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‘Transition Bridge’ Craftsman’s Latest Contribution to Penn College

The dry-stone 'Transition Bridge,' built by alumni artisan James A. Asbury and Pennsylvania College of Technology students and faculty, adorns the Schneebeli Earth Science Center near Allenwood.A Tioga County mason and Pennsylvania College of Technology graduate whose dry-stone loop impressively marks the gateway to the Schneebeli Earth Science Center has joined with students to craft another rustic addition to the Allenwood-area campus.

James A. Asbury, owner-operator of Mountaineer Stone in Mansfield, worked with nearly 50 Penn College horticulture and masonry students and faculty to build “Transition Bridge” over the course of several lab periods during the spring semester. Like all of Asbury’s work including his circular ” Tribute to Knowledge ” near the campus’s entrance the bridge uses stone culled from the immediate vicinity of the worksite and absolutely no mortar.

“I was blown away by the students,” said Asbury, who received an associate degree in business management from the college in 2002 and was presented with a Distinguished Alumnus Award four years later. “A few of them were just naturals. One young lady showed a natural ability to visualize the physical use for any given stone before picking up that stone. That skill is not easy to learn.”

James A. Asbury (in Penn College Alumni shirt) instructs students during bridge construction.The latest addition to the 380-acre campus crosses a small run between the Earth Science Center’s greenhouses and its stand of timber and is only the third dry-stone bridge that Asbury has created. As its name implies, it is meant to symbolize the transition from enrolled student to enlightened graduate.

The structure is a turf-top bridge; the stone has a layer of earth planted with grass as its uppermost walking surface.

“It is such a pleasure working with Jim,” said Carl J. Bower Jr., a member of the college’s horticulture faculty. “He has such a passion for what he does and for the school. He just loves to give back to the college, which is an admirable quality.”

Asbury’s company has customers across the nation, and his work has taken him from the homes of Fortune 500 executives to Civil War battlefields. Still, he doesn’t think twice about returning to his alma mater to engage students in joint projects.

“Giving back a little is the best way I’ve seen in getting more out of my college years,” he said. “Giving back is a privilege. I’m proud to come back and spend time with those who want to learn.”

Among those students was Melissa D. Berrier, of Mifflin, who earned an associate degree in landscape/nursery technology and graduated with high honors in May.

Penn College students and horticulture faculty members gather around the latest mortarless creation for the School of Natural Resources Management.“The dry-stone bridge was, by far, one of my favorite projects at Penn College. Working with Jim Asbury to learn the principals of dry-stone construction was such a unique experience,” she said. “I remember seeing the dry-stone loop by the flagpole at the ESC during an open house and being amazed that there was no mortar holding it together, so I was very excited when I learned that Jim would be working with us to complete another project on campus.”

“I was excited to see the final project and was impressed when the arch stayed in place,” Berrier added. “It was amazing to watch what started out as a pile of rocks turn into an arched bridge that seems to defy gravity.”

Her classmate, Nicholas C. Cramer, of Mifflintown, another May honors graduate in landscape/nursery technology, was similarly appreciative of the experience.

“Working on the bridge with Jim was very interesting and very informative; he showed us the crucial techniques for constructing free-laid stone structures,” he said. “After having been part of a successful free-laid stone bridge, I am excited to work on another free-laid stone project and I would like to use the information that I learned from Jim in the future for my own landscape company.”

For more about the college’s School of Natural Resources Management, visit online or call (570) 320-8038. For more information about Penn College, visit on the Web , e-mail or call toll-free (800) 367-9222.

( Photos by horticulture faculty member Carl J. Bower Jr.)

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