Today the Beverly-Waterford Bridge is crossed daily by hundreds of vehicles with little thought of how it makes our lives more convenient. The trip from Waterford to Beverly takes roughly ten seconds and possibly a little more the other way if the light in Waterford is red. It is not known how long it took when there was a ferry, but it could easily have taken twenty minutes or more. Often a traveler arrived when the ferry was on the other side, so there was a waiting period while it crossed the river. It was boarded, the river crossed and finally unloaded. All this was time consuming, dangerous and inconvenient.
By 1880 county commissioners decided it was time for a bridge between Beverly and Waterford. Charles M. Grubb (1829-1910), an engineer with the 18th Ohio Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War, was the main contractor. The bridge was completed early in 1881. The long span on the Beverly side was a covered wooden structure and the shorter draw on the Waterford side was steel. The distance from the bridge down to the water was less than the height of steamboats, so the draw could be turned on a central pier. A bridge tender opened the draw to a vertical position to the main span of the bridge. Once opened, steamboats could pass under the bridge (see picture). Interestingly, when a steamboat approached, there could still be a twenty to thirty minute wait for vehicles as the bridge opened and closed. This only occurred a few times during the day, so the bridge was still much more convenient than the old ferry.
During the initial planning, one of the first big controversies was whether to charge a toll on the bridge. This was the obvious way to pay for the bridge. Malta-McConnelsville had a covered toll bridge since 1867. One of the opponents to charging a toll in the area was Dr. Patrick H. Kelley, who lived across from the Waterford United Methodist Church in the house presently owned by Daryl and Karen Lang Van Dyne. Kelley, being a country doctor who traveled extensively, persuaded the commissioners to make the bridge (and many others in the county) toll free.
Since the bridge was not paid for by tolls, it had to be funded by taxes. The Beverly Dispatch on December 31, 1880, provides a record of how much it cost. "Some people thought that the free bridge would make the taxes much higher, but it is only $1 on the $1,000 higher than it was heretofore. Ten cents on the dollar, who cannot stand that amount considering the benefit received," noted the paper. From tax records most people in the township had property valued at less than $500, so their annual support of the bridge would have been 50 cents or less.
Once the bridge was built other problems developed. One was the congregation of rowdy boys in the middle of the bridge. Some were seen urinating, drinking, and in general, being a nuisance. Since Beverly corporation only extended to the middle of the river, their law enforcement officials were unable to stop the problem. By May 1881 a lawsuit was started. The Beverly Dispatch on May 6, 1881, wrote: "Complaint was filed in the Franklin County Common
Pleas Court, by the Board of Public Works, last week, against our
County Commissioners, asking that the Beverly bridge be declared a
nuisance and removed." The editor of The Dispatch, who was outraged
by this, continued: "This is purely spite work and the County
Commissioners and people of Beverly will not submit to the removal of the bridge. If the bridge is a nuisance in its present location why didn't the Board prevent its construction. The plan of the bridge bears the seal and approval of the Chief Engineer of the Board of Public Works which we hope they as gentlemen will stand by without being forced."
The lawsuit was dropped and the bridge withstood the 1884 flood, the second highest in recorded history on the lower Muskingum River. It remained intact until the 1898 flood, which carried away the metal draw on the Waterford side. During the replacement of the steel draw, an accident occurred on September 17, 1898, while preparing to put the new trusses in place. The Marietta Daily Leader the next day reported, "This trestle work erected on a barge, carr[y]ing the trusses, fell, and with it went down two sections of the new draw span. Two pieces were broken, and they will have to be made in Pittsburgh before the work can advance."
The majestic old bridge lasted until 1913, when it was swept away during the worst flood recorded in Ohio.
Phillip L. Crane, a Waterford resident and Marietta history teacher for 32 years, will share stories of historical events in the Lower Muskingum Valley.