The Cataract Covered Bridge is one of Owen County's historic treasures. It is the only remaining covered bridge in the county. It is also only one of six Smith Truss covered bridges in the state, and one of the finest remaining examples of this truss.
The Covered Bridge Story
Covered bridges have been built around the world for centuries. With America's rapid expansion and abundant timber supply, covered bridges were built at an unsurpassed rate. Covering a bridge protects the wooden trusses from rotting. Without a roof, a bridge might last only four years.
The first known covered bridge in Indiana was in Henry County in 1834. By the 1880s Indiana had between 400-500 covered bridges.
In 1876, the community of Cataract includes mills and shops. The bridge linked Cataract with residents on the other side of Mill Creek.
The Smith Truss
The late 1800s represented a time when manufacturing was moving from individually made items to mass production. The Smith Bridge Company introduced new techniques for covered bridge construction to compete with iron bridges that appeared after the Civil War. Rather than build covered bridges from scratch on site, Ohio Native Robert W. Smith built the Smith Truss in the company's factory in Toledo, disassembled it and shipped it out for reassembly.
Weathering a Torrent
In 1875, a flood destroyed the first covered bridge at Cataract and more than a dozen bridges in Owen County. One of the few bridges to survive the flood was the covered bridge at Gosport. The Gosport Covered Bridge used a Smith Truss.
One month later, when Owen County let bids for a replacement bridge, their advertisement requested a Smith Truss. The current bridge with its Smith Truss was completed in 1876.
Restoration of the Cataract Covered Bridge
Extensive rehabilitation has been conducted to preserve the bridge. Restoration included:
Funding for the project came from the Indiana Department of Transportation through Federal Highway Transportation Enhancement Funds.
Bridge Vital Statistics:
- rebuilding the wingwalls
- repairing abutment
- replacing and repairing truss timbers and lateral braces
- redoing trim, siding and historical details
- Built: 1876
- Length of Wood Structure: 148 feet
- Cost to Building: Abutments, $1678.84; Bridge, $2009.00
- Materials Used: Limestone and non-native white pine
- Biggest Timbers: 33 ½ feet long
- Weight of cut stones: 4000 pounds each
- Closed to vehicular traffic: 1988