MOVABLE BRIDGES OVER THE CUYAHOGA RIVER
Cleveland now has a greater variety of these beautiful and practical structures than any place in earth; but in 1837 "Two bridges or none!" was the battle cry of the famous Bridge War with Ohio City.
Sara Ruth Watson and John R. Wolfs
A great movable bridge with its mathematical lines huge and poised weight, inspires the same kind of admiration as a Gothic cathedral. Yet it is as practical as the ugliest assembly line. If you love movable bridges, there is one city for you: nowhere else in the world can you find a greater variety of them than along the two-and-a-half mile navigation channel of the Cuyahoga River in the heart of Cleveland.
At one time seven different railroad lines entered Cleveland; all of them needed bridges to take them across the valley and the River into the terminals, and each structure had to be designed to fit its particular location. Since they were constructed at different times over the greater part of a century, the twenty-two bridges across the navigable part of the River at present graphically portray the development of movable bridges in the United States. One can see viaducts, stone masonry arches, concrete arches, cantilever spans and girder spans; but it is the movable bridges, with their shifting of immense weights, that catch oneís fancy: the swing bridges, vertical lift bridges, bascule bridges, jack-knife bridges and Scherzer Rolling Lift bridges.
Since river vessels always have the right-of-way, each bridge must be opened upon signal from the water (sometimes to the disgust of delayed motorists.). The boatsí signal for opening the spans over the main river is one long whistle and two short ones; for opening the two bridges over the old riverbed one long, one short, one long, one short. Then the operator of the movable bridges, which are equipped with a whistle synchronized with a white light, will answer with a long and short whistle, plus the light signal. If a bridge can not be opened immediately, three blasts of the whistle and the light signal will be given as a check signal. During certain rush hours, the bridge operator has to be alert; while the current of the river is running, he knows a vessel can not stop when underway. Of course every captain knows not only the exact location of each bridge and the depth of the water under it, he also knows the type of bridge, the vertical clearance and the clear width of the open span. So he can judge his distances and timing precisely.
Most of the bridges are manned twenty-four hours a day, the year round. For vehicular bridges, a bridge operator, stationed in the house at the center of the bridge above the roadway, actually runs the mechanism. An "end man" is stationed at the end with the most traffic to act as eyes for the operator, to flag down the speeding motorist, and to make sure that no pedestrian gets a free ride, accidental or intentional. Today only the Center Street and Willow Street bridges utilize end men.
When a bridge opens, the traffic lights turn red, the alarm bell clangs, and the gates are lowered. The barrier cable is lowered to stop cars from plunging into the river, and the bridge lock is drawn to allow the bridge to move. A switch can now be energized that will raise the bridge. Interlocks prevent premature movements. As the bridge rises, the operator gets a ride. And when the span reaches full height, a guide tells the operator the height of the opening (generally ninety-eight feet), although there are, in some cases, emergency extensions of height, and automatic stops prevent over-ride. When navigation lights turn from red to green, the ship may pass.
If we cruise up the Cuyahoga River from the channel entrance at Lake Erie, the first bridge as we enter the harbor is a modern vertical lift bridge. This type is the most popular today because it is fast and easy to operate and because it does not obstruct the channel. It is also aesthetically pleasing. A vertical lift bridge operates in much the same fashion as an ordinary window sash, which moves up and down in vertical guides and is hung from sash-cords that go over a pulley at the top, with a counter-weight at the other end. A vertical lift span is easily recognized by the high skeleton towers, one at each end of the span. The cables that carry the counter-weights pass over giant pulley wheels, called "sheaves," at each end of the lift span. These weights equal that of the lift span, and the height of the towers is determined by the height to which the span has to be raised to provide the necessary clearance over the waterway. The towers are tied at the top with a truss that keeps the towers in perfect alignment. For long spans the vertical lifts are the most efficient.
The first bridge, Penn-Central Bridge No. 1 over the Cuyahoga, was designed by Howard, Needles, Tammen and Bergendoff and was part of a $13,236,000 program started in 1946 by the Corps of Engineers to replace six bridges. This fine specimen of a vertical lift is a double-track railway bridge, originally serving the main line of the New York Central and the ore traffic to the Pennsylvania docks. Its center span is 265 feet, and it has a lift of 98 feet. It replaced an old swing bridge that had a center pier which permitted the use of only half the channel for navigation purposes.
Before we advance farther up the River, let us glance to our right at the old riverbed, for over it are two interesting bridges. The first one was built in 1907 by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. This structure is designed by the Schrzer Rolling Lift Company, and the steel work was fabricated by the King Bridge Company of Cleveland, one of the oldest, and in its day one of the most prestigious, of such firms. The bridge introduces us to another type of movable bridge, the Scherzer Rolling Lift. Designed by William Scherzer of Chicago, it was a popular type around 1900. Steel trusses or girders across the navigable channel are supported by, and rigidly connected at their ends to, large steel rollers or rockers that have a weight at the rear end to counterbalance the front end. The rollers are cast in the form of a segment of a circle, because the entire movement of the structure describes an arc of less than ninety degrees, to achieve full clearance of the channel opening. At one time there were nine of these Scherzer Rolling Lift bridges in Cleveland. The type is no longer
being built because the rolling action of the span, as it moves back onto the rollers, causes the piers to shift position. This particular bridge has a 230-foot span, which made it, when it was built, the longest single leaf Scherzer Rolling Lift ever erected -- and it still holds the record.
The second bridge over the old riverbed is the present Willow Avenue Bridge, which provides vehicular access to Whiskey Island. The bridge it replaced, built in 1898, was a swing bridge with a span of 170 feet. The present Willow Avenue Bridge is a 310-foot-long vertical lift, designed and erected in 1964 by Trygve Hoff and Associates -- a handsome structure that certainly proves a movable bridge need not be ugly. The automatic electric skew control and four motors at the top of the tower give exceptional, and fast, lifting power. The skew control equalizes both ends of the bridge for a uniform lift of its 750-ton span. It can be raised to its full height of 98 feet in one and one-half minutes. The counterweight cables provide the means of movement.
Back on the main river, the next movable bridge is known as Bridge No.3. Built in 1956 for the B. and O. Railroad to replace a Scherzer Rolling Lift Structure, it is a record-making modern jack-knife bridge located just north of the Detroit-Superior Viaduct. (Its picture appears on the cover of the first issue of The Gamut.) It has a main trunnion bascule span 255 feet long, and a clear channel distance of about 231 feet. It carries a single railroad track on the 22-foot width of the trusses. There is a vertical clearance of about 23 feet from the top of the track to the bottom of the counterweight when in the lowered position. The substructure consists of two concrete piers with 30-inch steel caissons and 10-inch pipe piles. The bridge is an outstanding example of a single-leaf, jack-knife bascule bridge. The word bascule simply means a kind of see-saw; when one end is lowered, the other is raised. And the trunnion is a type of pin forming an axis upon which the span pivots. In this peculiar type each rail is supported directly upon the lower chord of the truss. When the bridge is opened, the span pivots around one end where the trunnion or pin forms the axis. The weight of the bridge is balanced by a weighted lever arm supported by the tower located at the fixed end of the bridge. When in open position, the lever arm folds against the upright truss -- hence the name jack-knife. This particular bridge is regarded as the ultimate example of this type of structure.
The Center Street Bridge, the only swing bridge in the area, lies at approximately the spot where Moses Cleveland landed in 1796. It is also the site of the first bridge over the River, and it became involved in the notorious "Bridge War," described below in connection with the Columbus Road Bridge.
The first Center Street Bridge was a raft made of "white-wood logs," secured by
Above: Swing bridge at Center Street opens for passengers of the excursion boat GoodtimeII.
ropes, a portion of which were floated to one side to allow boats to pass. In 1863 a wooden drawbridge was built. In 1871 it was replaced by an iron swing-bridge, a Post-patent, diagonal truss.
The present structure is steel Pratt truss, fabricated and erected in 1901 by the King Bridge Company. On June 1,1897, the Cleveland City Council passed an ordinance "to provide for the reconstruction and rebuilding of the bridge over the Cuyahoga River at Center Street," and directed that the bridge be "reconstructed in accordance with the plans to be filed in the office of the Chief City Engineer."1 The bridge was designed during 1898 and 1899 by James Ritchie, Chief Engineer for the City of Cleveland. Construction began in 1900. The swing span is 245 feet long, and a girder is 62 feet -- overall length then is 307 feet. When closed the structure acts as two separate truss spans; the pivot pier is on the north bank of the channel. When this type of bridge was first introduced, the pivot pier was in the middle of the channel. When open, the two arms act as cantilevers supported by the truss tower directly over the pivot pier. A counter-weight in the shorter arm keeps the span in balance; it consists of 112 1/2 tons of scrap iron, tightly packed in the floor. There is a total of fifteen truss panels. The central panel, over the pivot pier, is rectangular, with a span of twenty feet. The pivot pier measures 13 feet long, ten inches high, and has a diameter of thirty-six feet. The bridge was completed in September of 1901. It has been painted and repaired since then, but it is in good condition and, according to the Cityís Chief Civil Engineer, John Bowersock, is economical to operate. It is a popular tourist attraction and an engineering landmark.
After passing under the Detroit-Superior and Union Terminal Bridges, we come to the Columbus Road Bridge, the other bridge site in the "Bridge War," a bit of early history worth a digression.
In 1835 two land developers, James S. Clark and John W. Willey, who owned considerable property along Columbus Street, as it was then called, improved the roadway, graded it down to the river, and built an imposing bridge at the ferry landing. This bridge, the first important structure across the Cuyahoga, formed the final link in a short route to Cleveland from South and West, practically sidestepping Ohio City across the river nearer Center Street. A description of the new bridge in the first city directory printed in 1837 reads as follows:
The bridge was supported by a stone abutment on either shore or piers of solid masonry erected in the center of the river. Between the piers, there is a draw sufficient to allow a vessel of forty-nine feet beam to pass through. The length is two hundred feet, the breadth, including the sidewalks, thirty-three feet, and the height of the piers, above the surface of the water, may be estimated at twenty-four feet. The whole which, with the exception of the draw, is roofed and enclosed, presents an imposing appearance and reflects much credit in the architect, Mr. Nathan Hunt.2
In 1835 the new Columbus Road Bridge was the most remarkable structure in Ohio; visitors from all over the state come to view it and gasped at the work which had cost the enormous sum of $15,000 to build.
In 1836, first the City of Ohio and then the Village of Cleveland were incorporated, and the rivalry between them grew tense. The merchants of Ohio City were entirely willing to have the Columbus Street Bridge, but they also wanted one at Center Street, and so there arose the slogan "two bridges or none." What resulted was the Bridge War, celebrated in the annals of Cleveland. In 1837 the Cleveland City council directed the removal of its half of the old floating bridge at Center Street. This was an attempt by Cleveland to divert all through traffic to the Columbus Street Bridge, thereby by-passing Ohio City. The mandate of the council was carried out at night, and, when the people of Ohio City realized what had happened, they were enraged. At an indignation meeting they declared the Columbus Street Bridge a public nuisance.
Their marshal gathered a posse of deputies, who damaged the bridge by a charge of powder under the Ohio City end. Then the marshal and his deputies marched to the Cleveland side of the bridge, dug a deep trench at the approaches, and did likewise at the Ohio City end, thus rendering the bridge useless. Ohio City held a council of war and staged an all out attack upon the bridge. Nearly a thousand men, armed with clubs, rocks, and rifles marched to the bridge, accompanied by a chaplain and a lawyer.
Ordinance No. 16000, Cleveland Ohio,City Council Proceedings, April 19, 1897 to April 17, 1898, Vols.30-1, p.80
For much of the information about this bridge I am indebted to Carol Poh Millerís " Center Street Bridge," Historic American Engineering Record
E.M. Avery, "Early Bridges of Cleveland," in Bridges of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County(Privately printed, Cleveland, Ohio, 1918), p.24
A contemporary view, from Detroit Avenue, of the old
But Cleveland had learned about the attack from scouts. The Ohio City posse found itself confronted by a company of militia with muskets. Even an ancient cannon had been rolled down to the riverís edge. At this point Wiley, who was the first mayor of Cleveland, stepped forward, but before he could utter more than a few words, he was greeted by a volley of rocks, and the fight started.
At the other end of the bridge was an apron that could be raised or lowered, and the one at the Ohio City side was let down to provide a shelter for the anti-bridge forces. The men went at their destructive task, ripping up planks and throwing them into the river. One Ohio City man named Deacon House picked his way through the Cleveland lines and spiked the cannon with an old file. He became quite the hero of the battle of the bridge.
Some men were injured, but none were killed. Finally the fray was stopped by the Cleveland marshal, who also was sheriff of the county. He took possession of the bridge, obtained a court order against further interference, and posted guards at either end to maintain movement of traffic. This Battle of the Bridge produced a poet-laureate in D.W. Cross who wrote a mock epic poem, in heroic couplets, entitled "The Battle of the Bridge," which was published in the Magazine of Western History. Its model was Alexander popeís Rape of the Lock. There is space her to quote but a few lines.
On hills, like Rome, the cities might be seen,
The result of the Bridge War was that the West Siders gained their point, and two bridges were provided. The Center Street Bridge was completed after much discussion and the Columbus Street Bridge was equipped with a movable center span.
The Columbus Street Bridge of 1835 marked the beginning of the first period of bridge building over the Cuyahoga River -- bridges of wood with masonry piers, designed for wagon traffic. As late as 1853 there were still three of these: the Columbus Street Bridge, one at Seneca (West Third) Street, and one at Division Street (Center Street). There was agitation for a new one at Columbus Street, but because the two towns could not agree on a plan, the county re-built the span. In 1854 Cleveland annexed Ohio City. And immediately after annexation, Cleveland built the Main Street Bridge, re-built the Center Street Bridge, and constructed the Seneca Street Bridge.
In 1870 and iron bridge was built, but this, too, soon had to be replaced. In 1895 a new bridge, designed by city engineer Walter P. Rice, was built. It was an extraordinary structure -- a double swing bridge. Each leaf was mounted upon a separate pier and turntable. The clear opening between fenders was 115 feet. Each river arm was 65 feet; the short spans over the piers 15 feet. The combined length of the two leaves was 279 feet. In 1940 the present Columbus Road Bridge was designed by Wilbur Watson and Associates. Its vertical lift span provides a 220-foot clearance.
The series of Columbus Street Bridges exemplifies the history of the low-level, movable bridge over navigable waters. First came the crude and narrow structure, with a center span to open the channel to river traffic. By the middle of the nineteenth century,the timber bridge was replaced by a light iron bridge with a wider roadway; it generally was a swing bridge. Near the end of the century, came a still heavier structure, usually of steel, to carry increased loads. Finally, an entirely different type emerged, designed to accommodate modern transportation needs. To meet the needs for greater width, greater river clearance, and more height, the vertical lift type is preferred.
At a point on Columbus Road, which was to be the hub of "Cleveland Centre," a pioneer real estate promotion for trade with an international flavor, we encounter an extraordinary railroad bridge built for the New York Central Railroad. This bridge serves the team tracks of the oldest railroads in Cleveland, dating from 1851. Founded by Alfred Kelley, mayor, Canal Commissioner and promoter, it was originally called the Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati Railroad. At a later date, Indianapolis was added, making it the "Big Four." When extended to St. Louis, the name became abbreviated to CCC & St. L.R.R.
The present bridge, erected in 1953, replaced and older Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge. The design of the present bridge was the work of Howard, Needles, Tammen and Bergendoff, and the bridge received the American Institute of Steel Construction Award of Merit for the most beautiful bridge in its class. It has a lift span of 260 feet, with a clear channel of 200 feet. The two 135 HP motors are located at the top of the two girders, and a drive shaft activates the counterweight sheaves. Massive balance chains adjust the changing load. Norman lift is about 90 feet. The electrical contractors were Dingle-Clark, and McDowell-Wellman erected the steelwork.
The middle and lower West Third Street Bridge were replaced as part of the Terminal Tower complex and the Collision Bend Cut 5A Project. The present Carter Road Bridge, which replaced the Lower West Third structure, is a vertical lift, designed in 1940 by Wilbur Watson and Associates. Carter Road (appropriately named after Lorenzo Carter, the first permanent settler) has long been the site of an important vehicular crossing. There was a bridge in this general location as early as 1853. The first bridge collapsed in 1857 when "overloaded with cattle." This was followed by another wooden structure. The Seneca Street span, which replaced it, was a drawbridge operated by hand. This was superseded by an iron swing bridge about 1873.
The present structure formed part of the Cleveland Public Works Administrationís 5.5 million-dollar program for the widening and straightening of the Cuyahoga River. The lift span is 220 feet long; the clear channel opening between fenders is 216 feet. Total length
Jack-knife bridge allows freighter to pass up the
of the bridge is 284 feet. Two concrete piers support the superstructure. And each pier foundation is comprised of six 30-inch steel cylinders about 140 feet in length, supplemented by steel batter piles and a steel sheet-pile enclosure. The normal life to the Bridge is about 75 feet, with a clearance of a little over 97 feet for lake freighters. The emergency lift provides for an extra 51/4 feet. Overall width of the Bridge is 58 feet, 6 inches. The roadway has four vehicular lanes and is 46 feet, 6 inches wide, with two 5-foot sidewalks. The superstructure was fabricated by the Mt. Vernon Bridge Company and erected by the Bass Construction Company. The contractor cantilevered the center span out from each tower at a nearly full-raised position, in order not to impede river traffic during construction.
The Eagle Avenue Viaduct replaced the Middle West Third Street Bridge, which was originally a Scherzer Rolling Lift. Jimís Steak House now, located at the site of the original Seneca Street Bridge or Lower West Third Street Bridge, features the original bridges on the place mats. The Viaduct has an overall length of about 2000 feet from Scranton Road to Ontario Street. The ramp includes the vertical lift span over the River, built on the same grade as the viaduct. This lift span has the distinction of being the first one in Cleveland, having been built in 1931. The span is 225 feet, with a clear channel opening of 187 feet, and is 52 feet wide. Designing engineer was F.L. Gorman, and the engineer in charge of construction was A.H. Suloff. The bridge was recently remodeled with new electrical controls, but the original 100 HP motors were retained in service. This bridge has freestanding towers (without a connecting truss) -- a design no longer used because the alignment shifts and then the bridge binds.
Under the Lorain-Carnegie High Level Bridge there is another type of movable bridge -- a trunnion bascule with a single leaf. Built in 1920 for the CCC and St. L.R.R., it has a clear channel length of 140 feet and opens to a full angle of 82į. A single track runs through a riveted truss span with a length of 175 feet. In addition to the lift span, the bridge consists of a 45-foot tower span and a 42-foot deck plate-girder approach. The three piers are of concrete.
The prototype of the bascule bridge is the drawbridge across the moat of a medieval castle. The modern prototype is the Tower Bridge over the Thames in London, built in 1894. The present-day trunnion bascule bridge comes with one leaf or two. The leaf is supported at the shore end of a trunnion or shaft. In opening, the bridge pivots on this shaft and raises its leaves to a nearly vertical position; in the open position the trunnion supports the entire dead weight of the structure. The river arm is longer, of course, than that part of the bridge extending to the rear of the trunnions. This makes necessary the use of counterweights at the rear of the bridge.
The structure is worthy of more than a casual glance, for the enunciation of an old concept in modern technological terms is interesting. The bridge was designed by the Strauss Bridge Company, using New York City 1917 specifications for steel bridges, and was built by the American Bridge Company. Joseph Strauss was the famous American engineer who designed the Golden Gate Bridge and had numerous patents on bascule bridges. He designed many of the lift bridges in Chicago, where one can see excellent examples of both the single-leaf and double-leaf bascule. Strauss also designed the draw-span of the Arlington Memorial Bridge over the Potomac River in Washington.
Another railroad movable span is the structure on the high level Norfolk and Western Viaduct at University Avenue. This structure was built for the original Nickel Plate Road and was designed by the Chief Engineer, E.E. Hart. A double-track viaduct, the total length is 3010 feet. The height above the River is 70 feet. At one time it was the longest viaduct in the United States. The river span at present is a vertical lift, which was erected in 1960 to replace the Scherzer Rolling Lift. The first river span here was a swing bridge with a pier in the center of the channel.
The present West Third Street Bridge is a vehicular crossing that has a long history in the city of Cleveland. The present structure is a vertical lift, built in 1940. Years ago this street was known as Central Way, which was opened in 1872, under the tracks of the Cleveland and Mahoning Railroad. It became the principal throughway for the heavy traffic to the first iron refineries in that area. A wooden drawbridge was swept away by flood in 1883. This was replaced by a pivot swing bridge 138 feet long, which stood until replaced by the present span. A unique construction technique was used when the present bridge was being built. A temporary pontoon was fabricated of welded steel with a roadway 20 feet wide and 123 feet long. Electric-driven winches pivoted the deck in a ball-socket device in the anchored pontoon, and when swung open, there was a clear channel of 80 feet. The present vertical lift has a span of 200 feet and is identical to the Columbus Road Bridge.
The river can boast of a set of twins; two Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridges. One, the Newburgh and South Shore Railroad Bridge, has been retired from service but remains standing in an upright position. It had a glorious past: built in 1903 by H.L. Schuler, it was, at the time of erection, the longest bridge of its kind in the world. It is a double-track, single-leaf span 160 feet long, with two 50-fot foot deck-plate girder spans on two concrete abutments the original 50HP General Electric motors are still there.
The rail traffic is now being caried by its twin, a Baltimore and Ohio Bridge. It too is a Scherzer Rolling Lift, built in 1906 to serve the American Steel and Wire Companyís central furnace via the West Third Street yards of the railroad. It is a double-track railroad structure with an overall length of 205 feet and a lift span of 160 feet. It is supported on concrete piers with pile foundations. The main span is composed of triangular-shaped trusses 29 1/2 feet apart, with inclined top chords supported intermedially between the panel points. The trusses have a maximum depth of 44 feet and are connected by top and lateral sway-bracing. All connections are riveted. The bridge was fabricated at the Toledo plant of the American Bridge Company from plans furnished by the Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge Company. At present the structure is owned and maintained by the Chessie System.
We are now at the turning basin, beyond which the River is not navigable for the lake freighter. Although there are more movable bridges over the river, in a trip of only 2/12 miles one can see all the principal types and can witness their evolution. There is a specimen of the old swing bridge; there are Scherzer Rolling Lifts, jack-knifes, trunnion bascule (both single and double leaf), and modern vertical lifts. In few creations of man are beauty of form and utility of function so imposingly embodied; and in no place on earth can these monumental structures be so extensively enjoyed as along one short stretch of river in Cleveland, Ohio.
Last Updated July 29, 2002
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