Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Gilpin Falls Covered Bridge Preservation Effort Honored

Over 115 members of the Historical Society of Cecil County were on hand Monday evening when the Society presented its first ever preservation award to the Gilpin Falls Covered Bridge Committee. The recognition, given at the organization’s spring meeting at the Wellwood Club in Charlestown, was presented to Earl Simmers, a representative of the committee, who was the evening’s speaker. The purpose of the Ernest A. Howard Award is to recognize an individual or group who has made a significant contribution to the preservation of the county’s historic resources and has faced huge challenges in trying to protect the built environment or save a scarce resource.

As the number of covered bridges in the nation dwindles each year, the 19th-century wooden structures falling victim to flood, fire, and neglect, this local grassroots group has been busy leading an effort to preserve Cecil’s own span, which is threatened by time, inattention, and decay. With only a handful remaining in Maryland, the committee has persistently worked to save this most threatened of county resources for it is an irreplaceable reminder of another century and time.

Despite the many risks faced by this relic, the tireless committee has not given up on the structure owned by Cecil County Government. Built in 1860, it was of vital economic importance until the early 1930s when the structure was closed to vehicular traffic. Today the bridge is a highly visible tourist attraction on one of the area’s main highways for visitors. In trying to help it survive for future generations, the committee does its work through advocacy with local government and the community, by applying for grants to help underwrite preservation cost, and by raising money any way they can, which ranges from selling postcards and T-shirts to soliciting private and corporate donations. The committee asks everyone to help them save the bridge. Donations should be made payable to the Historical Society of Cecil County, Gilpin Falls Covered Bridge, and should be sent to 135 E. Main St. Elkton, MD 21921 or to W. Earl Simmers, 99 Simmers Rd. Rising Sun, MD 21911. For additional information on how you can help, call Simmers at 410-658-6220.

The award is named after Ernest A. Howard a man who was especially instrumental in helping to build the strong Historical Society of nearly 1,000 members, which serves the county today. Born in Childs in 1885, this benefactor of the organization was deeply involved in the successful revival of the nonprofit in the 1950s and served it as historian and editor of the newsletter. He worked tirelessly to preserve local heritage and was active in the restoration of several old churches and others buildings. In 1955 he was a central figure in the establishment of a modern headquarters for the Cecil County library, and he donated a wing to the library in part to provide a home for the Historical Society. Howard passed away in 1973.

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