WHEELING, W.Va. (WTRF) — The Wheeling Suspension Bridge is an iconic structure in not only West Virginia but the entire United States. When first built, it held the title of the largest suspension bridge in the world. The American Society of Civil Engineers and Only In Your State gives us some history on this national treasure.
The first bridge that span the Ohio River, the Wheeling Suspension Bridge was designed by Charles Ellet Jr. and was built in 1849. Five short years later the world’s largest suspension bridge was destroyed by windstorms. The bridge was rebuilt in 1956 using the original towers, anchorage housings, and island approach.
In the early 1870s, the cables of the bridge were reinforced using a design by Washington Roebling, and as traffic conditions changed, more alterations were made to accommodate the changes. As the years passed, the bridge’s traffic became restricted to automobiles and pedestrian use.
The span of the bridge is 1,010 feet from tower to tower and the flooring is supported by twelve iron cables suspended from each tower. The cables are anchored to masonry walls built under Main Street in Wheeling. To adapt to changes in cable movement caused by changing temperatures or transitionary loads, the cables rest on cast iron rollers.
The bridge was built to sustain 297 tons, in 1856 which would have been equivalent to 32 heavily laden wagons, 192 horses, and 500 people. Fast forward to the 21st century and the Suspension Bridge would get a 2-ton weight limit.
7News reported in 2019 that the Wheeling Suspension Bridge was closed indefinitely due to numerous heavy vehicles ignoring the weight limit on the priceless piece of history. A 17 million-dollar project was started to paint, electrify and stabilize the bridge in 2022.
As of today, the Suspension Bridge remains closed to both vehicles and pedestrians, but residents are hopeful that one day it will be reopened for foot traffic.