Heritage Road Trips: Historic Bridges
These famous spans throughout the state offer insight into Ohio history, the evolution of travel and the role of waterfront industry.
Great Stone Viaduct, Bellaire
Located along the Ohio River Scenic Byway and Drovers Trail Scenic Byway in Bellaire, this stone viaduct stands as a symbol of America’s unity following the Civil War. Completed in 1871, this viaduct consists of 43 separate stone arches. Each arch contains 37 ring stones that represent the 37 states of the Union at the time of its construction.
“The designers did that to show a sense of healing for the country,” says Paul Cramer, chairman of Bellaire’s Great Stone Viaduct Historical Education Society. “I think they felt the need to do something symbolic, and to me, that gives this viaduct some national prominence.”
Although just 23 of the arches are still in use by railroad traffic today, people can walk beneath the other curved arches and observe the careful preservation that has kept the viaduct in near-perfect condition. The structure attracts railroad buffs, but Cramer’s society is currently working to create additional recreation options.
“One of our main projects was to preserve the structure,” he says. “But we decided we wanted to build a park there, a walkway on top [of the arches] and a bike trail.” 31st Street, Bellaire 43906, 740/963-3500, greatstoneviaduct.org
While You’re There: Bellaire is home to the Toy and Plastic Brick Museum (brickmuseum.net), which holds Lego constructions of popular characters such as Thomas the Tank Engine and Garfield. The National Imperial Glass Museum (imperialglass.org) displays a diverse collection of the glass that was made in Bellaire for more than 80 years.
John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, Cincinnati
As the oldest bridge on the Ohio River, the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge linking Kentucky and Ohio serves as an iconic river crossing for vehicles and pedestrians alike. Designed by John A. Roebling, the bridge opened in 1867 and, at 1,057 feet, was the longest suspension bridge in the world until Roebling’s Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883.
“It’s considered a great engineering masterpiece and a great work of architecture,” says Don Heinrich Tolzmann, historian of the Covington-Cincinnati Suspension Bridge Committee, a group dedicated to preserving the landmark. “The bridge is a great tourist attraction and the most photographed place in the Greater Cincinnati area.”
The Covington-Cincinnati Suspension Bridge Committee periodically offers tours of the bridge. Many are led by engineers who are knowledgeable about its details and can provide insight into the architectural masterpiece as well as the man who created it.
“A lot of people see it and say it’s beautiful, but beyond that, they can find out more about how it was constructed, how the cables were strung across the river and find out about Roebling himself through these tours,” says Tolzmann. The John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge crosses the Ohio River between Cincinnati and Covington, Kentucky. For more information, visit roeblingbridge.org
While You’re There: Smale Riverfront Park (cincinnatiparks.org) offers 45 acres with public art installations and a giant foot piano among its diversions. Afterward, grab a legendary Cincinnati brew at Moerlein Lager House (moerleinlagerhouse.com) and take in Ohio River views from its wraparound porch.
Historic Covered Bridges, Ashtabula County
Throughout the year, but especially during summer and fall, Ashtabula County draws people from across the state and beyond to check out the 19 covered bridges scattered throughout the region. Most were originally built during the late 1800s and can be visited in a single, 140-mile self-guided trip throughout the county.
“There are so many different styles of bridges,” says Ginger Whitehead, executive director of the Ashtabula County Covered Bridge Festival, held each October. “It’s not just people who love bridges who come to see them, but also families who like to be out in nature.”
The annual Ashtabula Covered Bridge Festival, held in the heart of Jefferson, features crafters, antique cars and musical performances. Beyond the central festival, people can visit Smolen-Gulf Bridge — the longest covered bridge in the United States — and others where local nonprofit organizations set up stands to sell hot dogs and baked goods to hungry travelers as a way to raise money.
“We want to draw attention to the preservation of covered bridges and the fact that our county is doing a great job at protecting and building new ones,” Whitehead says. For more information about the festival, visit coveredbridgefestival.org. For the locations of the county’s 19 covered bridges, go to visitashtabulacounty.com.
While You’re There: Stop by Ashtabula’s Hubbard House Underground Railroad Museum (hubbardhouseugrrmuseum.org), located in an 1841 home. Geneva’s Old Mill Winery (theoldmillwinery.com), housed in a historic property, offers a cozy spot for sipping wine.
Bridges of The Flats, Cleveland
The Flats wouldn’t be The Flats without its mix of bridges that crisscross the winding Cuyahoga River. Types range from low-level and high-level drawbridges to the Center Street swing bridge. Most were built to accommodate passage of the enormous freighters that still navigate the river.
“It’s amazing bridge architecture,” says Tom Yablonsky, executive vice president of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance. “It’s like a treasure trove of different types of bridges here.”
While most of The Flats’ bridges are still in operation, some sit idle along the waterfront for people to admire, like the jackknife bridge built in 1956 behind the historic Powerhouse. Permanently moved into its vertical position, the bridge illustrates how the industrial spans have now become a form of public art that celebrates Cleveland’s heritage.
The 90-minute Canal Basin Park Tour offered every Sunday from the middle of May through the middle of September includes the history of the bridges found throughout The Flats and their significance to the area.
“[The tours] cover the architecture, history, the distinction of the engineering and the various types of bridges,” Yablonsky says. For more information about the Canal Basin Park Tour and other tours, visit takeahikecle.com.
While You’re There: Featuring more than 2,700 sea creatures, the Greater Cleveland Aquarium (greaterclevelandaquarium.com) located inside the historic Powerhouse offers a look beneath the waves. Those seeking nightlife can find it at Punch Bowl Social (punchbowlsocial.com), which offers great views of The Flats from its rooftop patio.
These Ohio bridges are also notable for their appearance and style of construction.
Bowstring Bridge, New Bremen: Built in 1864, this is the oldest bowstring bridge in Ohio and one of 74 iron bowstring bridges known to exist today. Local residents preserved it and converted it into a pedestrian walkway crossing the former Miami & Erie Canal. Southwest corner of West Monroe and South Washington streets, New Bremen 45869, newbremen.com
Anthony Wayne Suspension Bridge, Toledo: Also known as the High Level Bridge, this span is the last suspension bridge in Ohio’s state-highway network. Constructed in 1931, it crosses the Maumee River, carrying state Routes 2 and 51. Its sky-blue color and lattice patterns give the bridge a unique aesthetic appearance. 111 Ottawa St., Toledo 43604, 419/321-6404, visittoledo.org
Y Bridge, Zanesville: This three-branched bridge was built five times over 170 years. After the first fell into the Muskingum River in 1818, the three bridges that followed were all ultimately deemed unsafe for travel. The fifth and current Y Bridge has stood where traffic from U.S. Route 40 meets Linden Avenue since 1902. Zanesville 43701, 740/455-7109, visitzanesville.com