Repairs set to start on Bells Mills covered bridge damaged in hit-and-run

Sep. 29—Repairs could begin next week on the Bells Mills Bridge after it was damaged this month during a hit-and-run.

Vaughn Neill, an engineer with Westmoreland County, said the damage Sept. 21 was limited to entry woodwork and the approach railing. Structural parts of the bridge were not affected.

He is hoping the county will have the lumber and hardware needed to make the repairs next week. Neill said the work is anticipated to take most of the week.

A cost estimate for the damage was not available. The bridge will remain closed until the repairs are complete.

Bells Mills Bridge, the county's last remaining covered bridge, connects South Huntingdon and Sewickley townships on Bells Mills Road. A detour along Route 136, Route 31 and Turkeytown Road is in place.

The red bridge was built in 1850 over Sewickley Creek by architect Daniel McCain. The county completely rebuilt it in 1988, eight years after it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The structure was named for the Bell brothers, who operated a nearby gristmill in the 19th century.

The bridge was damaged in a fire in 2009, and a 6-foot section of siding was replaced. Three years later, a $157,000 maintenance project included pressure washing, a coat of fire retardant paint and a new roof. It was repaired in early 2019 after a hit-and-run ripped off a few pieces of wooden railing and damaged an end post that holds up the roof.

More fire damage was averted in July 2020 after a report of smoke on the bridge prompted firefighters to find hot embers and a softball-sized hole in the decking.

Last year, the span was closed for a few days while crews replaced drains.

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta by email at rsignorini@triblive.com or via Twitter .