By Edward Master
I wasn't living at home in Turkey City (TC) when a girl fell from the Grass Flats (GF) bridge and perished. I wasn't in TC when the bridge at GF was torn down. I think the piers were destroyed with dynamite. The end of the bridge scene was the end of an era (of swimming and relaxing).
I was exposed to the Grass Flats bridge when I was a youngster, probably younger than 12. For whatever reason, my dad took us for a scenic ride one evening for which we ended up crossing the Grass Flats bridge from the south-end/West Freedom side. The road was very rocky rut filled. I know I didn't care much that the bridge deck was wooden planks.
I've driven down both roads on the north end to Grass Flats, from East Foxburg (near the railroad tracks) and from St. Petersburg (from a location that was once a train station I think), and on both roads I drove extremely slow--ruts and rocks.
I digress, but one road that was just as bad/rocky as the ones to Grass Flats was the one to Millcreek a boating put-in/rec area on the Clarion River, just east of county seat Clarion. In college (at CUP), Millcreek was a popular destination for a little R-and-R from classes.
I know I wasn't driving yet when steel/iron barriers were welded onto each bridge end to keep off traffic.
And, after all these years, I'm still clueless why some idiots wanted to burn the planks on the bridge. A person could barely get to the south end of the bridge. Notice, no plank was ever set on fire on the West Freedom side. Why?
I never took note of any oddities on the western route from East Foxburg. Not so though from St. Pete. First, maybe halfway down the road an 'energetic youth' named Tom Leavy (from Turkey City) carved his name into a tree on the west side of the road back in the early 1950s. I know not if I was told (by Tom himself) of his handiwork or if I lucked upon his name; maybe from Tom himself as I had him for 8th grade history and saw him sporadically in the years he taught at Clarion University.
The second oddity involved lush, green vegetattion. I explained this to my father and he replied it was drainage from a mine. Unknown to me, St. Pete sat on long-abandoned coal mines. Sewage systems often would empty directly into long-abandoned mine shafts in the mine. Later St. Pete residents had to set up a new sewer system due to a state directive.
Regardless, the Grass Flat bridge (deck) and its swimming hole were local attractions. Coolers stuffed with refreshments on ice took up many a bridge-deck spot on a sunny afternoon. I was told that the ramp to the bridge often (at nighttime) served as a convenient spot to watch the 'submarine races' up and down the Clarion River... I repeat, I was told. I'm guessing those were the same submarines that raced at times at Millcreek on the Clarion.
A trapeze (basically a cable with an attached metal handle) was strategically suspended from the bridge deck on the west end. It was nothing special to watch someone swing out from a long, sloping rock into the river and maneuver into a dive (mostly just jump into the water). I recall one summer day looking upward to see someone jump from the bridge deck into the river. I never had neither the desire nor the will/skill to dive from the suspended cable nor jump from the bridge, thank goodness.
The only thing I ever did that required a complete lack of intelligence was when the Piney Dam on the river just south of Clarion released water in the afternoon and subsequently raised the river level and speed of flowing water in the river. I would grab the cable, let the river take my feet down stream, release from the cable, and drop. Fortunately, I was a strong enough swimmer to swim back to near the pier and climb out from the rapidly rushing water.
Once, when the dam was out, a caravan of rafters floated down river in huge inner tubes (from trucks?) to the mouth of the Clarion River where it met the Allegheny River. I suppose I would have the made the trip if the opportunity arouse.
I canoed down the Allegheny River several times over the years past, not so, however, with the Clarion River. But, one trip down the Clarion River included putting in near Elk City and floating/paddling to the Grass Flats to exit. That indeed was an experience, especially around low water near Callensburg. On just that one voyage down the Clarion I saw scenic views that I will never witness again in my lifetime. I can't recall seeing where the 'turnip hole' (a swirling eddy) in the Clarion River was that in turn gave its name to the village of Turnip Hole near Callensburg.
I can't remember if I ever met another vehicle going up or down on the roads to Grass Flats. Both sides for approach/departure were definitely one-laners.
Getting to and from the river was not a bicycle excursion. The trip was definitely a combo of walking and hitch-hiking. If we were very lucky, we got a ride to the river; getting back often coincided with a shift change at the Quaker State refinery in Emlenton. Getting a ride with Jack Klingler often depended on whether Jack had to work overtime at the refinery's barrel house. But, we managed until we were old enough to drive.
I think the local pools in Emlenton and Parker must have accepted the overflow from the water seekers. I have no idea where the swimmers go today; my one sister took her offspring to Clarion U. for swim class lessons at Tippin Natatorium.