Cleveland’s Bridge-scape: A Photographic Journey Along the Cuyahoga

During a pleasant evening in Cleveland, Ohio, I set out on a mission to photograph the various bridges spanning the Cuyahoga River.

Editor’s note: This is a crosspost with partner site Bridges & Tunnels.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, often referred to as the city of bridges due to its numerous bridges spanning three major rivers and various valleys, is paralleled by Cleveland, Ohio, with its own remarkable array of bridges crossing the Cuyahoga River and its tributaries.

Historically, Cleveland’s commercial and industrial core was situated along the Cuyahoga River, complemented by a significant industrial port on Lake Erie. The name ‘Cuyahoga’ is derived from the Mohawk Indian word “cayagaga,” meaning “crooked river.” The first settlement in the Western Reserve was established in 1796 by Moses Cleaveland and his survey team from the Connecticut Land Company at the Cuyahoga River’s mouth.

Cleveland’s growth accelerated following the Ohio Canal’s opening from Cleveland to Portsmouth in 1832. This development highlighted the necessity of movable bridges to facilitate commercial boat navigation serving the early mills. One of the earliest permanent bridges was a covered bridge with a draw span on Columbus Road, completed in 1835, which replaced a ferry and a makeshift floating log path later improved with pontoon boats.

In various locations, initial bridges were constructed from simple wood and iron, featuring pivot swing spans. However, as larger boats increased and congestion grew along the Cuyahoga River, the need to widen and straighten the river for better navigation became evident. In 1937, an $11 million project was initiated to eliminate dangerous curves and broaden the river’s navigational channel. This project, endorsed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce’s River and Harbor Committee, replaced numerous narrow-channel swing bridges with jackknife bascules or vertical lift spans, providing over 200-foot-wide navigational channels.

The city’s unique topography also permitted the construction of high-level bridges. The first was the Superior Viaduct in 1878, followed by the Detroit-Superior Bridge. Subsequent bridges include the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge in 1932, the Main Avenue Bridge in 1939, the Innerbelt Bridge in 1959, and the George V. Voinovich Bridges, which replaced the Innerbelt Bridge in 2013 and 2016.

On a warm evening in Cleveland, I embarked on a photographic journey to capture some of these iconic structures.

The Columbus Road Bridge, marking Cleveland’s first permanent crossing over the Cuyahoga River, was initially opened in 1835. Throughout its history, the bridge underwent various transformations due to conflicts and the demands of modernization. The current structure, a vertical lift bridge, was constructed in 1940. This bridge provides a 220-foot wide navigation channel to accommodate river traffic.

In 2002, an inspection revealed that the bridge’s superstructure was in poor condition, necessitating partial reconstruction. The extensive renovation included the replacement of the 250-foot main span, construction of a new operator’s house and machinery housing, refurbishment of the tender houses and towers, installation of new machinery, replacement of the north and south approaches, and the addition of a new fender system. This comprehensive project was successfully completed in 2014.

The West 3rd Street Bridge in Cleveland, which has a history dating back to 1854, was modernized with a vertical lift in 1940, offering a 200-foot wide navigation channel. In 2004, this bridge underwent significant rehabilitation, including the construction of a new lift span and updates to its mechanical and electrical systems.

However, the renovation encountered unforeseen challenges, leading to extra work and additional expenses beyond the initial contract. These challenges included the necessity to replace worn counterweights, and to refurbish girders and concrete floors at the top of the two towers.

The primary contractor initially planned to sandblast and repaint the towers. Due to the unexpected repairs on the floors and girders, they were only able to apply a primer coat before installing the new mechanical and electrical components and the new lift span in March 2006. This issue complicated and increased the cost of the painting process. Additional complications emerged on March 6, when it was found that the cables for lifting the bridge were too short, requiring replacement in June and July. Consequently, the bridge’s reopening to traffic was delayed by over six months, finally occurring in January 2007. The full painting of the bridge was not completed until April of that year.

The Carter Road Bridge, crossing the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, was constructed from 1939 to 1940. This bridge was a part of a larger initiative that included the development of the Terminal Tower complex and the Collision Bend Cut 5A project. It served as a replacement for the lower and middle West Third Street Bridges, which were removed to make way for these new developments.

The original bridge at this location was built in 1853 but collapsed in 1857 under the weight of an overload of cattle. A new bridge was promptly constructed to replace it. In 1888, an iron swing bridge was built, featuring a pivotal main span of 180 feet and an additional fixed span of 105 feet. The area witnessed its fourth bridge iteration in 1903, notable for its Scherzer Rolling Lift main span, a design first for the city of Cleveland.

The Carter Road Bridge underwent rehabilitation in 1989 and was again refurbished in 2010.

Adjacent to the Carter Road Bridge lies the abandoned New York Central Railroad Bridge No. 2.

The arrival of one of Cleveland’s earliest railroads, the Cleveland, Cincinnati & Cleveland Railroad, in September 1849, led to the construction of a wooden bridge over the Cuyahoga River near Canal and Vineyard Streets (now Canal and Lockwood Drive). In early November 1856, this fixed bridge was converted into a drawbridge, facilitating the navigation of larger ships on the river.

In 1868, the Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati & Indianapolis Railway (CCC&I) was established through the merger of the CC&C and the Bellefontaine Railway. This railway became part of the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railway (commonly known as the Big Four) in 1889, following further mergers with rail lines in Indiana and Illinois.

The original drawbridge was replaced in 1902 with a Scherzer Rolling Lift bridge, offering a 110-foot clear channel. As part of an initiative to widen the navigational channel, this rolling lift bridge was subsequently replaced by a vertical lift bridge. Designed by Howard, Needles, Tammen & Bergendoff and constructed by McDowell Wellman of Cleveland, this bridge provided a 200-foot clear channel and was awarded the American Institute of Steel Construction Award of Merit for its aesthetic appeal.

Through subsequent mergers, the Big Four eventually became part of Conrail. The line, which had been relegated to serving a few warehouses in the Warehouse District and the former New York Central Lake Erie docks, was proposed for abandonment by Conrail in 1979. This proposal included 2.4 miles of the River Bed Main Line between the Lake Erie docks and Literary Street, encompassing the Cuyahoga River lift bridge. The line was officially abandoned in 1982, and the tracks were removed.

The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O) Bridge No. 463, now abandoned, is a jackknife through truss bascule bridge. Originally, this location had a bridge constructed in 1911 by the Cleveland & Valley Railroad. This line eventually came under the control of the B&O Railroad. In 1911, the B&O replaced the existing river span with a Scherzer Electric Rolling Lift span, which offered a navigational clearance of 161 feet.

In 1956, as part of an effort to improve the river’s navigational clearances, the rolling lift span was replaced with a jackknife bascule bridge. This bridge remained in service until around 1983.

The area boasts other significant rail bridges, including the Cleveland Union Terminal Viaduct that facilitates the passage of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority’s (RTA) Red Line over the river.

The development of the Regional Transit Authority’s (RTA) Red Line in Cleveland began before 1930, coinciding with the opening of the Cleveland Union Terminal in downtown. The section between East 34th Street and Union Terminal, including a 3,450-foot bridge over the Cuyahoga, opened in 1930.

Upriver is the Nickel Plate Road High-Level Bridge. This bridge, featuring a vertical lift span over the Cuyahoga River and extensive viaducts and trusses across the valley, was built in stages from 1906 to 1957. Currently, it is operated by the Norfolk Southern Railroad.

In the 19th century, the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad, commonly known as the Nickel Plate Road, extended its route through Cleveland. This expansion led to the construction of a bridge in 1882 to span the Cuyahoga River and its valley. The original structure was a wrought iron viaduct with a deck truss swing span over the river, and at the time of its completion, it was the nation’s longest viaduct.

In the same year, this original viaduct was replaced by a new 3,010-foot plate girder structure. Significant alterations occurred in 1917 when the original river swing span was replaced with a 167-foot bascule bridge. Designed by the Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge Company, this bridge provided a 124.7-foot clear channel. Finally, in 1957, to accommodate a widened river channel, the bascule bridge was replaced with a lift bridge, offering a 200-foot clear channel for river navigation.

The Nickel Plate Road High-Level Bridge, encompassing a vertical lift span over the Cuyahoga River and extensive viaducts and trusses across the valley, was constructed in stages from 1906 to 1957. This bridge is currently in operation, utilized by the Norfolk Southern Railroad.

In the 19th century, the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad, also known as the Nickel Plate Road, expanded its route through Cleveland. This expansion necessitated the construction of a bridge over the Cuyahoga River and its surrounding valley in 1882. It was a wrought iron viaduct with a deck truss swing span over the river. At the time of its completion, the viaduct was the longest in the nation.

Consequently, in that year, the original viaduct was replaced with a new 3,010-foot plate girder structure. In 1917, further modifications were made when the original swing span over the river was replaced with a 167-foot bascule bridge. This new bridge, designed by the Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge Company, allowed for a 124.7-foot clear channel beneath it. As part of a widening of the river channel, the bascule bridge was replaced by a lift bridge in 1957 affording a 200-foot clear channel for river navigation.

Also on the same railway line is a Pratt through truss bridge that spans both Scranton Road and Fairfield Avenue. This bridge, dating back to around 1910, replaced an earlier structure that was built in 1882.

Located further south, closer to the steel mill, is the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Bridge No. 460, a Scherzer rolling lift bascule bridge featuring a Warren through truss main span. This bridge was originally constructed in 1906 by the B&O Railroad to provide access to the American Steel & Wire Company’s Central Furnace Plant. Its primary function was to transport coal and coke to the plant’s blast furnaces. Today, this crossing remains in operation, utilized by CSX, the successor to the B&O Railroad.

The River Terminal Railroad Bridge is located in the vicinity. Between 1913 and 1916, Corrigan, McKinney & Company significantly expanded their blast furnace operations on the west side of the Cuyahoga River. This expansion transformed the facility into a comprehensive steelmaking complex, adding rolling mills and open-hearth furnaces on the river’s east side. A Scherzer rolling lift bascule bridge, completed in 1913, provided vital connectivity between the two sides.

The River Terminal Railway Company, a subsidiary of Corrigan, McKinney & Company, played a crucial role in transporting hot metal from the west side blast furnaces to the steelworks on the east side. Initially designed for Cooper’s E50 loading, yard locomotives transported 50-ton Pollock ladle cars across this bridge. In 1950-51, Republic Steel Corporation, which succeeded the original company, upgraded the bridge’s superstructure to accommodate heavier 300-ton ladle cars. Upon its completion, this bridge was capable of supporting heavier loads than any other railroad bridge in the United States at that time.

Following Republic Steel, this crossing was later utilized by the International Steel Group’s (ISG) Cleveland Works Railway, formed in 2002 as a successor to Republic Steel.

Located just to the south is an out-of-service vertical lift bridge belonging to the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad. This line was initially served by the Connotton Valley Railroad, which completed a route into Cleveland by 1885. However, financial challenges led to the Connotton Valley Railroad entering receivership in January 1884. This situation resulted in its reorganization as the Cleveland & Canton Railway in May 1885, which later merged with the Cleveland & Canton to form the Cleveland, Canton & Southern Railway. The Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway eventually acquired this line in 1899.

In 1949, the Wheeling & Lake Erie (W&LE) was leased to the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad, known as the Nickel Plate, and operated under the name Wheeling and Lake Erie District of the Nickel Plate.

A new vertical lift bridge was constructed in 1954 over the Cuyahoga River at Independence Avenue and Clark Avenue. This bridge, designed by Waddell & Harrington of Kansas City, Missouri, replaced the original swing bridge built around 1882 and provided a horizontal clearance of 200 feet.

The Nickel Plate merged with the Norfolk & Western Railway in 1964, which later combined with the Southern Railway to form the Norfolk Southern Railway in 1982. The Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway was spun off as an independent entity in 1990. By 2001, the W&LE had ceased operations on the segment between the West Side Yard and Norfolk Southern’s Cleveland Line near Broadway and East 91st Street, which included the vertical lift bridge over the Cuyahoga River. Instead, the W&LE opted to reroute freights via trackage rights on the Norfolk Southern Randall Secondary, using a direct connection at Miles Park.

Among the noteworthy valley crossings over the Cuyahoga River is the bridge that carries Interstate 490. While the girder structure itself is not particularly remarkable, it is notable for being part of the originally much longer proposed Clark Freeway. This freeway plan was highly controversial due to its intended route through Shaker Lakes and Doan Brook, which would have required the demolition of over 1,000 homes. County Engineer Albert Porter had envisioned building several freeways throughout Cleveland’s east side. However, the Clark Freeway project was terminated in 1970 when Governor Rhodes canceled the proposal.

Despite this, the central segment of what was intended to be the Clark Freeway, now known as Interstate 490, was completed between Interstates 71 and East 55th Street in 1990. This segment included the construction of a 3,462-foot girder bridge spanning the Cuyahoga River. For many years, Interstate 490 abruptly ended at East 55th Street. It was not until 2021 that this route was extended through the completion of the Opportunity Corridor, an at-grade boulevard that connects Interstate 490 to the University Circle neighborhood.

The George V. Voinovich Bridges, which carry Interstate 90 over the Cuyahoga River, are particularly noteworthy. These delta girder viaducts were constructed in two phases, constructed between 2010 and 2016, respectively. They were built to replace the aging Innerbelt Bridges, providing a more modern and structurally sound solution for this crucial transportation route.

The Lorain-Carnegie Bridge stands out as the second high-level vehicular bridge completed over the Cuyahoga River valley. As early as 1916, even before the Detroit-Superior Bridge was finished, there was advocacy for a third high-level vehicular crossing over the Cuyahoga River. Although funding was secured through bond issues, World War I delayed bridge construction until 1924, when a City Planning Commission report urged the immediate building of a viaduct to reduce traffic congestion.

A unique dual-level bridge design was proposed, featuring a 60-foot roadway and two seven-foot sidewalks on the upper level, with two rapid transit tracks and truck-only lanes on the lower level.

Construction began in 1930 and was completed in 1932. A notable feature of the bridge is its four 40-foot high Art Deco pylons, known as the “Guardians of Traffic,” designed by Frank Walker and constructed by Henry Hering of New York. These sculptures were hand-carved, with straight-line work performed by cutters.

Although there were plans for improvements on Lorain Avenue to complement the bridge’s opening, these were never realized due to the construction of the Main Avenue Bridge and the Innerbelt. The only significant change post-construction was the relocation of storefronts near the bridge for potential road widening.

In 1976, county engineer Albert Porter controversially suggested demolishing the iconic pylons, which led to public backlash and a fervent response from Porter, who criticized the pylons as monstrosities. Despite his views, Porter’s proposal resulted in the bridge being listed on the National Register of Historic Places, highlighting its unique monumental sculptures from the 1920s and 1930s—a notable achievement given the bridge was less than 50 years old at the time.

The bridge underwent a major $22 million rehabilitation between 1980 and 1983 and received additional refurbishments in the early 21st century.

The Detroit-Superior Bridge is one of the most significant high-level crossings in the area. Constructed by the King Bridge Company between 1914 and 1917, it was built to replace the aging Superior Viaduct. A notable feature of the new bridge was its provision for a subway intended for streetcars.

By 1946, both the subway stations and street-level entrances had significantly deteriorated, mirroring the decline of the city’s streetcar system. Streetcar service on the Detroit Avenue line terminated in August 1951, and the West 25th Street line concluded in August 1953. The last streetcar to traverse the bridge did so during a free ride event on January 24, 1954. In February of that year, a temporary roadway was tested over the former streetcar tracks. The city council, in May 1955, passed an ordinance permitting the city to fill in the streetcar wells, which were then filled with gravel and asphalt in November.

The bridge underwent a significant rehabilitation between 1967 and 1969, during which much of its ornamentation was removed. This renovation also included the addition of cantilevered traffic lanes on the outer sides of the main span arch. In September 2002, a project was initiated to convert the two cantilevered automobile lanes for use by cyclists and pedestrians. This conversion was completed in 2004.

The Center Street Bridge, which was undergoing major structural renovation at the time of my visit, also merits mention.

The initial crossing at this location was a basic raft constructed from whitewood logs, bound together with ropes and moved aside to allow boat passage. This raft was replaced by a wooden drawbridge in 1863, followed by an iron swing bridge in 1871. In 1900-01, these were succeeded by a larger rim-bearing “bobtail” swing Pratt through truss span. Located on the river’s west bank, the bridge offered a full 112-foot-wide navigation channel.

From 1946 to 1947, the bridge underwent substantial rehabilitation. This work involved replacing the deck and stringers, as well as the tension members up to the turnbuckles. A new turning assembly, manufactured by the Allis-Chalmers Company, was installed, and the bridge’s operator’s house was also replaced.

In 1989, the bridge underwent an extensive renovation, and another major refurbishment occurred from 2022 through 2023. This most recent renovation focused on replacing the driving surface and sidewalk, conducting structural steel repairs, repainting, and installing new sidewalk lights.

Concluding this overview, the abandoned Stones Levee Bridge is worth mentioning. Constructed in 1908 by the Interstate Building Company, this bridge was designed to span the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad on Stones Levee Road. Concurrently with the construction of the Eagle Avenue Bridge, a viaduct was also built. This viaduct, connecting to the Eagle Avenue lift bridge, was situated directly above the Stones Levee Bridge.

The Stones Levee Bridge received a rehabilitation update in 1964. However, in 2005, the Eagle Avenue Viaduct, which had been located atop the Stones Levee Bridge, was dismantled. While there have been discussions about repurposing the Stones Levee Bridge for pedestrian use, the lack of development on the opposite side of the bridge has left its future uncertain.

Stones Levee Bridge

Concluding a photographic journey along the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, one is struck by the rich history and remarkable engineering embodied in its many bridges. Each structure, from the sleek lines of the George V. Voinovich Bridges to the intricate design of the Center Street Bridge, narrates a distinct chapter of the city’s development and its intricate relationship with the river. These bridges, diverse in design and function, bridge not only the physical gaps between Cleveland’s varied neighborhoods but also symbolize the city’s industrial heritage and its dynamic evolution as an urban center.

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Some real beauties in this article. Especially liked West 3rd St. pic #2, as well as the Nickle Plate ghost lettering.

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