1955: The Opening of a Bridge in the Mountain State is Celebrated with Great Fanfare

September 8, 1955

After four years of construction, a steel tied-arch bridge in the city of Wheeling in West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle was officially opened. This four-lane bridge crosses a section of the Ohio River between Wheeling Island (within that city’s boundaries) and downtown Wheeling. (This city – the fifth largest in West Virginia – is just across the river from the state of Ohio and 11 miles [18 kilometers] west of Pennsylvania.) The bridge was named after Fort Henry, a military structure that had been built in present-day Wheeling in 1774 and would remain in use until being dismantled a decade later. Originally known as Fort Fincastle, it was renamed in honor of American revolutionary statesman and orator Patrick Henry.  

The Fort Henry Bridge was dedicated on a Thursday night, and the lead-up inaugural festivities throughout that day ranged from public tours of the new structure to a series of parades. In addition, there were celebratory fireworks in the area earlier that same evening.

The public officials who took part in the ribbon-cutting included William C. Marland, governor of West Virginia; and Frank Lausche, governor of Ohio. In his remarks, Marland said that the Fort Henry Bridge would “help the future development of the Wheeling area.” Lausche, for his part, expressed hopes that the bridge would likewise be economically beneficial for Ohio.

There was also a formal christening of the Fort Henry Bridge, and the water used for this purpose came from not only the Ohio River but also the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Those who helped with these christening duties were Betty Zane (age 17), Gloria Zane (20), and Patricia Nelson (18). They were all direct descendants of Ebenezer Zane, who is credited with establishing a local settlement in 1769 from which Wheeling was ultimately formed.

Thousands of other people were also on hand for the dedication of the Fort Henry Bridge, and their overall exuberance proved to be something of a mixed blessing. “Mayor Jack R. Adams of Wheeling was forced to interrupt his welcoming speech to warn the crowd to stop milling around the speakers platform,” reported the next day’s edition of the Pennsylvania-based Greensburg Daily Tribune. “Souvenir hunters had to be forced back from the cut ribbon by soldiers and police.”

Reverend Charles Bauer, president of the Wheeling Ministerial Association, had to ask everyone a total of three times at one point to take a few moments to bow their heads in silence. Along with being noisy, the crowd was so densely packed together that the members of the Wheeling High School Band were not able to meet up with each other and collectively perform the newly composed “Fort Henry Bridge March” for the occasion.

That same year, the Fort Henry Bridge received an honorable mention from the National Steel Bridge Alliance (a division of the American Institute of Steel Construction) in its annual competition for the best newly built steel bridges. The Fort Henry Bridge serves as a link for Interstate 70, U.S. Route 40, and U.S. Route 250. This bridge is maintained by the West Virginia Department of Transportation.

Photo Credit: Ezhiki (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)

For more information on the Fort Henry Bridge, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Henry_Bridge

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