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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Ohio River Bridges

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, March 4, 2012

Bridges have been the topic of discussion in our area with the renovation of the Market St. Bridge and the demolition of the Fort Steuben Bridge, and the library’s collection has been used for research and documentation of area “bridge history.”


I was putting my notes back in my files, but thought I would share some of the tidbits, and add information about bridge history.


For the sake of this article, I will refer only to highway bridges crossing the Ohio River within our state.  Please note that dates may vary from one source to another.


The oldest bridges are the Wheeling Suspension Bridge (1849) and the Roebling Suspension Bridge (1866) in Cincinnati.  Both spans have had extensive reconstruction and rebuilding yet continue to serve their respective cities.


These early bridges were crossed by pedestrians and wagons, and were supplemented by ferry service at many points along the Ohio River.


By the turn of the 20th Century, the need for bridges to accommodate streetcar traffic brought a second generation of suspension bridges including the Chester Bridge (1896), the Newell Bridge (1905), the Market St. Bridge (1905), and the Parkersburg-Belpre Bridge (1914).  These bridges quickly found the need to accommodate horse & buggy/wagon traffic as well as pedestrians and early automobiles.


In addition, other early cantilever and thru-truss spans included the Steel Bridge at Wheeling (1905), the Marietta-Williamstown Bridge (1903), and the Central Bridge at Cincinnati (1905).


The third generation of Ohio River bridges came in the 1920s as highway construction was widespread and the need for bridges with greater capacity in both size and weight was apparent.


The Fort Steuben Bridge (1928), the St. Marys Bridge (1928), the Pt. Pleasant Silver Bridge (1928), the U.S. Grant Bridge at Portsmouth (1928), the 6th St. Bridge in Huntington(1926), and the Aberdeen-Maysville Bridge (1931) were all suspension spans constructed for the new era of auto and truck traffic.


The Bellaire Bridge (1926) was constructed to assist in handling U.S. 40 traffic by by-passing Wheeling spans that couldn’t handle the new vehicle traffic loads.  New cantilever spans were added at Pomeroy (1928) and Ironton (1922) to supplement the suspension spans.


Most of these bridges were toll spans, privately constructed or built with Bonding from area governments; and most were eventually purchased by either Ohio or West Virginia and made “free spans” once the purchase price was recovered.


The Fort Steuben Bridge and the U.S. Grant Bridge were twin spans, with cable support and above-deck truss.  The St. Mary Bridge and the Silver Bridge were also twin spans, using eye-bars instead of cables for support.


One of the worst bridge disasters in the nation took place in 1967 when the Silver Bridge collapsed when one of the eye-bars broke, allowing the span to drop; killing 46 people.


The emphasis of bridge inspection caused a review of all bridges, and the twin St. Marys Bridge was immediately closed and demolished in 1970.  The Chester Bridge was closed and also removed in 1969.


Numerous new bridges have been constructed since the Silver Bridge disaster, with cantilever spans and steel arch spans being the favored design; supplemented by stayed-cable spans at Portsmouth, Pomeroy, Huntington, and our own Veterans Memorial Bridge.


Of the bridges mentioned, only 6 spans remain in operation and most have a long-range plan for replacement.


Only two bridges remain as toll spans, the Newell Bridge and the Parkersburg Memorial Bridge (1954), a later construction that was to be part of a new by-pass that never happened.


It is interesting the pieces of these former bridges that remain today.  An engineering park at Portsmouth displays pieces of the former U.S. Grant Bridge, and the spires off the 6th St. Bridge adorn downtown Huntington and its sister city, Chesapeake in Ohio.


One pier of the Parkersburg-Belpre Bridge remains in the flood wall, which was constructed after the bridge.  Two piers of the former bridge support the new Marietta-Williamstown Bridge.


One span of the St. Marys Bridge remains to allow visitors to access a wildlife area, and one piece of railing remains of Wheeling’s Steel Bridge.  A scenic overlook was constructed from the approach of the Chester Bridge.


Sorry if I made any mistakes, can you tell that I did a science fair project on “bridges” four decades ago?