The High-Level Bridge carries North Main Street over the Little Cuyahoga River in Akron, Ohio.
1914 North Main Street Bridge
The High-Level Bridge, initiated in the early 1910s, was crucial for accessing the west side of Cuyahoga Falls and fostering residential growth near Akron’s industrial core during its industrial surge. 1 From 1910 to 1920, Akron experienced an economic and population explosion due to the burgeoning rubber industry and World War I. Employment in the rubber sector soared from 22,000 in 1913 to over 70,000 by 1920, while the population tripled from 69,000 to 208,435.
The High-Level Bridge, completed in 1914, featured a 26-foot-wide roadway, two traffic lanes, and two five-foot sidewalks. 1 It included an innovative wood block pavement, designed to dampen the noise from steel-shod horses and wheels.
By the 1940s, Akron emerged as the global rubber capital, producing half of the nation’s tires. 1 The rapid expansion of the trucking industry led to 19 trucking firms establishing headquarters in Akron, with 25 others operating terminals in the city, collectively transporting over 75 million pounds of freight daily.
However, the bridge started facing challenges as it became overburdened and its two lanes became insufficient, especially as the highway to the north and south were four lanes. 1 The wood block pavement also led to unforeseen issues. Rain caused the wood blocks to swell, permitting water to seep through and damage the underlying concrete slab. This led to a reduced speed limit of 10 MPH, a 12-ton weight restriction for trucks, and deteriorating railings, which almost resulted in a bus accident. A loaded bus jumped the curb, knocking out a hole in the railing and almost toppling over into the valley below.
1949 North Main Street Bridge
During the Great Depression and World War II, bridge upkeep and new constructions were curtailed due to steel shortages and the redirection of federal funds towards the war effort. 1
In 1942, the Summit County Board of Commissioners enlisted the expertise of consulting engineer, Wendell P. Brown, to assess the condition of a current bridge. 1 His report, delivered in April 1943, concluded that the bridge was beyond repair. Despite the substructure being intact, the deck, cross beams, sidewalk, expansion joints, and superstructure were significantly damaged.
By October 1943, the county commissioned Cleveland-based firm, Wilbur Watson & Associates, to design a replacement. 1 T. E. Terry, a partner in the firm, and S. O. Forsmark, chief engineer, supervised the preparation of the plans. The following year, R. L. Harding, a bridge consultant from the firm, proposed preliminary designs for the new construction. The plans indicated that the new bridge would be situated 150 feet east and 12 feet higher than the existing one, aligning well with North Main Street and removing the current dips at both ends. Additionally, the design included four traffic lanes, two sidewalks measuring five feet each, and a four-foot central dividing strip, resulting in a total width of 66 feet.
Funding and steel shortages had initially stalled the project. 1 However, the passage of the 1944 Federal Highway Act facilitated the progress of significant highway projects. In September 1945, updated plans, submitted by Watson, featured several design options, including a multi-span concrete arch design, akin to the existing bridge, and a cantilevered steel arch design. The concrete arch was dismissed due to its high cost and extensive lumber requirements, which was scarcely available. Additionally, there was a dearth of the specialized labor necessary. Conversely, the steel arch, selected for its cost-effectiveness, did not necessitate specialized erection methods or as much skilled labor, and was engineered for longevity.
In 1943, the bridge was projected to cost $442,000. Watson then consented to create the entire design and specifications for $15,470. 1 With the addition of right-of-way acquisition and approach construction, the project’s overall price tag was $939,600. However, by April 1946, an unprecedented rise in steel and labor costs had pushed the estimate up by an additional $500,000.
The bridge project was financially supported by the federal Public Roads Administration, the State Highway Department, and the county, despite the involvement of five agencies in total. 1 The funding was divided as follows: the Public Roads Administration covered half of the costs with federal aid funds, the state took on a quarter of the expenses, and the county contributed the final 25%.
Despite the state’s urgings to expedite the finalization of the bridge plans, no progress had been made by July 1946. 1 The objective was to initiate the bidding process for its construction by fall. Finally, on April 5, 1947, the plans were completed under the supervision of Ralph Van Brimmer, the county bridge engineer. State and federal highway agencies swiftly approved the plans, paving the way for bid submission.
In October 1947, the government mandated the county to raise its financial contribution to $492,500. 1 This demand was reasonable since it did not rely on tax or bond increases, and the county had accumulated a significant bridge fund reserve from gasoline tax and license fees during World War II.
Subsequently, on January 7, 1948, a construction contract in the amount of $1,933,607 was granted to Bates & Rogers Corporation, based in Chicago. 1 It involved the removal of the old bridge and the erection of the new crossing, although the demolition aspect of the job was later separated out into a separate contract.
The county acquired 44 plots, including 30 in Akron and 14 in Cuyahoga Falls, at a price of $185,000, for the approaches and right-of-way. 1 Only two houses, one each in Akron and Cuyahoga Falls, were relocated in April 1948, using an ‘always level’ method that allowed furniture and household items to remain in place during the move.
Construction of the new bridge commenced on February 4, 1948. 1 By mid-March, Bates & Rogers was set to begin work on the north abutment, but was delayed by a house in Cuyahoga Falls, where the county permitted the resident to stay until May 1. To avoid further delays, the county requested the occupant to leave by April 15, which he complied with. Following the house move, the contractor started pouring concrete for the abutments and pier footings, a process that involved nearly 5,000 cubic yards of concrete and took about a month.
Once the pier footings and abutments were completed, work on the approaches began. In Cuyahoga Falls, State Road pavement was removed to relocate water and sewer lines before paving the new approach. 1 Meanwhile, in Akron, the ground was prepared for paving. By autumn, the steel erection work was underway by subcontractor Bethlehem Steel Company.
In the construction phase, Bates & Rogers’ C.T. Smith served as the General Superintendent while M.C. Warmbier was the General Foreman. 1 Bethlehem Steel’s Harry Hiscott managed the steel erection as Superintendent. Additionally, the Ohio Department of Highways employed C.M. Newhall as a Project Engineer and William Wardman as a Division Construction Engineer.
Most of the steelwork for Bethlehem was carried out by Native Americans, specifically descendants of the Iroquois and Mohawk tribes on the Akron side, and the Seneca tribe on the Cuyahoga Falls side. 1 This led to a friendly race between the two groups to see who could reach the valley center first. The presence of Native Americans was so prominent that someone humorously wrote on the steel, “Stay Off – Indian Reservation.”
Bethlehem Steel employed the cantilevered method to centralize steel construction, using 5.5 million pounds of structural and 325,000 pounds of reinforcing steel. 1 By early December, workers began erecting the center suspended span using two cranes to lift and position two 60-foot sections, each weighing 40,000 pounds. Workmen then inserted drift pins and erection bolts, followed by the open steel grid roadway deck. The steelwork was completed on December 7.
On July 13, 1949, the new High-Level Bridge was inaugurated with official ceremonies, parades, fireworks, and other festivities, attracting over 100,000 attendees. 1 The event began at 5:30 p.m. with a reception for nearly 100 officials at the Mayflower Hotel, followed by a buffet dinner. Guests were then transported to the bridge. Although Governor Frank J. Lausche was slated to cut the ribbon, he passed the honor to county engineer Arthur Ranney, acknowledging his pivotal role in the bridge’s realization. This gesture was followed by the largest parade since Akron’s centennial celebration at 7:30 p.m.
The High-Level Bridge later received an annual award of merit as the Most Beautiful Steel Bridge in the Class I division. 1
In July 1950, the Cuyahoga Wrecking Company in Cleveland demolished the central section of the High-Level Bridge using explosives. 1 The incident led hundreds of onlookers to scramble for safety as debris of concrete and steel flew around. Tragically, Clarence H. Bartlett, a hobbyist photographer standing 400 feet from the scene, was hit by a one-foot-diameter piece of concrete, resulting in his death.
Following this, the rest of the bridge was dismantled without any further incident, costing a total of $66,000. 1
- State: Ohio
- Route: North Main Street
- Type: Pratt Deck Truss
- Status: Active - Automobile
- Total Length: 902'
- Main Span Length: 470'
- Deck Width: 52'
- Total Height: 220'
- Fields, Mark P. Akron’s Singing Bridge. 13 Jul. 1995.