This Scenic Byway tour begins from Marietta Ohio and snakes northeast on SR26 through the Wayne National Forest until it dead ends into SR800 and nearby Woodsfield, the county seat of Monroe County. Driving straight through from one end to the other is about 50 miles and takes a little over 1 hour not counting stops. In 2004 and again in 2005 floods created a lot of damage on the Little Muskingum River. Many of the bridges on the tour were destroyed including much of the signage for the bridges. However, several of the bridges have been restored.
State Route 26 is designated as a Scenic Highway and it is that. Car and Driver magazine rates it one of the "best driving roads in America" meaning, its curvy and fun to drive if you enjoy driving challenging roads. It is 2 lanes the entire trip and most of the road does not allow for passing except for a few places. There are no towns along the route of any size, no gas stations or fast food joints. According to Car and Driver:
"The road stalks the Marietta bottomlands of the Ohio River and plows into the highlands. It stands tougher than Evander Holyfield for the heavyweight title of the universe, but moves faster than Michael Johnson going for the gold in Atlanta.Twisting and turning through Wayne National Forest, then (it)scrambles and roars over steep, forested bluffs into Woodsfield. As the road skirts the banks of the Little Muskingum, canoeists can be glimpsed taking the easy route through the sycamores, box elder and silver maples. Drink up the scenery while you can and let your eye rove from the road. "
Along the way you'll encounter 3 covered bridges that aren't hard to find except for the Knowlton Covered Bridge which is off the road a ways and you'll have to look for signs pointing the way. Another feature you'll certainly enjoy are the several well-preserved Mail Pouch Tobacco barns. This area has quite a few of these barns.
You'll also see many oil wells in fields and along the 2 lane road throughout your trip. Some may actually be pumping, but most will not. The birth of Ohio's petroleum industry began in southeastern Ohio in 1814 near the village of South Olive which is several miles north in Noble County along I-77. At the time there was no real need for oil and the drillers weren't looking for the black goo, but instead were trying to locate brine (salt water) as salt was an important commodity to early settlers. The well was a failure for bring, but the drillers found that the oil could be used in lamps for lighting.
By 1820 oil was being commercially produced in Washington County and sold for lighting and medicinal purposes. The petroleum product "Seneka Oil" was deemed to be an excellent remedy for rheumatism. It wasn't until 1860 when oil prices skyrocketed to $28 a barrel when it was discovered that oil was slippery and made an excellent lubricant in the expanding manufacturing plants across the country.
Going from Marietta northeast, the first bridge is about 15 miles. The is the Hune Bridge (33-84-27). This bridge was built in 1879 by Rolla Merydith of Marietta and crosses the Little Muskingum River. The stone for the bridge abutments and the yellow poplar used to make the trusses were obtained from the nearby Hune family farm. As of this writing, an auto can still cross the bridge. The bridge was constructed with a 12 panel long truss which is basically a series of posts connected with diagonal members very similar to modern day bridge construction techniques.
Over the several years, Washington County, with help of federal government grants, took on a hefty project to restore and preserve its covered bridges.
Hune Bridge is located in Lawrence Township on Township 34 off SR26.
The next bridge you'll come to is the Rinard Bridge (35-84-28) which was originally built in 1871, but was soon destroyed in a flood. A covered bridge was built in 1876 to replace the first bridge. This bridge was also washed away in the floods of 1913. Again it was rebuilt. Another flood in 1938 washed it off its foundation. The bridge was again rebuilt from much of the original timbers that were salvaged after the floods receded. The bridge was again knocked off its foundation in 2004 from flooding. The Rinard Bridge of today is the third structure to be built (re-stored in 2006), but many of the components used date back to the original 1876 bridge. Using the original building materials allows the bridge to retain its Historic Landmark designation.
The Rinard Covered Bridge is located at the intersection of SR26 and CR406.
The Long Covered Bridge or more commonly known as the Knowlton Covered Bridge (35-56-18) was built in 1887 as a multiple-king post truss and arch bridge. The bridge is the 2nd longest covered bridge in the state at 192 feet in length. Of the 3 bridges, this bridge is in the worst condition at present. It is possible to walk across the bridge, but once inside you'll notice that some significant steel reinforcement is required to maintain its structural integrity. The bridge was rehabilitated in 1995 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. The Knowlton Covered Bridge is the hardest to find (but only if you miss the sign on SR26 pointing to a narrow gravel road that winds back to a small park with sheltered picnic tables and swings for the kids.) Even though this bridge is in the worst shape, it is also one of the most scenic locations and well worth the effort to seek it out.