The Hi Carpenter Memorial Bridge

(Photo by John Triplett, 2003.)

By Walter Catpenter, History of Pleasants Co., West Virginia to 1980
[Used with permission of Mr. Carpenter - for this site only.]

     The story of "The Hi Carpeter Memorial Bridge" is impossible to tell without relating it to two previous Ohio River bridges.

     First -- The original Clarksburg-Columbus Short Route Bridge at St. Marys, opened October 25, 1928, and acquired by the state of West Virginia in 1936 and renamed the "Hi Carpenter Bridge" September 16, 1967.

     Second -- The "Silver Bridge" at Pt. Pleasant, West Virginia opened May 30, 1928. These bridges were virtual twins in design, construction, building contractors, and age. Their most unique relationship was the new (for that time) "pin-eyebar" linkage of forty foot steel bars joined to form main support cables making a gracefully beautiful suspension bridge.

     Both bridges served their communities, on either side of the river, well for over 39 years, when, tragically, December 15, 1967 the Silver Bridge collapsed with a loss of 46 lives. Cause of the failure was said to be one of the link pins gradually working out of the eye hence causing a parting of the suspension support and the entire superstructure fell. Because of its similiarity to the Silver Bridge the "Hi Carpenter" bridge was closed on December 18, 1967 by the West Virginia Department of Highways. It was opened to traffic on February 26, 1968 and closed again December 30, 1968 by National Transportation Safety Board thru Department of Highways of West Virginia. This action was taken to enable qualified engineers to make the extensive tests necessary to determine if the bridge was "safe" to transport normal highway traffic.

     Time seemed forever as the populace waited for engineering reports but at last the West Virginia Highway Commissioner announced June 18, 1969 that the "possibility of stress corrosion cracks: prevented re-opening the bridge. He then quoted Governor Moore as saying "We're going to build them a bridge."

     More engineering studies resulted in opting for one of three proposals: -- rehabilitation of the old bridge; a new bridge on the old site using the old piers or a new bridge at a new location at a projected cost of $6,000,000 on a 50-50 sharing basis with the federal government.

     Engineering studies, public hearings, governor's conferences made a "battle of nerves" until December 8, 1970 when the U. S. Congress passed the Federal Highway Act with a provision for an Emergency Relief Program designed to make federal funds available for bridges closed under conditions of emergency.U. S. Department of Transportation approved one hundred per cent federal funding for a new bridge -- the only problem was selection of the best site. Finally after much study, testing, deliberation, and many hearings the present site at the southern end of St. Marys about .3 mile downstream from the old bridge was chosen.

     The advantages of this location were the elimination of a grade level railroad crossing, the approaches were above all previous high water, no damage would be done to buildings and streets in the city, and property and right-of-way acquisition would be cheaper and quicker, The future linkage with a relocated Route 16 was also enhanced.

     The Department of Highways now had to seek approval of the U. S. Coast Guard, the Federal Highway Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, Ohio Department of Transportation as well as advertise for various contractor bids necessary to build the bridge. Most of the work of "approving" agencies could not be done concurrently because the work of one determined the course and approval of another -- so again a much misunderstood lapse of time occurred.

     In the interim a ferry service was established August 1, 1969 to somewhat relieve the estrangement between the St. Marys and Newport communities.

     Also demolition contracts were awarded to remove the condemned bridge and hundreds of people lined the river banks June 29, 1971 to witness the "controlled" blast which severed each suspension cable in two places permitting the towers to fall shoreward leaving only the piers and the pony truss span, with a ramp to Middle Island, as vestiges of a once beautiful bridge. Even the piers were eventually demolished when it was determined they had no part to play in erecting a new bridge.

     The first actual construction was undertaken June 19, 1973 when the "mid-stream" pier contractor moved onto location and began dredging to bed rock for the pier foundation. This pier was finished in December of 1973 and stood as a solitary, mute reminder for over a year of the flurry of construction that was to come.

     By September of 1974 construction of the second main pier was underway on the Ohio shoreline, and contracts had been awarded to complete the six remaining shore piers -- three on each side of the river.

     Both West Virginia and Ohio abutment and approach contracts had been let by October, 1974 and a news release of November 25, 1975 stated the "piers and West Virginia approach were 80% complete."

     May 17, 1976 the first of the steel superstructure was hoisted into place and the steelwork continued without slackening through the extremely harsh winter of 1976-77 and was completed March 28, 1977.

     Pouring concrete for the floor and median divider started in May of 1977 and was finished November 1, 1977.

     Saturday, November 19, 1977 was chosen as the day of dedication and opening of the beautiful new structure. The weather was grand for the 11:00 a.m. ceremonies which were highlighted by remarks fom Dennis Garwood, Assistant Director, Ohio Department of Transportation, U. S. Senator Jennings Randolph of West Virginia, Commissioner Charles L. Miller, West Virginia Department of Highways, and Governor John D. Rockefeller IV, State of West Virginia.

     Musical selections were presented by the Frontier, Ohio and St. Marys High School Bands. Charleston vocalist, Joy Catsos, sang "Country Roads" to the accompaniment of the St. Marys High School Band.

     The proclamation naming the bridge the "Hi Carpenter Memorial Bridge" was officially read by Governor Rockefeller, who said the original bridge between St Marys and Newport was "created by the vision, drive, and talents of Hi Carpenter."

     Hiram A. "Hi" Carpenter's twin daughters, Barbara Ann Topper of Salem, Virginia and Helen Mary Hewitt of Georgetown, Delaware, who as 22 month old toddlers had cut the ribbon to open the "Short Route Bridge" in 1928, assisted by Senator Randolph, Governor Rockefeller, and Director Garwood in manipulating the huge scissors to cut the ribbon to officially open the new span.

     The Cantilever truss bridge was designed by E. Lionel Pavlo Engineering Company of New York, N. Y.

     Overall length is 2579 feet, with a 900 feet channel span over the river affording 830 feet of horizontal clearance to navigation and 69 feet of minimum vertical clearance above normal pool water. The bridge has four 12 feet travel lanes and a concrete median divider and a 5 feet walk way.

     Total cost of the completed structure was listed as $25.1 million.