B & O Railroad Bridge Building Big Undertaking
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B & O Bridge Building Big Undertaking
Every history of Parkersburg available to us that mentions the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Bridge, states that it was begun in 1869 and completed in 1871. Research through old Parkersburg newspapers shows that work on this bridge, a mammoth undertaking at the time, actually began early in 1867, two years before the date given by most historians. In Vol. 1, No. 2 of The West Virginia Journal for April 2, 1867, a tabloid-sized newspaper edited by J. E. Wharton, is the following paragraph: The Baltimore and Ohio R. R. Co. have removed the tenants from their houses on the depot lot with the purpose of making a stone yard there for the work on the bridge. We have no doubt that work will promptly go forward, much to the relief of many citizens.
On March 16, 1867, this paper reported, The B. and O. R. R. CO. are now constructing a siding from above the Parkersburg Mill to the Kanawha, and are building a boat with trucks A year later, The Weekly' North American for April 4, 1868, stated, We perceive that the B & O R.R. Co. are steadily, but slowly, pushing their work on the piers in the approach to the bridge. They are furnishing dirt for a good part of the grade on Juliana St. which has improved it. The same paper for June 13, 1868, wrote that, The work on the approach to the B & O bridge! is going rapidly and about July 1. they will commence on the pier in the river. On July 9, the first stone in the first pier in the river was laid.
Little known today is the fight, that preceded the building of this bridge and even threatened to halt construction on it. The bitter conflict of interests ranged all the way to Washington, embroiling the embattled steamboat interests with rail road backers and officials, in a manner which made history. A Parkersburg paper for January, 1869, contains the following report on the argument which involved even the United States Post Office Department. I learn that a great feeling exists among those known as river men' on and about the Ohio River with reference to efforts on the part of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company virtually to break up navigation in the Ohio River by steam.
In the verbose style of the day, the article told that the railroad company wanted to! build a 300-foot-span instead of the
500-foot-span insisted upon by steamboats. The Senate passed a bill making it obligatory for the bridges to use the 500-foot spans, which bill the railroad companies managed to smother in the House, according to the old article. At that time, navigation by steamboats was a matter of much greater public interest than the improvement of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad's connections by substituting bridges for steam ferries across the Ohio, the article concluded.
An amusing sidelight to the controversy was that Congress, without precisely knowing what they were about in so doing, sometime since. made these prospective bridges post routes, which fact the railroad companies are using by way of justifying their prosecution of the work The Post Office Department, it seems, had been backing the steamboat lobby. An article in The Parkersburg Weekly Times for Dec. 8, 1870, throws some light on this old struggle which was not, as it might seem today, a fight to maintain the status quo.
The bridge companies along the Ohio River, the article began, "seem to think there is nothing more necessary for them to do than to start erection of some bridge so low and improperly spanned that it will act as an actual obstruction of the Ohio River. They can do this on comparative light capital. They are perfectly well aware that a disturbance will soon be raised. The fight grows hotter and when
everyone is satisfied that such a bridge would be ruinous, the company quietly steps in and levies a tax on river men and citizens of the cities that will be injured, and in this way build a good bridge at a very low cost for their own pockets. Some $40,000, we think, were levied by the B & O on Pittsburgh as the price for not obstructing the river there. And so, the railroad bridge which we take for granted today was finally completed.
Every few days, the Parkersburg papers of a 100 years ago carried a report on the progress being made on it. Saturday, Jan. 7, 1871, was the big day. The bridge was built. And, on this day crowds assembled on both sides of the river to watch George Henry Bailey and engine No. 58 make the first trip across that afternoon. The bright January day was marred by the accidental death of a boy, the 12-year-old son of Dr. Guthrie of Belpre. The cost of this bridge, which was said to be the longest in the world at the time it was built, was estimated to be three fourths of a million dollars.
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