Saturday, March 26, 2022

1849+1860 Wheeling Suspension Bridge over Ohio River in Wheeling, WV

(Bridge Hunter; Historic Bridges; HAERSatellite)

This is a bridge that I can't believe I haven't researched already.

The state border is on the west side of the Ohio River so this bridge is in Wheeling, WV. It is over the East Channel between the downtown on the river's shore and Wheeling Island. (Since it crosses just the East Channel instead of the Ohio River, that allows the 1866 Cincinnati Roebling Bridge to claim to be the oldest bridge across the river.)

HAER WVA,35-WHEEL,35--60 (CT)
60. Perspective view of bridge, from northwest - Wheeling Suspension Bridge, Spanning East channel of Ohio River at U.S. Route 40, Wheeling, Ohio County, WV

Significance: Oldest vehicular suspension bridge still in operation in the world; span in excess of 1,000 feet. First bridge built crossing the Ohio River. Originally designed and built by Charles Ellet in 1849, it was often called the father of modern American suspension bridges. In 1969 it was designated an ASCE National Engineering Landmark, and a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1976. The Wheeling Bridge is perhaps the most important extant antebellum civil engineering structure in North America.  [HAER-data]
That would explain why HistoricBridges rates the historical significance of this bridge as 10 out of 10. It is important to note that the HAER record was "transmitted" in 1987 because it now carries just pedestrian traffic. But that is what should be done with an old bridge. Downgrade its function, but keep it standing. The National Historic Landmark that it won in 1976 is the highest honor that the US bestows on historic structures.

Street View, Jul 2019

The cables and deck truss we see today date back to "only" 1860. The bridge was designed by Charles Ellet Jr., and it "was not sufficiently stiffened to resist the cumulative motions resulting from the buffeting of high winds. On May 17, 1854, the structure was subjected to torsional movements and vertical undulations that tossed the flooring almost to the height of the towers. Except for some of the cables, the entire structure collapsed into the river." Various emergency repairs were done until the permanent replacement was built in 1860. Some guy wires were added as part of this rebuild. Subsequent work, some by Washington Roebling himself, made it look more and more like a Roebling design. [nomination, p5] "The current appearance of the bridge is essentially the work of Joseph Lawson in 1872." [Don Sayenga comment in BridgeHunter] It was the 1872 improvements to which Roebling contributed. But subsequent work added additional ideas pioneered by the Roeblings.

I was shocked when I read in the nomination that the truss was still made with wood and iron. Fortunately, Patrick caught that detail.
Photo taken by Patrick Gurwell in October 2020 via BridgeHunter
[It is hard to see through the railing, but there are iron verticals between the wooden X's.]

HistoricBridges notes that most bridges built in the 19th Century do not have a grade.
HAER WVA,35-WHEEL,35- (sheet 2 of 4)
HAER WVA,35-WHEEL,35- (sheet 2 of 4) - Wheeling Suspension Bridge, Spanning East channel of Ohio River at U.S. Route 40, Wheeling, Ohio County, WV

I did not notice the side stay cables until I saw the above diagram.

Not only is the bridge built on a grade, the anchorages are not symmetric because the shores are quite different.  The east shore is a bluff and bedrock is probably close to the surface. But the island side is probably just a bunch of sand. Thus the invention of this distributed anchorage.
Street View

I'm glad the town keeps the shore free from trees so that I could get this fantastic view that includes the river bluff on the other side.
Street View

1 if 13 photos posted by Bridges & tunnels
A renovation to the historic Wheeling Suspension Bridge and major repairs to 26 bridges along Interstate 70 in and around Wheeling, West Virginia, are wrapping up. Read on in our latest Journal entry, "Fresh Renovations for Wheeling":
Bridges Now and Then posted
The Wheeling Suspension Bridge undergoing restoration work, Wheeling, Ohio County, 1980s. (Wheeling Collection, West Virginia State Archives)
Dave Frieder: Engineer of design, Charles Ellet Jr. Modified by Roebling!
David Lang: Was this built before or after the Cincinnati Suspension bridge?
Bridges Now and Then: David Lang The Wheeling bridge opened 1849, Roebling's Cincinnati bridge opened 1866.

BridgeHunter states that the length of the main span is 949.2'. But all of the other sources say in excess of 1000', and the nomination says 1010' between tower tops.

By 2016 the traffic was down to 5,234/day because they tried to seriously enforce a weight restriction. In 2019 they gave up trying to enforce a 2-ton weight restriction and closed the bridge to vehicles. Frankly, I'm surprised vehicles were not barred earlier given that the truss is still made with wood and iron.

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