Bridges in Cleveland

From the Encyclopedia of Cleveland

The link is here

BRIDGES. Cleveland, split firmly though unequally by the CUYAHOGA RIVER, is deeply dependent on bridges. The city’s east and west sides are joined today by both high fixed spans and lower-level opening bridges. Trains cannot climb steep grades, and their frequency of crossing is low enough to permit the use of opening spans of various sorts. Auto and truck traffic, however, is of such high density that delays occasioned by spans opening for river traffic would be intolerable. Autos and trucks are capable of climbing the relatively steep approaches to high-level bridges over the Cuyahoga River, and today the bridges carrying heavy traffic loads (the Innerbelt Bridge, the HOPE MEMORIAL BRIDGE, the VETERANS MEMORIAL BRIDGE, and theMAIN AVE. BRIDGE) are high fixed spans. There are more than 330 bridges in the immediate Cleveland area, including both the Cuyahoga River bridges and those spanning other features of the area’s mixed terrain and industrial complexes.

When Cleveland was first platted, just before 1800, the east and west sides were joined by ferries, which were soon supplanted by the first Center St. Bridge. The Center St. Bridge was based on a system of chained floating logs, a section of which would be pulled aside to permit the passage of vessels. A later version of this bridge was based on pontoon boats, and ultimately on a succession of fixed structures. The first substantial bridge over the Cuyahoga appears to have been the first COLUMBUS STREET BRIDGE, erected ca. 1836, with a draw section permitting vessels to pass. The roofed bridge was 200′ long and 33′ wide, including sidewalks. In 1836, following the incorporation of both Cleveland and OHIO CITY (CITY OF OHIO), Cleveland ordered the destruction of its portion of the Center St. Bridge, which had the effect of directing commerce across the Columbus St. span, thereby bypassing Ohio City. Enraged Ohio City residents damaged the Columbus St. span and hostilities began. West-siders ultimately gained their point, retaining a Center St. bridge along with the Columbus St. span. With Cleveland’s annexation of Ohio City in 1854, traffic increases led to construction of the Main St. Bridge and the Seneca (W. 3rd) St. Bridge, and a rebuilding of the Center St. Bridge. In 1870 the Columbus bridge was replaced by an iron truss structure, which in turn was replaced by a 3rd bridge in 1895. The Seneca span collapsed in 1857 and was replaced first by a timber draw span, and in 1888 by a Scherzer roller-lift bridge–the first of its kind in Cleveland. The Center St. Bridge had a similar history, its wooden structure being replaced several times, finally with the unequal swinging span of iron built in 1900, which remained in service in 1993 as the sole swinging bridge in the city.

By 1993, 4 great vehicular bridges provided high-level spans over the Cuyahoga Valley. They were the Veterans Memorial Bridge (opened in 1918), the Hope Memorial Bridge (1932), the Main Ave. Bridge (1939), and the Innerbelt Bridge (1959). Near the present Veterans Memorial Bridge may be seen the remains of one of Cleveland’s great historical bridge achievements, the SUPERIOR VIADUCT, opened with great fanfare in Dec. 1878. Its great west side stone approaches were joined with a swinging metal span crossing the Cuyahoga toward PUBLIC SQUARE and downtown Cleveland. The viaduct served until Veterans Memorial was opened in 1918, as a result of complaints about delays in vehicular traffic from the frequent openings that river traffic required. Originally known as the Detroit-Superior Bridge, Veterans Memorial was a 2-level structure, with streetcars utilizing the lower deck until their demise in the 1950s. When inaugurated, it was the world’s largest double-deck reinforced-concrete bridge.

Planned as early as 1916 but delayed by World War I, Hope Memorial was opened as the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge in 1932. The bridge has a lower deck originally designed for rapid-transit trains and trucks, but never used. Four colossal pylons, with figures symbolizing transportation progress, were preserved as the bridge underwent a thorough renovation in the 1980s, at which time it was renamed the Hope Memorial Bridge to honor the stonemason father of former Cleveland entertainer Bob Hope. Planned as early as 1930 to replace the low-level Main Ave. Bridge, with its attendant traffic delays, the Main Ave. High-Level Bridge was opened in 1939, after a remarkably fast construction largely financed with PWA funds. The bridge is 2,250′ long; with approaches, it is more than a mile in length. Eight truss-cantilever spans of varying lengths constitute the bridge itself, with added bridgework at the eastern end joining the bridge to the lakefront freeway. Having undergone significant emergency repairs in the 1980s, the Main Ave. Bridge was closed from 1990-92 for a major rebuilding and renovation of the deck structure, sidewalks, and railings.

The old CENTRAL VIADUCT, opened in 1888, stood approximately at the location of the Innerbelt Bridge (1959). The entire span consisted of 2 bridges of iron and steel placed on masonry piers. Originally the river was spanned with a swing section, which was replaced with an overhead truss in 1912. Closed in 1941, the Central Viaduct was finally replaced in 1959 by the Innerbelt Bridge, built with substantial funding resulting from the Federal Highway Act of 1956. The bridge is Ohio’s widest, and nearly a mile long, with the central portion consisting of a series of cantilever-deck trusses with a reinforced-concrete deck and asphaltic concrete driving surface. It serves to connect I-71 and I-90 West with the Innerbelt Freeway. Two other bridges built as part of the interstate highway system are the I-490 bridge, which replaced the Clark Ave. Bridge, and the I-480 bridge spanning the Cuyahoga through VALLEY VIEW. A substantial high-level rail bridge, the CLEVELAND UNION TERMINAL Railway Bridge, just south of the Veterans Memorial Bridge, carries 2 rail tracks and 2 tracks used by commuter rapid trains of the GREATER CLEVELAND REGIONAL TRANSIT AUTHORITY.

Nearly a dozen movable bridges remained across the Cuyahoga serving both vehicular traffic and railroads in 1993. Among the vehicular bridges are the old Center St. Swing Bridge, the Willow St. Lift Bridge (over the Old Cuyahoga Channel between the west side and WHISKEY ISLAND), the Columbus St. Lift Bridge, the Carter Rd. Bridge, and the W. 3rd St. Bridge. The remaining lift bridges serve various railroads; some were actively used, such as the ConRail Lift Bridge near the mouth of the Cuyahoga–the first bridge up the Cuyahoga from Cleveland Harbor–but many remained in lifted positions in the 1980s in response to industrial declines in the Cuyahoga Valley and consequent declines in railroad traffic. The rail bridges included Scherzer roller-lift bridges, bascule structures, and jacknife bridges, in addition to lift bridges such as the ConRail structure.

In addition to those spanning the Cuyahoga River, there are other bridges in Cleveland worthy of note. Architect CHAS. F. SCHWEINFURTH†, noted for his design of the downtown TRINITY CATHEDRAL, designed 4 unusually fine bridges that span Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. (formerly Liberty Blvd.) inROCKEFELLER PARK. Structurally interesting in their combining of steel, concrete, and decorative stone, they include 3 vehicle bridges (Wade Park, Superior, and St. Clair avenues) and a railroad bridge (built for the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway). Other noteworthy structures include the Forest Hills pedestrian bridge in nearby CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, the concrete-arch Monticello Bridge carrying Monticello Blvd. over Euclid Creek, the 1910 DETROIT-ROCKY RIVER BRIDGE (demolished 1980), the Hilliard Rd. Bridge over the Rocky River (1926), and the steel arched Lorain Rd. Bridge crossing Metropolitan Park near the Rocky River.

Although a large number of engineers, designers, and architects, organizations, and consortia can be identified with recent bridge history in Cleveland, several individuals and organizations stand out. One of these is Chas. Schweinfurth, whose designs were referred to earlier. Another prominent designer and builder associated mainly with midwestern railroad bridges was AMASA STONE†, who, unfortunately, is often remembered for the tragic 1876 collapse of his innovative wrought-iron Howe truss bridge that spanned the Ashtabula River, supporting the tracks of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad, of which he was president. Cleveland firms that have had prominent roles in the history of Cleveland bridges are Wilbur J. Watson & Associates–known for the 1940 Columbus St. Bridge and later for pioneering concrete bridge structures–and Frank Osborn’s OSBORN ENGINEERING CO., which began building local bridges at about the end of the 19th century. Another firm with historical prominence was the KING IRON BRIDGE & MANUFACTURING CO., which had important roles in the building of the Veterans Memorial Bridge, the old Central Viaduct, and the present (1993) Center St. Bridge. In the post-World War II period, the firm of Howard, Needles, Tammen & Bergendoff was heavily involved with bridges in Cleveland, as attention shifted away from building new bridges to rebuilding and rehabilitating existing structures.

Willis Sibley

Bluestone, Daniel M., ed. Cleveland: An Inventory of Historic Engineering and Industrial Sites (1978).

Bridges of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County (1918).

Watson, Sara Ruth and John R. Wolfs. Bridges of Metropolitan Cleveland (1981).


Teaching Cleveland Digital is a repository of writing, pictures and videos to support the teaching of Cleveland, Northeast Ohio and Ohio @