June 30, 2016

Mostly sunny

A bridge through time

John Gladden | The Gazette

MEDINA TWP. — Wading in the stream like a water bug, and looking up at the elegant sandstone arch over Nettleton Creek, it’s easy to imagine you’re on a gondola, floating on a Venice canal.

It seems far removed from the world above, where speeding cars on Nettleton Road sail over the stone culvert, fitted together by craftsman with hammers and chisels in an era of horses and wagons.

The arch of the sandstone culvert on Nettleton Road in Medina Township bears the names of the builder — C.J. Reutter — and the county commissioners of the day, as well as the year it was built.. (John Gladden | Gazette)

And there, in one sentence, is the story.

Since at least 1898, the sandstone culvert has carried travelers across this ravine between Granger Road and state Route 18. For half those 111 years, it has been a daily presence in Anne Beckowitz’s life.

It was 1953 when she and her late husband Joe, high school sweethearts from Maple Heights, made the hillside their home. A World War II Navy veteran and a bricklayer, Joe built the house himself from a picture they found in Better Homes and Gardens.

An entire wall of the living room is a bank of floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the wooded ravine, the creek and the sandstone arch. Looking out, you feel like a bird in a tree, sitting in a sturdy, brick nest. They raised five children there.

“I think it’s the best place I ever lived,” said Beckowitz, 85. “And now they want to take it away from me. I shouldn’t say that, but it’s how I feel sometimes.”

Beginning in late summer, the township plans to widen the roadway and replace the sandstone culvert with a structure that’s bigger and more in line with the safety needs that accompany faster and heavier traffic.

“I told the Beckowitzes that it’s really a shame because we would like to save it — and if it had been a just little bit longer, we probably would have,” said Dan Becker of the Medina County Highway Engineer’s Office, which has been assisting the township on the project.

First, a matter of definition. Most people who look at the Nettleton Road arch would call it a bridge, but a bridge has an opening 10 feet or wider, Becker said. This structure clocks in at 9 feet, 3 inches, so technically it’s a culvert — as discourteous a term as that may seem for something so aesthetically pleasing.

Becker said he knows of at least two other similar stone structures in the county — one near Greenwich and Leatherman roads in Wadsworth, and a viaduct in Lodi.

“No one is going to argue it’s a beautiful structure,” he said. “It’s just unfortunate it doesn’t meet our needs today.” Some of the stonework remains so well crafted, you couldn’t wedge a credit card between them, Becker added.

But, the culvert’s narrow width gives virtually no margin for error for traffic, and the depth of the ravine creates a significant dip where the road crosses the creek. On one side of the culvert, a loosely fitted I-beam serves as a makeshift guardrail. Underneath, there are cracks in the stone and patches of white road salt marking where water has migrated through from the

Medina County competes with Lorain and Ashland counties for state Issue 1 funding for highway projects on a needs-based scoring system. The Nettleton Road culvert emerged as a priority in the three-county area. The funding must be used this year.

“When you start putting together the efflorescence (salt) coming through, the cracked stone, the shortness of the structure itself, the closeness of the guardrail … you total all those factors up, that’s why it rated the worst in the county,” Becker said.

Because Beckowitz and others hoped to preserve the sandstone culvert, Becker devised three options for the township — including saving the arch by putting a bridge over it, at an added cost of $500,000.

“One of the questions, philosophically, is the greater-good question,” said township Trustee Mead Wilkins. Public safety and prudent spending of tax dollars have to be factored in, too, he said.

Nettleton Creek wraps around Beckowitz’s two acres like a tail curled around a sleeping dog. Terraces filled with creeping myrtle and pachysandra are layered into the hillsides. The slopes leading down to the creek are rich with flowers, collected over a lifetime and tended by loving hands.

The gardens are accented with old grinding wheels and discarded stones the Beckowitzes salvaged wherever they could find them. Every stone tells a story — none more so than the grand old culvert and its sandstone blocks. The keystone proudly proclaims the construction year, the name of the builder — C.J. Reutter — and the names of the county commissioners of the day.

Beckowitz said her husband, who passed away in 2005, used to stand and look at the stonework. When he built with bricks, he used mortar to hold them together, he would say. The only mortar put into the culvert was the sweat and skill of the craftsman who carefully fitted the blocks together.

“He thought that it was marvelous that there were people who could do that and it would stand so long,” she said. “There wasn’t anything but sheer muscle that put it together.”

Beckowitz said they applied for historic landmark status for the culvert, but were turned down.
If it has to be replaced, she’d like to have some of the stone remain a fixture in her home’s landscape, just as it’s always been.

Wilkins said the township will do its best to see Beckowitz receives the culvert’s keystone. Other sandstone blocks may be placed as reminders in township parks.

Once, in a Wadsworth antique store, Beckowitz found a photograph of the bridge’s dedication. She picked up the picture and shouted: “My bridge!”

A friend who was shopping with her asked how Beckowitz could be so sure.

“I said when you get up every morning and you see it and you have your first cup of coffee with it and God,” she recalled, “I knew it was my bridge.”

Contact John Gladden at gladden@ohio.net.