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Sunday, May 6, 2012

A Tale of Two Bridges

Rock Springs Park owes its birth and death to two different bridges which spanned the Ohio River from East Liverpool to Chester, WV over the course of a century.

1. The Chester Bridge (1897 – 1969)
It was no mere coincidence that the Chester trolley line ended at the entrance to Rock Springs Park. Trolley companies around the country started building amusement parks at the end of their lines to build ridership and increase profits on weekends.
In 1890, East Liverpool attorney James (J.E.) McDonald purchased 170 acres of the Marks estate with a plan to commercialize the spring grove by building a local amusement park in conjunction with a new bridge project and street car line. Despite several setbacks, work on the bridge and park began in 1895.

The 1,466 foot Chester Bridge was completed in just over a year and the trolley had its first run on May 26, 1897. Three days later, on Memorial Day 1897, Rock Springs Park had its official opening, where more than 5000 jammed the dance pavilion, café, dining hall, shooting gallery, bowling alleys, walked the shady paths or watched a ballgame.

The bridge, the new town of Chester and the park were all part of J.E. McDonald’s plan to open up the south side of East Liverpool to investors and future home and business owners. A 1905 brochure explained, "A long graceful suspension bridge binds East Liverpool to Chester. Improvements in the course of its erection include street paving, street cars, and the beautiful Rock Springs Park."
Rock Springs Park owner, C.A. Smith purchased the Chester Bridge in 1901. The trolley line was discontinued in 1937 and Smith sold the bridge the following year to the State of Ohio for $2,185,000.

Smith made “Ripley's Believe It Or Not” in 1935 when the bridge was rebuilt without stopping traffic.

“Under Smith,” according to Roy C. Cashdollar, “the bridge was very prosperous with it being a vital part of the highway system known as the Lincoln Highway - U.S. Route 30 with thousands of autos traveling it. It was reported that it brought an approximate $360,000 in proceeds the last year of private ownership. The state of Ohio continued it as a toll bridge until June of 1951, when passage between Chester and East Liverpool became free. In 1969, it was closed by the State of Ohio as it was considered unsafe for use.”

For eight years Chester and East Liverpool had no direct connection. The closest passage was across the privately owned toll-bridge at Newell. But meanwhile plans were made and several sites considered for a new safer truss bridge to be constructed. Eventually it was decided that Route 30 entering Chester from Pennsylvania to the southeast could be widened into lands owned by Rock Springs Park and the new bridge crossing over Carolina Avenue into Chester could touch down near the park’s midway.

2. The Jennings Randolph Bridge (1977 – present)
(Courtesy of Rob Morrow)
The Youngstown Vindicator reported on the grand opening of the new bridge on November 8, 1977. “For the first time in eight years, there is now a direct link between East Liverpool and Chester, W. Va. A new, $26-million, four-lane bridge was dedicated here Monday”

The dedication ceremony included governors, mayors and the bridge’s namesake West Virginia State Senator Jennings Randolph. "A crowd of 2,000 witnessed the rain-shortened ceremonies held on one of the approach ramps leading to the superstructure. Musical selections were played by the East Liverpool High School Band and the Oak Glen High School Band near Chester."

In all the fanfare no mention is given in the Vindicator article about the loss of Rock Springs Park. However it does mention the old bridge. “The new bridge replaces the old Chester Bridge, a two-lane structure built in 1989 and determined to be unsafe for vehicle traffic in 1968. A deteriorated support cable on the Ohio side was blamed for the closing of the bridge to all traffic on May 14, 1969. The bridge was demolished a year later."

Many area bridges were closely inspected in 1968 following the collapse of the Silver Bridge in Point Pleasant, WV a year earlier. The Chester Bridge was mentioned by name in an article which appeared in the Pittsburgh Press a week after the tragedy which took 46 lives. “Ohio Highway Director P.E. Masheter ordered an ‘immediate’ inspection of three Ohio River bridges owned by the state. These are the Pomeroy Bridge, which drew heavy traffic in the wake of the collapse of the Silver Bridge; the Fort Steuben Bridge at Steubenville, and the Chester Bridge at East Liverpool.”

A 1975 book The Mothman Prophecies, claimed that Mothman was related to a wide array of supernatural events in the area including the collapse of the Silver Bridge. The 2002 film starring Richard Gere was based on the book.

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