimed from an old barn purchased by the Road Commission to replace the bridge's rood and replace decayed supports, beams, and other lumber on the bridge.
The bridge earned a spot on the state's register of historic places in 1969 and joined the national register of historic sites in 1970. In 1974, the State of Michigan placed an historic marker at the site.
In 1979, heavy snow caused the wooden bridge's roof to collapse. A drive to replace the roof quickly garnered enough donations to complete the job, but a fire completely destroyed the bridge shortly after that roof replacement.
The community again rallied to preserve its history by collecting more donations and commissioning a replica bridge for the site.
Today, the 125-foot-long wooden pedestrian bridge at Ada spans the Thornapple River, connecting the Village of Ada to a public park. The bridge, maintained by the Kent County Park system, is one of a few publically owned covered bridges in Michigan.
Check out this site for a cool, 360-degree view of Ada's covered bridge, the Thornapple River, and the nearby park.
We also visited another intriguing covered bridge in the Midwest. Read about it here at Is Ohio's Everett Road Covered Bridge Haunted?
© Dominique King 2010 All rights reserved