Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Along the Way: Clay's Covered Bridge

Clay's Covered Bridge, Little Buffalo State Park
One of the nicest - and often overlooked - parks in our system of state parks, has to be Little Buffalo State Park. I admit I have failed to stop and visit it in the past. A number of times I had driven by the entrance to the park, but due to one reason or another failed to stop.

Little Buffalo State Park takes its name from Little Buffalo Creek, which flows through the boundaries of the park. Exactly why it was called Little Buffalo Creek is not known, though tradition claims it was named after the buffalo that once lived here.

David Watts built a charcoal furnace here in 1808 and the area became known as the Juniata Iron Works. In 1811 John Koch opened the Blue Ball Tavern which he operated until 1841. Around 1865 a farmhouse was built on the foundation of the tavern and that building still stands in the park today.

Also within the borders of the park is Shoaff’s Mill. The mill was built in the early 1840s and was purchased by William Shoaff in 1849 and remained in the family until it closed in 1940. The area became known as Shoaff’s Mill and was made up of eleven tenement homes, a blacksmith shop, a carpenter’s shop, and of course, the gristmill. An interesting side note: In researching this entry, I found that William was drafted to serve in the Civil War, but was exempted from serving. The reasoning was his mill produced flour that was used by Union troops.

When the park opened in 1972, the main feature was Holman Lake, which was created by the damming of Little Buffalo Creek. The lake still brings many to the park to boat or fish.

My first visit to Little Buffalo State Park with Zech did not include any of these. Instead, we were searching out and photographing Perry County’s covered bridges. One of these bridges currently resides within the borders of the park.

Parking near the base of the dam I was thankful I did not have to hike up the steps on such a humid day. Instead, we turned our attention to a well marked path and enjoyed the shade for our very short walk to our destination.

Clay's Covered Bridge
A couple hundred yards away stood Clay’s Covered Bridge. Also known as Wahneta Covered Bridge the spot where the bridge originally stood was roughly a mile west of its current location and currently under the waters of Holman Lake. It was originally built in 1890 by George Harting and in the 1970s was moved to its current location in the park. It is roughly eighty-one feet in length, has a single span, and is a Burr Truss design. The bridge collapsed in January 1994 due to heavy snows, was rebuilt and reopened in 1997.

The bridge spans a mostly dry Little Buffalo Creek (the portion that comes from the dam rather than from the spillway) and is open to pedestrians only. The location of the bridge allowed us plenty of time to set up in different locations around the bridge. We did have to wait out a handful of walkers, but for the most part, Zech and I had the place to ourselves.

The only thing I have to warn about if you venture out to visit Clay’s Covered Bridge is when I entered the coordinates for the bridge into my GPS, my unit wanted to take me down a gated off road. The road to turn onto is Boat Launch Road – follow it a short distance to the parking area at the base of the dam. The bridge is a very short walk from the entrance into the parking area.

Clay's Covered Bridge
Over a mostly dry
Little Buffalo Creek
A side note: I was asked about the identification and how to identify the designs, but to be honest, I’m not one hundred percent on my covered bridge identification yet – a good source is the book “Pennsylvania’s Covered Bridges: A Guide” which identifies the bridges and what type they are. The guide, though it calls itself complete, does not include modern covered bridges

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