An Old Friend, Spanning Generations

January 31, 1993|By WAYNE HARDIN

JERICHO COVERED BRIDGE — Harry Sanders walks through the trees down a sloping Gunpowder State Park trail on the Baltimore County side of the Little Gunpowder Falls. He emerges onto a flat area that juts into the stream.

"There it is," says Mr. Sanders, 52, a Harford County teacher, part-time real estate agent and preservation volunteer. "This puts you at the right place to step back in time."

He's talking about the Jericho Covered Bridge, circa 1865, an 88-foot-long wooden span with a cedar shake roof. It's one of only six covered bridges remaining in Maryland, state officials say.

The view is stunningly pastoral, from there and all around.

The Little Gunpowder runs clear in the shallows and swirls foamy white over gray-brown rocks, nudging a strip of green grass along the winding banks. A 30-foot leafless tree grows horizontally from the Harford County bank. Even a broken side panel of the bridge makes an artistic statement, opening the way for a glimmering ray of sunlight into the darkness of the timber deck.

"It's a special thing that people still can see something like this," Mr. Sanders says.

The bridge is only one lane wide but used by two-way traffic. It's 12 feet 4 inches high, tall enough to allow school buses and firetrucks to cross it. Before it was built, travelers had to ford the Little Gunpowder.

The brown-painted bridge, with 30-inch steel reinforcing girders hidden underneath, carries Jericho Road over the Little Gunpowder, connecting Harford and Baltimore counties. Although Mr. Sanders takes a visitor there by trail, most people reach the bridge by Jericho Road, which starts at Jerusalem Road in Harford County and is barely a mile long. It roams a quarter-mile between pastures to the bridge, and crosses the bridge on a roadway that is only 14 feet and 7 inches wide. It then swings left along the Little Gunpowder past Greenhouse Lane, the only intersecting street. It follows the curvature of the stream until the roller-coaster road ends in Franklinville in front of Belko Corp., which makes custom rubber products. In some sections, only a guard rail separates road from rocks and stream.

The swift-running water made Jericho Road a mile for mills. At Jerusalem and Jericho roads, the old village of Jerusalem includes the still-standing five-story 1772 Jerusalem Mill, which is to be rebuilt as headquarters for Gunpowder State Park.

"The mill and village and the bridge all are on the National Register of Historic Places," says Mr. Sanders, president of the Friends of Jerusalem Mill, a citizens group that has led the mill-restoration effort.

Jericho Mill, destroyed in an 1892 flood, stood in the Little Gunpowder stream along the midpoint of Jericho Road. At that time, there was a town called Jericho. A third mill, Lower Jericho Mill, was in Franklinville at the end of the road.

People along Jericho Road can't talk about their community without getting around to the covered bridge. It defines them, gives them something to be proud of. It even confined them once. When the bridge was closed from December 1980 to July 1983 for renovation, area residents were forced to take a long detour.

"I love that covered bridge," says Sandy Josenhans, 28, turning off Jericho Road and heading home up Greenhouse Lane with Laddie, a 5-month-old collie, still wet from his romp in the water at the bridge.

Residents speak of the bridge, owned by Baltimore and Harford counties, as a friend, to be watched over and protected.

"No. 1, it's different," says Shirley Fischer, who runs a florist shop next to her husband Henry's greenhouse business on Greenhouse Lane. "In the spring and fall, it's absolutely beautiful. In the snow, it's . . . magnificent."

As pretty a picture as the Jericho bridge makes, the reason it and other bridges were covered in the 1800s apparently had less to do with aesthetics than protecting timbers from the weather. Today, there are other threats: Every now and then the bridge is marred by vandals or graffiti artists. The problems are swiftly reported to Baltimore County highway officials, who react quickly to fix it, residents say.

"The county takes better care of the bridge than it used to before the bridge was restored," says Edward McBride, who lives with his wife, Marie, on Jericho Farm, at Jericho Road and Greenhouse Lane.

The bridge brings photographers, artists, scenery lovers and the just-plain curious to the area, but even the seasonal onslaughts do not seem to upset the residents.

"We find it quite flattering," says R. Hugh Gifford, 72, who lives in Jubilee, a 1771 stone home once the dwelling of the Jericho Mill millers. "We're very proud of that bridge. It's survived a long time."

GOING OVER THE CREEK

Jericho is one of six covered bridges still standing in the state. The others are:

Gilpin's Falls, over Northeast Creek. It's next to Maryland Route 272, near North East in Cecil County.

Fair Hill, over Big Elk Creek. It's on the state's Fair Hill Natural Resource Management Area, north of Route 273 in Cecil County.

Loy's Station, over Owens Creek. It's on Old Frederick Road off U.S. 15, north of Creagerstown in Frederick County. It was closed after an August 1991 fire and will be rebuilt.

Roddy Road, over Owens Creek. It's on Roddy Road off U.S. 15 near Thurmont in Frederick County.

Utica, over Fishing Creek. It's on Utica Road, off U.S. 15, near Utica in Frederick County.

Source: Marcia Miller, administrator of architectural research, Maryland Historical Trust

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