Saturday, December 30, 2017

Silver Bridge commemoration — photos

Here are a few photos left over from the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Silver Bridge collapse and the 46 people killed in it. The ceremonies were Dec. 15. I needed to wait until my article and photos were published in The Waterways Journal before I posted them here.

I posted several more a few days ago. You can find them here.

There was a reception at the Point Pleasant River Museum and Learning Center before the ceremony. Here Jack Fowler, right, the museum's executive director, talks to Tom Smith, West Virginia secretary of Transportation, about what caused the bridge to fall.

Several people from the West Virginia Division of Highways wore these hoodies to the ceremony. Afterward the guy who made them said I could order one for $25. If I have enough money left at the end of the month, I just  might.

Colors were posted by the West Virginia National Guard.

Attending the ceremony but not speaking was Bill  Edmondson, 88, from North Carolina. He was driving a tractor-trailer across the bridge when it fell. Edmondson went into the water and grabbed an object floating its way to the top and was rescued. His friend who was in the sleeper didn't make  it.

After the ceremony, the community was invited to a lunch and reception at a nearby church.

That evening, smaller observances were conducted in Point Pleasant and Gallipolis. Both were scheduled to begin around 5 p.m., which was the approximate time of the disaster. At Gallipolis, people could examine printed material from the collapse. They could also listen to a replay of news bulletins broadcast that night on WJEH radio in Gallipolis.

Here's a magazine article about the Silver Bridge. The full-page photo on the left is the late Dick Thomas. At the time of the collapse, he worked for The Gallipolis Daily Tribune. Later he worked for WJEH.

Tracy Brown, a district bridge engineer for the West Virginia Division of Highways, attended the evening ceremony in Point Pleasant and then ran over to Gallipolis, where was able to chat for a while with Kaitlynn Halley, executive director of the Gallia County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Brown is a Silver Bridge historian, and he was able to pick up a handout from the Gallipolis ceremony.

As a final note, let's put a couple of things in historic context. The Silver Bridge carried U.S. 35 across the Ohio River. It's said the late Bob Evans made his career from the bridge. Tractor-trailers coming from Detroit and heading south with new vehicles could pull two trailers in Ohio, but they could pull only one in West Virginia because the roads were so narrow and twisting. Evans built his Steak House near the bridge, and truck drivers could swap out trailers in his lot and get a meal in the process. The original steak house is long gone, a victim of management that had no use for or value in the company's history.

At the time the bridge fell, Ohio was working on rebuilding U.S. 35. It was replacing the part that ran through Gallipolis with a four-lane bypass that ended at the bridge. Here is how it looks today. Off to the left and out of the picture is a Speedway convenience store.

If I recall correctly, the bypass opened after the bridge fell. By the time the Silver Memorial Bridge opened on Dec. 15, 1969, entry and exit ramps were in place to allow seamless access to the bridge  from the new road.

For years, Evans would complain about how Gallia County had only three and a half miles of four-lane highway. It took until about 1992 for the rest of U.S. 35 in the county to be replaced with a four-lane road. Now it carries Evans' name.

So what does the Ohio side of the Silver Bridge site look like today? Like this.

This is how it looked on the morning of the commemoration ceremony. There is a roadside market and monument on the Ohio side, but they are up the road a mile or so at a rest stop.

And that's about it for now regarding the Silver Bridge and the year in review. Have a warm, safe and happy New Year's Eve celebration if you're into that sort of thing. Me, I'll be asleep.