Historic Structures

Rocky River Bridge, Rocky River Ohio

Date added: March 22, 2016 Categories: Ohio Bridges

At the time of its construction, the Rocky River Bridge, with a clear span of 280 feet, was the longest concrete arch in the world. Because of the ongoing development of the concrete arch, the record length of the Rocky River span was short lived, but it retains its place as the longest unreinforced concrete arch in America, exceeding the Walnut Lane Bridge at Philadelphia by 47 feet.

Overall the bridge was 708 feet long and 60 feet 4 inches wide.

Prior to 1810 and the introduction of ferry service across Ohio's Rocky River, persons traveling west from Cleveland along the Detroit road had to detour many miles inland from Lake Erie in order to avoid the steep slopes of the Rocky River gorge. In 1821 the first bridge across the river was completed, built as a cooperative venture by eighteen families in Rockport Township (later the cities of Lakewood and Rocky River). History records practically nothing about this structure except that it was "built on slight elevation from the water, and muddy roads led to it from either side."

In 1850 a new bridge over the Rocky River was constructed by the Rockport Plank Road Company. This was a wooden toll bridge, 24 feet wide and situated about halfway down the slope of the gorge. In 1890 it was replaced by an iron high-level bridge, 28 feet wide with an oak plank floor and stone abutments. One local historian has written that "Horses and wagons on their way to the Cleveland market crowded this narrow bridge across the valley." At the time of its replacement twenty years later, this third bridge carried a single electric railway track, connecting Rocky River with the city of Cleveland.

From the mid-nineteenth century through the 1920s, the rural hamlet of Rocky River (on the west side of the river) served as a popular resort for Clevelanders. Silverthorne's Tavern (1816, demolished 1920), located just north of the bridge's western terminus, and later the Westlake Hotel (1920), at the same location, catered to visitors to a resort famous for the beauty of its surroundings. But the advent of the automobile, the increasing use of heavy electric interurban cars, and the develoment of Cleveland as an important commercial and industrial city meant that. Rocky River was to be transformed from a community of flourishing farms to a "suburban city of homes." A wider and more substantial high-level bridge was needed.

The iron high-level bridge, the third bridge to occupy the historic Detroit road crossing at the Rocky River, was deemed "dangerous to public travel" in 1908 and the Board of Cuyahoga County Commissioners condemned the structure. On 11 July 1908, the Commissioners resolved to "purchase a strip of land 66 feet wide, parallel with and immediately northerly of the present bridge, and to erect thereon a new bridge. ..." On 25 July 1908, the County Commissioners voted to issue bonds in the amount of $253,000.00 to finance a replacement structure.