Skip to main content

The National Road - West Virginia - Wheeling Suspension Bridge

The Wheeling Suspension Bridge as seen from Wheeling Island (Doug Kerr)
Wheeling and the National Road is home to one of the greatest engineering achievements in American History.  The nearly 170 year old Wheeling Suspension Bridge is the oldest operating suspension bridge in the world.  The bridge was the first to span the main channel of the Ohio River  and connect Wheeling Island to the main City of Wheeling. (1)  Nearby in 1836, a two span covered bridge opened over the back channel of the Ohio.  That bridge crossed at the site of an 1893 truss and modern day bridge that carries Route 40 over the back channel connecting Wheeling Island to Bridgeport, Ohio to this day. (2)  

The story of the Wheeling Suspension Bridge is amplified by a bidding and design war between two prominent suspension bridge designers, Charles Ellet, Jr. and John Roebling.  The two rivals would compete for the commission until Ellet's design won out in 1847.  The 1,010 foot bridge took two years to complete.  It opened on October 20, 1849, although the official grand opening would take place on November 15.  The bridge was immediately put into service as a toll bridge.

(Doug Kerr)
The Terrific Storm
On May 17, 1854, a violent gale destroyed most of the bridge with much of the span crashing into the Ohio.  One account of the collapse read:
"For a few moments we watched it with breathless anxiety, lunging like a ship in the storm; at one time it rose to nearly the heighth of the towers then fell, and twisted and writhed, and was dashed almost bottom upward. At last there seemed to be a determined twist along the entire span, about one half of the flooring being nearly reversed, and down went the immense structure from its dizzy heighth to the stream below, with an appalling crash and roar. Nearly the entire structure struck the water at the same instant dashing up an unbroken column of foam across the river, to the heighth of at least forty feet! " (3)
Many have compared the 1854 collapse to that of the famed 1940 collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. The collapse ended Ellet's turbulent career as a bridge designer and builder.  To repair the span, Roebling, who had since gained national acclaim for his railroad bridge over the Niagara River, was commissioned to rebuild the bridge at a cost of $42,000 (4).

To preserve the structure and keep it usable, the bridge would have major repairs done in 1956, 1982, and 1999.  In recent years, the fragility of the old structure has come into question as a number of incidents has shut down the bridge for various amounts of time.  Incidents involving overweight and overheight vehicles (the weight limit for the bridge is 4,000 lbs / height limit is eight feet) has caused the Wheeling Police Department to patrol the bridge passing handouts encouraging prohibited vehicles - possibly following GPS directions - to cross elsewhere. (5)

(Doug Kerr)
The Wheeling Suspension Bridge has received numerous awards and honors including:




  • National Historic Landmark; 1975
  • National Register of Historic Places; 1980
  • National Historic Engineering Landmark; 1969
  •  

    Site Navigation:
    Sources & Links: 


  • (1) "Wheeling Suspension Bridge." WVExp.com: http://www.wvexp.com/index.php/Wheeling_Suspension_Bridge (March 5, 2005)
  • (2) Kemp, Dr. Emory. "The Wheeling Suspension Bridge Tour." http://wheeling.weirton.lib.wv.us/landmark/bridges/susp/bridge10.htm (March 5, 2005)
  • (3) "Terrific Storm! Destruction of the Wheeling Suspension Bridge!" The Intelligencer (Wheeling, Va.), vol. 2, no. 225, Thursday, May 18, 1854, p. 3
  • (4) Steinman, D.B. "Dedicationof the Wheeling Suspension Bridge as a National Monument." May 20, 1956.
  •  (5) WTRF-TV. "Wheeling Police patrolling size of vehicles on suspension bridge." July 30, 2015.
  •  

    Comments

    Popular posts from this blog

    The story on how the unbuilt US 40 Expressway in Brownsville took 40 years to complete.

    For nearly four decades, the four lane US 40 just east of Brownsville came to an abrupt end - shown in the photo above - at Grindstone Road in Redstone Township.   In the late 1960s, what was then the Pennsylvania Division of Highways (PennDOH) extended a new four lane alignment of US 40 eastwards from Broadway Street slightly over one mile to Grindstone Road where an incomplete diamond interchange was built.  Earlier in the decade, PennDOH had built a four lane US 40 in Washington County into Brownsville complete with a new crossing over the Monongahela River known as the Lane Bane Bridge.  This new highway and bridge allowed US 40 to bypass the older Intercounty Bridge and downtown Brownsville. 

    After this new highway opened, nothing would happen to it for nearly forty years.  US 40 traffic would use the ramps for this planned diamond interchange and then jog on Grindstone Road briefly before continuing towards Uniontown on the original National Road. 
    What is unknown (at least to…

    The story of the Boy Scout Ramps on Interstate 79 North in NW Pennsylvania

    If you are traveling on Interstate 79 North of Pittsburgh, you may notice the remnants of a set of off and on ramps at mile 100 just north of Exit 99 (US 422).  There's a story behind these ramps.  Forty years ago, these ramps were built specifically for two Boy Scout Jamboree's that were held at Moraine State Park - 1973 and 1977.  The ramps purpose were to provide access to the north shore of Lake Arthur where the bulk of the festivities and campsite for the Jamboree were located.  (Lawrence County Memories has a great write up and map of the festivities on its site.)

    Not long after the Jamboree ended the ramps were abandoned.  There are still remnants of the Boy Scout Ramps today.



    Above: Sattelite view of the Boy Scout Jamboree Ramps. 
    Below: A view of the ramps from I-79 South.



    The google street view image above gives a view along West Park Road of where the set of ramps intersected the highway.  The ramps provided direct access to North Shore Drive (which is the right tur…

    The few clues of the Northern Durham Parkway

    Sometimes when you look through a box of maps for the first time in five years, you come across something you may have easily over looked.  Such was the case when I found a 2004 (so rather recent) map of Raleigh.  This map was made by the Dolph Map Company for WakeMed.  In the Northwestern corner of Wake County, there were two items to the map showing roads that are still not in existence 13 years later.

    The road is the Northern Durham Parkway - this is a proposed 19 mile highway from US 501 north of Durham to the Raleigh-Durham International Airport.  The first proposals for this highway date back to 1967 when Eno Drive-Gorman Road was listed on the Durham Area Thoroughfare Plan. (1)  Other proposals called the highway the Northwest and Northeast Durham Loop. (2)  The route would serve as a northern and eastern bypass of Durham almost serving as a near loop.  The route was fought vigorously for three decades by the Eno River Association citing concerns for the the Eno River, nearby n…