THE KING BRIDGES OF CLEVELAND, OHIO

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Sun, 04/09/2006 - 00:42.

THE KING BRIDGES OF CLEVELAND, OHIO

 

It is fitting that the only one of the great bridges built by the King Bridge Company still standing is in Cleveland, the home of the company, its founder and his offspring. From just after the Civil War to the end of World War I, a period of six decades, the company played an important role in building the infrastructure of the metropolitan region, particularly the links to carry surface traffic across the sinewy Cuyahoga River, the city’s most important commercial and industrial water way. Moveable bridges crossing the river on the valley floor were the earliest solutions for making the east to west connections. One of Zenas King’s earliest important bridges was the city’s first iron swing bridge built on Columbus Avenue in 1864. The next year he built a similar patented swing bridge at Seneca Street and yet another at Jefferson Street in 1871.[7] However, to prevent the clash between shipping and surface traffic, high level crossings to allow boats to pass underneath without interrupting the traffic flow were the ideal solution. Following on their earlier projects, the King Bridge Company was able to obtain the contracts, first to build the high level Central Viaduct in 1888, then later, the Detroit-Superior Bridge in 1914 to close out the company’s final chapter of Cleveland bridge-building. The Detroit-Superior Bridge, along with the Center Street Swing Bridge built in 1900 and the B&O Railroad Scherzer Lift Bridge built in 1907, all notable structures in the history of bridge engineering, remain today as the King Bridge Company’s legacy to the City of Cleveland.

 

 THE CENTRAL VIADUCT

 During the 1880s, there was much discussion among the communities on the south and west of downtown Cleveland and the city council about the need for a new high-level crossing of the Cuyahoga River valley. Finally in 1885, the council approved a plan for two connected bridges, the first, a Central Viaduct of 2,839 feet from West 14th Street (Jennings Avenue in University Heights) to Carnegie (Central Avenue) in downtown, and the second, an extension called the Walworth Run of 1,088 feet from Abbey Avenue to Lorain Avenue. The King Bridge Company won the contract to build the entire structure that was started in 1886 and completed in 1888.[8]

 The construction of the bridge required innovative methods and techniques. It consisted of a series of iron deck trusses of varying lengths supported on iron towers of varying heights, with a central moveable span over the river that had to be constructed without interfering with river traffic. The central span was constructed by building cantilever sections out from the top of a masonry pier without the use of falsework. The engineering journals of the time featured a number of articles about the construction methods used and the King Bridge Company catalogues of the 1890s devoted four pages to the structure. The completion of the Central Viaduct was a cause for civic celebration. It was opened with great fanfare in December of 1888 and featured a parade of soldiers and civilians marching to the center of the structure to hear speeches by various dignitaries, including Zenas King. This was followed by a grand banquet at the Hollenden Hotel, with messages of congratulations from John D. Rockefeller, a former Euclid Avenue neighbor of Zenas King, and President Grover Cleveland.[9]

 After a speeding streetcar fell off the bridge in 1895 when the draw was open, the moveable center span was replaced by a fixed span. The central part of the structure was in operation for 53 years, until 1941, when, despite the efforts of some preservationists, it was torn down and 500 tons of metal were melted down to serve in World War II. It is now replaced by the structures that carry Interstate 90 across the valley. The Abbey Avenue branch remained in operation for another 40 plus years, until the 1980s, when it too succumbed to the ravages of time and traffic.