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Columbus Road Bridge

Columbus Road Bridge and Cleveland Union Terminal Viaduct

The Columbus Road Bridge carries Columbus Road over the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio.


The Columbus Road crossing over the Cuyahoga River is the fifth span at the site of Cleveland’s first permanent bridge. 1 The first crossing, a ferry, was soon supplanted by a series of chained floating logs along Central Street. It was later improved with pontoon boats.

In 1835, the covered Columbus Street Bridge was completed at the cost of $15,000, 2 which featured a drawspan to allow vessels along the river to pass unimpeded. 1 The crossing was financed by a group of real-estate speculators led by Jas S. Clark who was developing Cleveland Center, a commercial and industrial district at the oxbow bend in the Flats. The Columbus Street bridge allowed for the commercial development of Cleveland at the expense of the then-independent Ohio City. 2

The bridge was donated to the city of Cleveland on April 18, 1836. 2 In June, the city demolished a portion of the Central Street bridge so that traffic would be forced to use Columbus Street and bypass Ohio City. In retribution, Ohio City residents rallied together, chanting “Two Bridges or None.” A group attempted and failed to detonate black powder and take down the Columbus Street Bridge. On October 31, a mob armed with guns and other improvised weapons damaged the Columbus Street Bridge but was met with Cleveland Mayor John W. Willey and armed militiamen who soon seriously injured three men. A county sheriff arrived to end the violence and to make arrests. It took a court ruling to force two bridges across the Cuyahoga River.

On February 24, 1857, the city awarded a contract to Thatcher, Burt & Company for a Howard Model swing bridge, 15 which had a projected lifespan of nine to ten years. 14 The estimated cost, $24,000, was split between the county, $6,000, and the city, $18,000. It was projected that the bridge would be completed by August 1858, 15 but progress was slow on its construction. 16 It was finally ready for use in 1859.

An 1863 inspection on the bridge concluded that a significant number of its structural timbers were rotten and that it would need to be completely rebuilt. 14 The chords, which supported the superstructure, had been placed in such a position that did not leave any room for water to drip out between the layers of plank, leading to accelerated deterioration. 14 One of the chords broke on August 7, which was hastily repaired with a chain. It did not last very long as the remainder of the chords broke a day later which caused the collapse of the superstructure. The superstructure was ultimately replaced with iron in 1870. 17

On August 15, 1894, the Columbus Street Bridge was closed to traffic and dismantled, and replaced with a double-swing bridge. 10 Designed by city engineer Walter F. Rice, 17 a superstructure construction contract was awarded to the Mt. Vernon Bridge Company of Ohio on October 13 despite the protest of Architect James Ritchie who bid $2,160 higher. The substructure contract was awarded to Fisher & Fisher and electrical work to George P. Nichols & Bros. of Chicago. 9

During construction, a temporary pontoon bridge was built after piles were driven into the river and planking laid on top. 10 Stairways led down to the primitive bridge, which extended only halfway across the Cuyahoga. A barge, 80 feet in length, completed the crossing. It was pivoted on a pile and swung by a capstan. The temporary crossing opened on August 14, 1894.

The new Columbus Street Bridge, the first of its type in the world, 8 17 was completed at the cost of $100,000 9 and opened to traffic on June 25, 1895. 9 It was operated by two 25 horsepower dynamos. The bridge’s two halves separated at the center and swung out in opposite directions, 11 providing a navigational channel of 115 feet. 17

Cuyahoga River Streamlining Project

In 1939, as part of a project to eliminate several dangerous curves for boats and widen the navigation channel along the Cuyahoga River, a public hearing was held in regards to the need for a new bridge for Columbus Road. 8 Designed by famed Cleveland engineer Wilbur Watson, 3 the Columbus Road bridge a part of the $5.5 million streamlining project that saw the completion of three new lift bridges over the Cuyahoga River.

The northern pier for the new bridge was completed on December 6, 1939, 7 with the southern pier being finished slightly off schedule because of weather on January 18, 1940. 6 Despite being unpainted because of wet weather, the new Columbus Road bridge opened to traffic two weeks ahead of schedule later in the year. 5 6 The new crossing provided a 220-foot wide channel and gentler curves. 5 6

A 2002 inspection noted that many of the bridge’s electrical and mechanical systems were failing and that it was in poor structural condition. 3 A follow-up inspection in 2007 noted little to no improvement in the bridge. In the follow-up, it noted that if the bridge had been properly maintained, a replacement would not even be a consideration. Six alternatives were studied that considered either rehabilitating the existing crossing, building a new bridge upstream, or eliminating the bridge entirely; it was decided that the vertical lift towers were salvageable but that the main would need to be replaced. 1

The $42 million project 4 was financed through $25.2 million in local major bridge program funds from the Ohio Department of Transportation, $8.4 million from the county and city, and another $8.4 million derived from the Surface Transportation Program. 2

Partial reconstruction of the Columbus Road bridge began in November 2011 and took a year to complete. 1 During the project, the central lift span was removed, placed on a barge, and moved downstream to be dismantled off-site. Another barge came up the river with the new lift span.



  • State: Ohio
  • Route: Columbus Road
  • Type: Vertical Lift
  • Status: Active - Automobile
  • Total Length: 200 feet (1835); 268/279 feet (1895); 359 feet (1940)
  • Main Span Length: 115 feet (1895); 242 feet (1940)
  • Spans:
  • Deck Width: 33 feet (1835); 42 feet (1940)
  • Roadway Width: 36 feet (1940)
  • Height: 24 feet (1835)
  • Above Vertical Clearance: 15 feet (1940)


  1. Pinckard, Cliff. “Columbus Road lift bridge in Cleveland’s Flats to be replaced.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland], 30 Mar. 2009. 25 July 2012. Article.
  2. “Columbus Street Bridge.” The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. N.p.: Case Western Reserve University, 14 July 1997. Web. 25 July 2012. Article.
  3. Sims, Damon. “Columbus Road bridge in Flats closed for repairs, has uncertain future.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland], 22 Aug. 2008. 25 July 2012. Article.
  4. “Reconstruct & Rehabilitate Columbus Road Lift Bridge.” Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, n.d. 26 July 2012. Article.
  5. “New Lift Bridges Ready By June 1.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland], 10 May 1940: 10. Print.
  6. Lawrence, Charles W. “Sidetracks River Jobs for Probe.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland], 5 Mar. 1940: 6. Print.
  7. “Carter Bridge Ahead of Schedule.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland] 7 Dec. 1939: 11. Print.
  8. Dean, Jewell R. “Marine News.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland] 19 Mar. 1939: 56. Print.
  9. “Columbus Street Bridge Opened.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland] 26 June 1985: 5. Print.
  10. “The Pontoon Bridge at Columbus Street Ready for Use.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland] 14 Aug. 1894: 10. Print.
  11. “A Double Swing Bridge.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland] 12 June 1894: 8. Print.
  12. “Mt. Vernon Bridge Co.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland] 14 Oct. 1894: 7. Print.
  13. “The Columbus Street Bridge.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland] 6 Oct. 1894: 5. Print.
  14. “The Columbus Street Bridge Fallen In.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland] 10 Aug. 1863: 3. Print.
  15. “City Facts and Fancies.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland] 23 Feb. 1857: 3. Print.
  16. “City Facts and Fancies.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland] 20 Aug. 1857: 3. Print.
  17. Watson, Sara Ruth, and John R. Wolfs. “Moveable Bridges.”Bridges of Metropolitan Cleveland. By SaraRuth Watson and John R. Wolfs. N.p.: n.p., 1981. 47-48. Print.

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