When you first take a look at this bridge, you’ll find that it is located in a very rural setting- abandoned for many years with lots of vegetation overgrowing on and around the structure, making it impossible to cross unless you want to deal with beds of thorns, poison ivy, and deer ticks. However, as you can see in the next pictures, the augmented views of the bridge, taken from the side of its successor, a piece of bland concrete piece of monotonous artwork which puts a blotch in the city scape, you will find that the bridge has gone through years of abuse and neglect, with peeling paint, rusting sections, and flooring system that has been taken out, exposing the bottom chord, most of which is corroding or missing. If you go underneath the bridge, like yours truly did during the time of the Historic Bridge Conference in Pittsburgh, last August, it was like going through the jungle of Dante (as in Dante’s Inferno), with the banks of the Ohio River, where this bridge spans, being littered with garbage, signs of darkness thanks to the overgrowth on the bridge and if there was a hint of sunlight, it created a very eerie sensation, as if you were walking through a bombed out cathedral after the war with blown out windows, charred pews and pipes of an organ, and the silence and loneliness you only see when you are clinging barely onto life while facing death at the same time.
I’ve only seen one bridge that had this eerie sensation and that was with a railroad bridge spanning the Rock River on the west end of Rock Valley, Iowa, even though it has long since been converted to pedestrian use. However, after being on and underneath this structure, it really shows what nature can do to a structure after years of neglect and what life can do to someone or some agency for neglecting it to begin with.
The Bridgeport Bridge, spanning the Ohio River at Wheeling, West Virginia, separates the state with Ohio to the east. It is one of the rarest bridges of its kind that you can find in the US- a three-span bridge whose endposts are vertical and not diagonal like a common truss bridge has. One can find those in many places in Europe, like the Hollernzollern Bridge over the Rhein River in Cologne, Germany or the Chancy Bowstring Truss Bridge over the RhÃ´ne near Geneva, Switzerland. Yet by examining the portal bracing and the finials that are located at each corner on the upper chord, it is typical of an American truss bridge, as many portal bracings on arch and truss bridges in Europe at that time were either a common portal (A-frame) or have a concrete arch entrance, like you see when entering the castle across the drawbridge. Also unique is the fact that unlike the Hollernzollern Bridge, the bridge is a three-span Â pin-connected Parker through truss bridge, with all these aforementioned features, which leads to the question of why a bridge company would market that in their truss bridge catelogue, like the Wrought Iron Bridge Company did.
When the bridge was built in 1893, the Wrought Iron Bridge Company was in the middle of marketing their bridges through the catelogues. That means governments and residents wanting to have a bridge in or near their town or home would order the bridge through the company catelogue, then have the company agent send the order to the manufacturers, who construct the parts to fit the needs of the customer before it could be shipped by train and assembled on site. Wrought Iron’s style of business, similar to ordering products through a Sears Catelogue in the US or Quelle in Germany (before it folded in 2009), was later practiced by other bridge companies that wanted to keep the bridge company giant in check; especially after Wrought Iron Bridge became part of the American Bridge Company consortium seven years after the Bridgeport structure was built. It is unclear how many bridges similar to Bridgeport’s were ordered and built, but it did become clear that unless something is done to keep the crossing at Wheeling intact and used for anything apart from vehicular use that consequences would come out of it, which would scar the city for life.
The Bridgeport Bridge used to serve US Hwy. 40 until the successor was built, the Military Order of the Purple Heart Bridge, in 1998. Before that, the roadway was strengthened in 1987 by adding a Bailey truss bridge onto the deck to serve as a roadway. Unfortunately, it was not enough to accomodate the traffic flow and it was closed to traffic once the Purple Heart Bridge was open to traffic. Then it just sat there, rotting away until it became clear that the structure, deemed a beatuy when it was first opened to traffic, because an ugly eyesore, which needed to be removed- at least in the eyes of the City of Wheeling.
Attempts have been made for at least five years to do something with the structure- either restore it for pedestrian use or remove it. The former was brought up by preservationists and those interested in saving the structure, but fell on deaf ears. The latter was attempted by those who did not want the structure anymore but it fell on deaf ears due to funding and opposition. Â Promises and predictions to remove the bridge has gone on since 2006, with the last call to remove it being in 2009. That did not happen. Now the US Coast Guard has come in, ordering the bridge to be removed post haste, as debris and parts from the bridge have fallen into the Ohio River. Therefore, the plan is to have the bridge removed beginning in July, with help from the department of transportation offices of both Ohio and West Virginia. The project is expected to take two months, but it will also include salvaging the most memorable parts to be exhibited at the local museums. Whether this plan will be realized due to the deficit problems in the US and the struggling growth of the economy remains to be seen. Given the situation that is being dealt with at the moment, it is possible that the plan may yet be pushed back again, and again, and again……
While removing Dante’s jungle may be a relief to many, it will serve as a permanent scar to the community as the structure would have served as a complement to what Wheeling has already. It has one of the oldest suspension bridges in the country, as well as a historic city center, and the city does have some unique features that make it attractive. It was just too bad that the Bridgeport Bridge was not one of the historic features that should be saved. While leaving the bridge closed to traffic may serve as a temporary solution, it was indeed an out of sight and out of mind tactic, which once the bridge is eventually removed, it will remain a site where it once stood and it will remain in the minds of many in the community, that will associate Wheeling with this bridge.
PHOTOS (All were taken in August 2010 and linked through Flickr):
Behind the bridge. Note: You can see the Ohio State Line sign hanging from the lower strut bracing just as one would get off by car when it was open to traffic. That sign, along with some other memorabilia from the bridge, are expected to be saved and displayed at the museum before the rest of the structure comes down.