Cleveland's "Bridge War" and the Columbus Street Span
Cleveland, Ohio's early transportation issues arose from its prominence along Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River. While the latter was narrow with numerous sharp bends, it was sufficient to allow for the development of heavy industry along the sometimes wide and expanse valley. The means to cross the river in the early days were regulated to ferries, and it was not until the early 1800s that the first crossing of the river was completed along Central Street - a simple connection of chained, floating logs. It was later improved upon with pontoon boats.
The first real bridge came in 1835, when a wooden span was completed along Columbus Street across the Cuyahoga River
at a cost of $15,000. It was a draw bridge to allow for the passage of boats underneath, and was financed by a group of real-estate speculators led by Jas S. Clark who were developing Cleveland Center, a commercial district at the oxbow bend in the Flats. The Columbus Street Bridge allowed for the commercial development of Cleveland at the expense of the then-independent Ohio City.
The bridge was donated to the city of Cleveland on April 18, 1836 - which Ohio City did not take too kindly. To make matters worse, Cleveland demolished a portion of the Central Street bridge in June so that commerce would be forced to use Columbus Street and bypass Ohio City. In return, residents of Ohio City banded together, changing "Two Bridges or None." A group attempted to blow up the Columbus Street span but failed. A mob on October 31, armed with guns and other improvised weapons, damaged the crossing but they were met with resistance from Cleveland Mayor John W. Willey and armed militiamen who injured three Ohio City men. A county sheriff arrived to end the violence and to make arrests. It took a court ruling to force two bridges across the Cuyahoga River.
The next iteration of the bridge came on February 24, 1857 when the city awarded a contract to the Tharcher, Burt & Co. for a Howard Model swing bridge, which had a predicted lifespan of nine to ten years. The estimated cost, $24,000, was split between the county, $6,000, and the city, $18,000, with a completion date of August 1858. But construction was slow, as noted by numerous complaints from residents and property owners nearby. By August 1857, only the northern abutment was finished, with little work progressing on the southern abutment. But the new span did not last; an 1863 inspection noted a large amount of structural deterioration and that it would need to be completely rebuilt. The chords, which supported the bridge, had been placed in a horizontal position which did not leave any room for water to drip out between the layers of plank. On August 7, 1863, one of the chords broke, and a chain was improvised for temporary use. This did not last very long, however, as the remainder of the chords broke when the bridge was swung open a day later at 4:30 PM. As a result, the entire bridge collapsed. While the pier was in good condition, the only item salvageable was the trusses and some of the wood work.
On August 15, 1894, the Columbus Street Bridge was closed to traffic and dismantled for replacement with a double-swing bridge – the first in the world. A contract was awarded to the Mt. Vernon Bridge Company of Ohio to construct the superstructure on October 13, despite the protest of Architect James Ritchie who bid $2,160 higher. The Cleveland Board of Control deemed Mt. Vernon’s bid to be informal, whereas Ritchie’s was properly submitted, in a meeting held on October 5. The foundation and substructure was awarded to Fisher & Fisher and electrical work to George P. Nichols & Bros. of Chicago. During construction, a temporary pontoon bridge was built after piles were driven into the river and planking laid on top. Stairways led down to the primitive bridge, which extended only half way across the Cuyahoga. A barge, 80 feet in length, completed the crossing. It was pivoted on a pile and swung by a capstan. The temporary crossing opened on August 14, 1894. The new Columbus Street crossing opened to traffic on June 25, 1895, operated by two 25 horsepower dynamos. The bridge design separates in the center, and the two parts swing in opposite directions. The span cost $100,000 to construct.
In May 1939, a public hearing was held in regards to an application by the city for approval by council of plans to construct a new bridge for Columbus Road over the Cuyahoga River as part of the Streamlining Project that sought to eliminate several dangerous curves for boats and to widen the navigation channel. The Columbus Road span, designed by famed Cleveland engineer Wilbur Watson, was a part of the $5.5 million streamlining project that saw the completion of three new lift bridges over the Cuyahoga River.
The northern pier was completed on December 6, 1939, although work was slow to progress on the southern pier due to weather, and a $50-per-day penalty was charged against the Western Foundation Company. While their portion of the project was to have been completed by December 31, 1939, it was not finished until January 18 of the next year. The City Council introduced legislation on March 4 to waive the penalties, citing weather and elements that were out of their control which led to the delay. The Columbus Road span opened two weeks ahead of schedule in 1940, although without paint; the others, the upper West 3rd Street Bridge and Carter Road Bridge, opened on schedule and two weeks behind schedule, respectfully. The bridges were painted soon after the spans were open to traffic; the painting was delayed due to a wet spring. The new crossing provided a 220-foot wide channel and gentler curves, whereas the 1895 swing span provided just 108-feet. This allowed for larger boats to pass through on the Cuyahoga River.
: Columbus Road was used as a detour route when the Detroit-Superior Bridge underwent reconstruction in 1967. Photographed March 21, 1967 by Bill Nehez, donated by Joseph E. Cole to the Cleveland State University Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections.
: A view of the west side of the bridge. From Louise Taft Cawood, photographed in July 1986 for the Historic American Engineering Record, National Park Service, Department of the Interior.
: A view of the south lift tower from the moveable span catwalk while the bridge is in the down position. From Louise Taft Cawood, photographed in July 1986 for the Historic American Engineering Record, National Park Service, Department of the Interior.
: A northward view of the catwalk of the moveable span in the up position. From Louise Taft Cawood, photographed in July 1986 for the Historic American Engineering Record, National Park Service, Department of the Interior.
: A view of the moveable span trussing. From Louise Taft Cawood, photographed in July 1986 for the Historic American Engineering Record, National Park Service, Department of the Interior.
: An interior glance of the main lift cable sheave inside the machinery room. From Louise Taft Cawood, photographed in July 1986 for the Historic American Engineering Record, National Park Service, Department of the Interior.
: Cable and pulley details of the lift mechanism. From Louise Taft Cawood, photographed in July 1986 for the Historic American Engineering Record, National Park Service, Department of the Interior.
Unfortunately, the bridge was ill-maintained in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. A 2002 inspection noted that many of the electrical and mechanical systems were failing, and that structurally, the span was in poor condition. A follow-up inspection in 2007 noted little to no improvement in the bridge. A replacement bridge was pegged at $31 million. In the follow-up, it noted that if the bridge had been properly maintained, a replacement would not even be a consideration. Construction of a $42 million to $49 million partial replacement project for the Columbus Road Bridge was scheduled to begin in November 2011 and take about a year finish. The Ohio Department of Transportation will allocate $25,200,000 in local major bridge program funds, with Cuyahoga County and the city providing $8.4 million. Another $8.4 million is being requested from the Surface Transportation Program (STP). The 1940 iteration of the span was rated in poor to serious condition, and a study of six alternatives – on either rehabilitating the existing span, building a new bridge upstream or eliminating the crossing was performed. It was decided to do a partial reconstruction.
During the reconstruction project, the central lift span will be removed, placed on a barge and moved down to the Cuyahoga River to be dismantled off-site. Another barge will come up the river with a new lift span. The two lift towers will be repaired, and new mechanical and electrical equipment will be installed. Five-foot bike lanes will be installed, as the route was indicated to be a critical bicycle route into and out of the Flats. During the project, the roadway will be closed to traffic.
: Before and after. The before image credit: From Louise Taft Cawood, photographed in July 1986 for the Historic American Engineering Record, National Park Service, Department of the Interior. The after photograph was taken in the summer of 2012.
: Other views of the span from the summer of 2012.