THE BRIDGES OF DAYTON
by Charles F. Sullivan
In a reminiscence of my father, Stith M. Sullivan, dated March 26, 1881, he says “There was but one bridge across the Miami and it was at Bridge street [now Stratford ave.] built in 1816, since then I have seen six other bridges; Third street in 1836, Main street, 1838 and the others every few years.” Mrs. Conover in her “Story of Dayton” says Bridge street was built in 1819 and Main street in 1835 and Third street in 1840. These three bridges, all of wood and covered with roof and siding, only bridged this main channel, and as there were no levees, the road dropped down in to the river bed, and when the levees were built went over them ,and when the river was high they were out of use or it was necessary to ford to solid ground, which was never a safe thing to do.
A picture in Mrs. Conover’s book shows the Main street bridge during the flood of 1866, a two span bridge like the Third and Dayton View bridges, and then the road dropped to the level of Main street in Riverdale. All of Riverdale (then called McPhersontown) was flooded in this picture, yet as only three houses are shown, it did not cause much suffering there, but as it did cover a big part of the city, much suffering and property loss occurred.
The Third street and Dayton View bridges each had a three span addition to them on the east end and from the end of it was a dirt fill to the top of the levee making them ready for use in the highest stages of the river. The Main street bridge was replaced by a steel structure, different from any other bridge I have ever seen. It was four spans, with a steel pillar upon each pier, and from the top of these was swung a steel bar down in a circular form and up to the top of the next pillar, so the arch of them was hanging instead of upright as usual. This allowed of much swinging of the bridge, without danger, but with the coming of the electric street cars, the people became afraid of it and the cars were required to pass each other at the piers, and the swinging was not as noticeable. Nothing ever happened there but eventually the bridge was condemned and about 1903 a temporary bridge was built below the bridge site and was used during the construction of the concrete bridge by H. E. Talbot & Co., the contractors.
The old bridge was stored for a number of years and then two spans were erected at Summit street over Wolf creek, and a sign was placed at each end of the bridge, cautioning the public against heavy loads across it. One day two heavily loaded trucks going in opposite directions and at too high a speed, passed in the middle of a span, and that was too much and bridge and trucks all went into the creek bed, but no one received serious injury from it.
When the new concrete bridge [on Main Street] was complete the car tracks were placed upon it and it was paved and was ready for all traffic.
After almost 40 years of use (and I have seen the bridge filled with heavily loaded trucks and autos) nothing has occurred to give any sign of weakness, except the railings, of which I will speak later. During the flood of 1913, the bridge was almost submerged, only about two hundred feet in the middle was out of the water, yet it is still in good condition and promises to do good service for many more years.
The [old] Dayton View bridge was still in use in my early recollection two spans of wood and three of steel, but in the early 80s the two wooden spans were replaced by steel and that served the public until 1909 when the whole structure was replaced by a re-enforced concrete bridge. When the electric cars came into use it was found that all our steel bridges were too light for them and an ordinance was passed by the city to require street car companies to pay one-third of the cost of the new bridges and this was done at Main, Third and Washington streets. When it came to the Dayton View bridge, the Oakwood company refused to pay their share and when ready for paving the Oakwood furnished the rails but the city did the paving and just as the bridge was ready for use, a high water came making the temporary bridge unsafe and the street car company was out in two. As the people of Dayton View made a terrible kick about having to walk across the bridge, the Oakwood Company were allowed to connect their tracks over the new bridge and after one car went over nothing could stop the cars from running over it, and up to this time the Oakwood company have never paid a penny toward the Dayton View bridge, yet they are still using it.
When the first bridge was built, there were no buildings west of Wilkinson street and it was all commons. Why not take a straight shoot for First street, and after it had been used a few years, it became the highway and it was named Bridge street and was used as the thorofare to Dayton View, but later the name was changed to Stratford avenue. The bridge was called the Bridge street bridge until the new concrete bridge was built when it was called the Dayton View bridge.
The Third street bridge stood the heavy traffic for many years, and when it was taken down in 1904, the timbers in it were as solid as when placed in the structure sixty five years before.
Hoglen and Kline were given the contract for it and began in the spring building a temporary bridge on the upstream side and a double cableway was placed there to carry all material out or back as needed, with the east end as the main depot for it. The old bridge was removed and lots of fine lime stone out of the piers and abutments was hauled to a vacant lot at the corner of Salem and Oxford, owned by Mr. Kline which was out of the corporation line of the city at that time. While they were fine rock and had cost a great deal when placed in the piers, yet since concrete began taking the place of stone, there was no sale for it, and it lay there for many years. I do not know what became of it. There were some oak timbers taken from under the middle pier which had been there over 60 years under water, and were as sound as when placed there. In September, I was employed as time keeper, later general foreman, and at that time, the west abutment and two piers had not been started but we were anxious to get as much work done as possible before severe weather interfered.
By hard work and long hours, we had all concrete work done for the bridge by the end of January and the filling was hauled out of the river bed by wagon so by spring we were ready for the sidewalks and street paving. About that time a high water cam along which made the temporary bridge unsafe so the tracks were connected and cars used the new bridge, while the temporary bridge was removed, also the cable way and other machinery. By the middle of July 1905 all was done except the banisters along the side, which were subcontracted and my work was done.
When pouring the arches we were required to start at each end of the arch at the same time and keep working continuously from each end until we would meet in the middle, joining there with fresh concrete. To finish one arch took all one day and away into the night, sometimes all night, before completing the arch. On the second arch from the east end, we divided it into three sections, all running from pier to pier, and they were easily completed in the day time, but this is the only one done that way. Several years after this bridge was built the Miami Conservancy found it necessary to lower the water pipes for the city just north of the bridge. In doing this they got too close to the piers probably and undermined a part of a pier, and as it was under water no one knew that it had been done.
One evening after dark, this pier had been sheared off completely by the jar of the traffic in line with the division made in the construction of the arch, and it fell and the one-third of the arch fell also with two trucks upon it, but no one was hurt by it. This did not interfere with street car traffic and a blockade was built around it until the section was replaced. After this was done the bridge was a good as ever, but the trouble was no fault of the contractor.
The banisters in all the bridges were subcontracted to a firm that had a political pull and they were made away from the job and hauled there and erected. Those concrete block banisters are not as good as concrete poured upon the job. They have been patched and patched which gives the entire bridge a black eye. As a consequence the bridges are condemned when the banisters are all that is weak.
One Sunday afternoon I took a walk with my father down the levee to Fifth street and father began talking to some men about the need of a new bridge at that street. Looking across the river, it was all commons out to at least Sprague street, where there was just one house and only a few between it and Baxter street, now called Olive. I did not see the need of it but it was built soon after and was a fine four span steel bridge, and soon after this the Fifth street car line was built using this bridge and this helped to build up that part of the city rapidly. The baseball park was built between Fifth and the railroad west of the river, and of course that always draws a crowd, and it needed that street car to carry its fans.
This steel bridge served well until the 1913 flood which took out three spans of it, leaving the east one standing.
A concrete bridge was built to replace this bridge in 1918 and all street cars were routed by Third street until it was complete. The first railroad bridge was a wooden one without roof or siding not even painted, and at the west end was a stone arch to allow vehicular traffic to reach the Germantown pike.
I remember going there once and climbing up on top of it and watching the ball game, with many others doing the same thing. I do not remember just how long this bridge lasted, but as the railroads were continually buying larger engines and cars, the wooden structure was not strong enough and girder bridge was contracted. This brought on a discussion with the city Dads as to its height and in the end it was raised two feet higher than originally planned. As it was a girder bridge and the girders were at least six feet high it formed a dam in the river and it served many years nicely. When the flood of 1913 came along, the railroad authorities began to fear the loss of the bridge and ran two lines of loaded coal cars upon it hoping to hold it that way. The waters kept raising all that day and that night about 2:00 A.M. the bridge gave away carrying three spans with it with all the coal cars upon it into the river, but by morning the water in the city had receded three feet, thus proving that the railroad bridge was responsible for the great height of the water. Soon the piling bridge was built to tide the railroads over and in a about a year they built a new double track bridge just below the temporary bridge and after it was ready for use, one line of the temporary bridge was removed and the bridge quickly pushed up to take its place, then the other side of the temporary was removed and the new one pushed to its place and ready for use without delaying a single train.
At Washington street there was a wooden bridge for quite a while, but when I was just a child a wind storm swept over the south side of the city and made considerable of damage and it did so much damage to the bridge that it was renewed by a new steel one.
This lasted until about 1906 when it was replaced by a concrete one which is still doing good service.
Below the Washington street bridge, the river flowed in a very zigzag course, traveling about 4 miles to go two and when high, covered a great deal of ground. There was considerable demand for a bridge at Stewart street, but it took lots of engineering to select the spot. This bridge was built in 1911 of concrete and it opened up Edgemont to lots of traffic from the south end to the N. C. R. Co.
At the end of Cincinnati street was the ford used by the early settlers and a wooden covered bridge was built that did good service there until 1913 when the flood took it away. A temporary bridge was built there but another rise in the river took it out in January 1916. The Dayton Power & Light Co. had the Millers Ford plant under way and wanted the bridge replaced there but when it was done it was placed at south Broadway and was in a direct line with the Springboro road. By the use of this road, traffic was able to come into Dayton on a level road while coming on the highway there were two hills to climb and go down.
Now we will go to Wolf creek which is properly named for it is quick to rise and do its damage and then go down until it seems impossible to believe that it was responsible for the damage done.
Here we find a nice concrete bridge at Rosedale which was erected in 1928, but which has already proved itself useful for many people, for there is lots of traffic over it.
Next down the creek is the railroad bridge of the Pennsylvania and it is a girder bridge but it is not a high girder and does not stick down into the creek, like the one that caused so much damage in 1913.
I have already told you of the old Main street bridge being erected here and its fall and sale for junk. In 1927 a two span concrete bridge was placed here taking care of all traffic across it.
In the late 80s, a steel two span bridge was placed across the creek at Broadway but it was a little light for the street car traffic that was routed over it soon after, and it was replaced by a two span concrete bridge in 1925. The summer of 1940 street cars were replaced by busses and routed to Broadway by way of Negley Place, thus avoiding this bridge.
At Williams street, there was a one lane wooden bridge, and located in the street in front of the present U. S. Post Office, Station B, before the flood of May 12, 1866, but it went with the flood and the channel of the creek was moved. A new steel bridge was built over the new channel and that served until replaced by a concrete bridge in 1926, and this straightening of the channel has made the west side much more safe from floods than as it was when I was a boy.
At Sunrise avenue there was a steel bridge that had been used at Keowee I think, but after all other bridges over the creek were being changed, it was replaced by a concrete one, and now the Lexington avenue and the River street branches of the city lines are routed across this bridge.
Herman avenue bridge has been there for many years and is of steel construction, and there has been a time or two when it was closed for a small repair, yet it is still doing good service and traffic there is increasing every year. As the Delco and Frigidaire plants are close to it, there is a great traffic when the men are going to or from their work at these plants. This bridge is located where we, as boys, used to go in swimming and we called it the Flats because the water became deeper and deeper gradually.
Island Park was started many years ago by private interests and was called the “White City” and filled with all kinds of amusements such as merry-go-rounds, shooting galleries, ponies, etc. but it did not prove profitable and was sold to the city for a park.
The first bridge was built by the White City people but the 1913 flood took all but one span of it away. This was allowed to remain this way until 1926 when a concrete bridge was placed there.
In 1895 Ridge avenue was only a gravel road with a very steep hill leading to Main street and only went to the river and there was not a house upon it. Mary avenue was the Corporation line of the city, so Ridge avenue was in the township and a bridge was placed at Ridge and a road fenced off with several curves and finally coming to the Dixie highway, making a short out from Riverdale to Ebenezer now called Northridge. This was a steel one span bridge and although the water came above the floor of the bridge in 1913, the bridge was allowed to stand until replaced by the present one in 1928.
When improvements are being made upon the Dixie this road is used as a detour and the traffic is very heavy. In the summer time there is a beautiful view both up and down the river from the bridge, with boats and canoes moving about that increases the beauty of it.
Seibenthaler avenue has never had but one bridge, for it has been all country around there until quite recently, but now building is going on all around, both in Riverdale and across the river.
Coming back to the Miami again above the city, the first bridge was a covered wooden bridge and was located close to the junction of Leo and the Dixie and was pointed southwest so that standing on the levee at the Island park dam, one could look straight through the bridge. At each end of the bridge was a right angle turn thus making an 8 turn in the highway. At present the bridge is a half mile north of this location, why such a change?
About a half mile above the present bridge is the present B. & O. railroad bridge and after the river comes under it a couple of squares, the original bridge turned straight south and went over to Leo street past the present location of Phillips bath house and then turned right angles and went to the present channel about the upper end of Triangle park. During the high water of 1896 the water went over the levee near Phillips place and filled all of North Dayton between the railroad and the Miami and Mad rivers and also some damage east of the railroad. The County got busy and a new steel bridge was built over the new channel. Phillips now has his bath house located in a part of the old channel.
When the Troy Traction wanted to come into the city, they were afraid of the bridge so built another one for their own use just west of the county bridge and they used this hauling some very heavy loads over it. Many times I have seen one traction car pulling 5 trailers probably all loaded with freight go over this bridge. One day about noon 1932 they had two cars very heavily loaded going over the bridge when it dropped them into the dry channel of the river. No one was hurt, but that put a stop to the Troy Traction and they never operated any more. They put busses and trucks on the route to take care of the traffic and gave up their charter.
After this the county built a concrete bridge over the river and road over it is a four lane road for about a mile.
Now we come to Mad river, there was an old covered wooden bridge at Keowee and at the north end the road divided into the Troy and Valley pikes, the Valley following the Mad river to Springfield, while the Troy now called the Dixie, crossed the Miami and followed it up to Troy, etc. The Valley split again soon to the Old Troy going up the Miami on the east side of the river and further out splits again to the Brandt. These roads brought lots of traffic to Dayton and early the old wooden bridge was changed to a steel one which did good work for a long time but in 1917 it was replaced by a concrete one which is still doing good service.
Some people found it shorter to go to Patterson boulevard and turn to the left and diagonal across the river bed to what is now Webster street and ford the river. Webster was a genuine mud road but in summer could be used very nicely to Keowee. This came to be very popular and a steel bridge was placed across the river and a road was made by widening the levee as it is today. A saw mill was located in what is now Webster street to the canal but soon after this the canal went out of business and that shut off the supply of logs and the sawmill went out of business and Webster was filled in to make the present street. In 1917 this bridge was replaced by a concrete one now in service there.
I am quite sure there was a steel bridge at Findlay that was replaced by a concrete in 1926.
Now when the canal was in operation several stone arch bridges were built at Second, Third, Sixth and Jefferson streets and they were very strong and would have stood all the traffic that could be put over them, but as they had to be high enough to allow the canal boats to go under them and the stones were two feet thick and a filling of dirt a foot thick had to go on top of it, there was quite a hill to go over and with heavy loads was quite a strain upon a horse.
The stone was quarried along the Wilmington pike out as far as Beavertown and the quality of the stone is fine and had quite a reputation as “Dayton marble,” the same as was used in the two court houses. These stone were from 20 to 40 inches thick and they were hard to work and after they were ready to place had to be handled with a derrick making lots of work to build these bridges.
As there was no cement made in this country at that time, the mortar was probably made of lime, and yet these bridges stood for many years and were a big job to remove. The first one to be changed was at Third street where just the center of the crown was taken out and steel I beams placed across the opening, then Jefferson and Second were removed and a draw bridge was placed there but it was not long until the canal boats were all out of use, when these bridges were removed and road filled up. The stone bridge at Fifth was in use until the elevated tracks were being made when the Fifth street bridge was removed to allow Fifth street to go through at grade.
At Keowee, Monument, First, Warren and Sixth there were steel bridges, at Fourth was a foot bridge and at south Main was a wire bridge.
The flood of 1913 washed out the aqueduct over Mad river just below Findlay, and that stopped all operation of the canal, and of course the bridges were all taken out as quickly as possible.