The need for a bridge was apparent as early as 1869, when Huntington founder Collis P. Huntington entrusted his brother-in-law, Delos W. Emmons, with the task of purchasing land for the city along with land in West Virginia and Ohio for a future bridge.(4) For the next 60 years, however, a ferryboat shuttled passengers and later automobiles between the two states.
The founding of the first fixed span over the river between one of West Virginia’s largest cities to Ohio was due to the brainstorming of Huntington businessman C.L. Ritter.(4) He believed that the city’s growth would be stunted without adequate transportation connections to the northern markets. Fundraising began in the early 1920s, and by early 1925, Ritter had enlisted more than a dozen of the city’s business leaders in a plan to construct an Ohio River crossing.
In April 1925, a site was chosen just west of Huntington’s downtown at 6th Street and construction began on the approach.(4) The span was opened to traffic on May 23, 1926 and carried U.S. Route 52. An estimated 10,000 visitors showed up for the dedication ceremonies.
The approach and main span extended for over one mile in length, and featured a 22-foot roadway and sidewalk.(4) The span was tolled and cost 25 cents for automobiles and 5 cents for pedestrians. Each additional passenger in a vehicle would cost 5 cents, and trucks could cost up to $1. A motorcycle was 10 cents, and a sidecar was 15 cents, while bicycles were 5 cents.
The new bridge featured four two-ton spires that rested atop each peak, each being 11.2 feet high and weighing two tons.(1)
The bridge was privately owned until 1940 when it was sold to Cabell County for $2 million. In 1952, deferred maintenance had caught up with the county who was unable to finance the needed repairs, and the bridge was turned over to the state of West Virginia.(4) Tolls on the crossing were removed in that year.
By the early 1950s, evening rush hours snarled downtown Huntington as traffic waited in queue to cross the two-lane span into Ohio. Morning rush hours into Huntington congested traffic in neighboring Chesapeake. Traffic studies completed during that time indicated the need for a twin span or other bridges in the region to handle the increased demand.(4)
Huntington received its second Ohio River crossing in 1968 when the two-lane W. 17th Street Bridge was opened. The toll booths at the 6th Street crossing were restored in that year to help pay for the new bridge, but tolls on both bridges were removed in 1978.(4)
A third Huntington crossing was planned for the east side, but construction was halted for decades due to funding issues and site selection problems. The two-lane East Huntington Bridge opened in 1985.(4)
The West Virginia Department of Highways initially favored rehabilitating the 6th Street Bridge, but inspections showed that the bridge would be far too costly to restore to an adequate service level due to age and deterioration.(4) Construction on the four-lane new bridge — Huntington’s first, began parallel to the existing span in early 1993. The old 6th Street crossing was closed to traffic in mid-1993 to allow for the construction of ramps and approaches in West Virginia and Ohio.(3) The new crossing opened in November 1994 and was named after Senator Robert C. Byrd.
In January 1995, the deck from the old bridge was removed,(4) followed by the removal of the bridge spires.(1) All of the spires were taken to a warehouse by the C.J. Mahan Construction Company of Grove City, Ohio for cleaning before being returned to Huntington and Chesapeake for display. One of the spires was relocated to the Chesapeake Town Hall at the intersection of Ohio State Route 7 and the new Robert C. Byrd Bridge, donated on October 29, 1995, and the remainder were located in a redesigned 9th Street Plaza in downtown Huntington.(2)
On February 3, 1995, explosive charges removed the 400-foot center span of the 6th Street Bridge.(4) The bridge’s towers were later dropped. The concrete piers were blasted to pieces on July 17, 1995 after 68 years of service, however, the chunks of concrete were larger than expected and debris flew over the floodwall into Huntington and onto Veterans Memorial Boulevard. Dozens of chunks of concrete ranging from pebble-sized to several pounds damaged surrounding streets, buildings, and several automobiles, however, no injuries were reported.
Tourist attraction proposal
A committee headed by Dallas Broznik requested that the former 6th Street Bridge be saved and converted into a tourist attraction, while others proposed that it be converted into a flea market.
“It hurts. It’s such an opportunity. Seeing it going away like that is painful. Every great idea had a first time, and this could have been another of those times. I am a little bit disgusted with this group of leaders (DOT officials) that we have that have to copy from everyone else. We still feel it’s a good idea. It wasn’t a group of crackpots with an outlandish idea. It could still be one of those things we turn into a tourist point for this area. Somebody else is going to do it, somebody else is going to save a bridge, and they’ll get all the fame and glory. It’s not dead yet until it’s down in the water.”
- Bridge type: Cantiliver
- Main span length: 400 ft.
- Width: 22 ft.
- Number of lanes: 2
- 6th Street Bridge at Structurae
- “Bridge’s old spire getting a new lease.” Herald Dispatch 29 Oct. 1995. 26 Nov. 2006.
- Chambers, Bryan. “Plaza to reopen in December.”Herald-Dispatch (Huntington) 26 Nov. 2006. 27 Nov. 2006.
- “Bridge opening sparks memories.” Ironton Tribune 6 Nov. 1994. 27 Nov. 2006.
- Casto, James E. “The story behind Huntington’s first bridge.” Huntington Quarterly Autumn 2006. 2 Sept. 2009: 20-23.