Switzer Covered Bridge Day, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, wraps up our 2013 season of community fall festivals that began in August with Swallowfield Days. The event gets its name from Franklin County’s last standing covered bridge, even though the current structure that spans the Elkhorn Creek has little in common with its predecessor other than location.
Jay Stratton is president of the Switzer Ruritan Club and pastor of the North Fork Baptist Church.
“It’s a collaborative effort,” said Stratton, “with folks from the club, the church and the community working together to make it happen. We feel it’s an important event for the community to come together to highlight our little town.”
Like the other satellite communities around — Bridgeport, Choateville, Peaks Mill, Bald Knob, Swallowfield and Millville — most reached their zenith decades ago and are now pretty much places for those who are retired or want to live out in the country while working elsewhere.
They lost their community schools to consolidation and few, if any, still have grocery stores, most having closed because there was no one around to shop during the day and few stopped on the way home. Most still have a church or two, members with deep roots in the area.
The infrastructure may be shaky, but the spirit of community and days gone by live on. And events like Switzer Covered Bridge Day are annual testimony.
“Our festival is the primary fundraiser for the club,” said Stratton, now in his 12th year at the church — and thus celebrating his 12th Covered Bridge Day. “Funds from the raffle of the handmade quilt go entirely to fund our Buddy Lewis Memorial Scholarship.”
The club gives a $1,000 scholarship each year in memory of the late Lewis, a longtime Switzer resident and member of the Ruritan Club. It goes to a graduating senior from Franklin County High School.
“To me this is the main thing the festival does,” said Stratton of funding the scholarship. “I served on the selection committee this year with Susan Sparrow and Brad Gregory. We reviewed a lot of very impressive applications that made me feel good about the future of our world.”
Like most service clubs, Switzer Ruritan is looking for members and purpose in the community. Stratton said until someone comes up with a better format they’ll continue to go with what works at Bridge Day — the quilt raffle, sale of fish sandwiches and other food, entertainment, arts and crafts and, or course, the bridge.
It was the bridge, in fact, that was the impetus for day that began in the 1990s when an effort was afoot to restore the decaying original bridge that had fallen into disrepair though vandalism and neglect.
At that time money was raised with donor’s names inscribed on a monument that stands near the bridge. The state helped with grants. Things were looking good — until the devastating flood of 1997 that swept the structure from its foundation, depositing it in a tangled pile downstream on the banks of the creek.
What you see today is only the “memory” of what was there, actually a replica of the bridge completely reconstructed on the foundation.
“The bridge is what brings us together,” Stratton said, “it’s our connection to our heritage here.” It will be open Saturday for tours while the festival itself will be held at the Ruritan clubhouse on the hill overlooking the creek and bridge.
“We tried for years to hold it in the field by the creek, but we’d end up in mud so it was decided to move it to higher ground.”
Stratton said the festival, like all the community festivals, draws folks with ties to the community, something after the fashion of a homecoming.
“We hope those with roots in Switzer will come out,” he said, “and we hope lots of others will join us for what we hope is great day.”