WASHINGTON COUNTY, Kentucky — After a 150-year-old bridge was destroyed in a fire last month, a reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible.
Built in 1871, the Mt. Zion covered bridge ran across Beech Fork in Washington County. It was the longest multi-span covered bridge in Kentucky.
"People got married here," Washington County Judge Executive Timothy Graves said People proposed to their wife or husband here. One guy told me one of the last things his grandfather did was drive him through this bridge on a horse."
Graves said he received a call shortly before midnight on March 9 that the historic bridge was on fire.
"When the phone rings at midnight, it's never a good thing," he said. "When I came down that hill over there, I could see the bridge was fully engulfed. My heart just dropped. I almost got sick to my stomach knowing it was gone."
The fire remains under investigation by the state fire investigator, but right now authorities suspect arson.
"There were no storms that night. There was no electricity in the bridge. There wasn't a campfire. The thing burned up from one end to the other all of the sudden. It wasn't like it was an accident that happened," Graves said. "I have so much trouble getting my hands around how do you wake up that morning and say, 'I'm going to burn a bridge down.' I can't fathom why anybody would want to do that."
Now, the Chamber of Commerce is accepting donations which will go to a reward fund, according to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. According to Graves, the fiscal court was not able to set up the reward because it is tax-based, so the reward fund had to go through the chamber, which is a non-profit.
Those who wish to donate may deposit funds at Springfield State Bank to the Chamber of Commerce Mt. Zion Covered Bridge Reward Fund. They can also call 859-336-3939 for information on how to wire money to the fund.
"I opened the account up yesterday and I took my personal money and put the first dollars in - came out of my pocket," Graves said. "That's how sentimental I am about this."
The reward will be given to someone with information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the fire. Graves said the sheriff's office will make the decision about what information qualifies for the reward.
Graves said the reward fund does have an exit plan. If no one claims the reward in five years, the money will be split between two local charities, Washington County Community Action and Washington County Salvation Army.
No dollar amount has been set for the reward.
Anyone with information in the case is asked to call the Washington County Sheriff’s Office at 859-3365400 or Kentucky State Police at 502-782-1800.