KEENE TOWNSHIP — For one resident, it was the memories she had of her father that brought her to tears when seeing the blackened, charcoaled wood resting in the Flat River.
On Monday, Wendy Agostini of Lowell had to see for herself what was left of Whites Bridge after an arson left it collapsed on Sunday.
“It hurts my heart,” she said, grabbing her heart while tears came to her eyes. “This hurts so bad.”
Agostini said when she was a child, her father would bring her to the bridge and talk about its history. She remembered seeing carvings all the over the bridge and specifically remembered two sets of initials with the year 1892 dating that marking.
“We were so proud of it,” Agostini said. “(The community) loved this bridge and now it’s gone.”
Along with walking through the bridge often, Agostini said it was favorable spot for residents to access the Flat River for kayaking.
“Why would someone want to hurt the community like this,” she asked, with tears in her eyes.
She noted her fear of what may happen to the Fallasburg Bridge located close by in Vergennes Township.
Lowell resident Melissa Vandersloot described Monday’s scene as “devastating,” saying the landmark meant so much to the community.
“It’s sad,” she said. “It was part of the community.”
For Vandersloot and her son Jaron Henning, 11, Whites Bridge was also a place where they spent time with family.
The bridge reminded them of their Uncle Jim who passed away. They reminisced about times they spent with him walking over the bridge and taking in its beauty.
Jerry Batchelor of Lowell said it was the structure’s beauty that drew him to scenic area.
“You go back in time,” Batchelor said of how the bridge was built. “It was a beautiful structure.”
Batchelor described the scene as “a shame” as he stood peering over the ledge of where the bridge stood just a day before.
“Who would do such a thing?” he asked.
That was the question most had on their minds Monday afternoon as residents took time out of their day to say goodbye to the area’s historic landmark. Fire investigators were at the scene Monday morning. They believe the damage was done by arson, according Ionia County Sheriff Dale Miller.
“(The fire marshal) feels he found indicators of arson,” said Miller, noting an apparent accelerant was found.
Det. Sgt. Trever Slator, a state fire marshal, said samples he has collected were taken to a lab and results will not be back for a couple of weeks.
“It’s still an open investigation,” Slator said. “The sheriff’s office will be handling most of the follow-up.”
Slator said he is not able to rule out the possibility of fireworks as the cause of the fire at this time.
The call about the fire came into Ionia County Central Dispatch at about 5:12 a.m. Sunday. However, Miller said it was possible the fire had been going for about two or three hours before, based on information the department was given. By the time firefighters arrived, the bridge had fallen into the river.
Whites Bridge has been in use since 1867 and was the state’s oldest covered bridge that was still in use.
Anyone with information about the arson is asked to contact the Ionia County Sheriff’s Office at (616) 527-5737, Silent Observer at (616) 527-0107 or the arson tip line (800)-44-ARSON.