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Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

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Peter Navarre and his fur-trapping brothers settled the land east of the Maumee River in 1807. But, they would have to wait until 1864 to cross the river on a bridge. That was a wooden toll bridge costing two cents to cross. It would take another 67 years before his descendents could cross a bridge that wasn’t intermittently closed due to river traffic. That was made possible in 1931 when the Anthony Wayne Bridge was built.

Soon, that bridge will close for two years for a $28 million renovation.

It won’t be the first time the bridge, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, will be renovated. The bridge has a storied history and some of it is controversial.

Highlevel2 
 After 82 years of service the Anthony Wayne Bridge is set to close for a
$28 million renovation. (Press photo by Stephanie Szozda)

The bridge opened with much fanfare in 1931. A crowd estimated at 40,000 attended the ceremonies and more than 2,500 marched across the 3,215-foot span, according to an article appearing in The Toledo Blade. Mayor W. T. Jackson said at the time, “This traffic artery has snapped the bottleneck that so long has retarded the progress of the city and gives Toledoans the first continuous crossing of the Maumee without bridge raisings and tie ups.”

Other speakers included Frank Corns, president of the East Toledo Club. Corns said the bridge would erase all barriers between the communities on the east side and those on the west and bring about a closer cooperation between the two.

The need for an unimpeded passage to connect east and west was so great Toledoans passed a $3 million bond issue in 1928. Not even the 1929 stock market crash and The Great Depression could stop construction. In fact, the jobs were welcomed.

At the time, the bridge was an engineering marvel, although it was not without its troubles. It employed the deflection theory, according to Jack Harbaugh, a civil engineer, who did inspections of the bridge in the 1980s and wrote a book in 1990 titled Maumee River and Other Toledo Area Bridges. That theory states that the longer a bridge is the more flexible it could be. That was accomplished through the use of cables and suspended ropes to allow the structure to bend and sway with the winds by absorbing stress in the towers and abutments. Using steel cables to support the structure meant engineers could use less concrete piers and realize a significant cost savings.

Harbaugh writes the New York engineering firm of Waddell-Hardesty hired one of the most eminent designers of suspension bridges in the world, Leon Moisseiff, to aid in design of Toledo’s bridge. Moisseiff was involved in the design of the Manhattan Suspension Bridge, Detroit's Ambassador Bridge and San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. He would later design the Tacoma Narrows Suspension Bridge, which according to Harbaugh was nicknamed "Galloping Gertie" because of her oscillations and undulations. In this bridge, Moisseiff pushed the theory too far. The bridge collapsed into Puget Sound in 1940 taking with it one automobile and one dog.

The ratio of stiffening girder to span in “Galloping Gertie” was considerable less than the one employed in the Anthony Wayne Bridge, which is within accepted design parameters, according to Harbaugh. However, shortly after being built, the bridge exhibited undue expansion movement at the approach piers, bolts sheared off and expansion joints were added. Later, there would be problems with salt eating the concrete deck.

Harbaugh was so taken by the Anthony Wayne Bridge that he wrote a book about it and, in 1979, he proposed to Nancy Lee Kowalski at the middle of the main suspension. The two married and with 10 children from previous marriages had a "happy eventful life."

The bridge was not only noteworthy because of its engineering, but it also incorporated the largest girder in the world at the time--one that was 154-feet long, 12-feet high and weighed 83 tons.

The bridge's main span is 785 feet, its length 3,215 feet and its towers rise some 200 feet above the water. The two main cables consist of 3,534 wires compressed and wrapped to a diameter of 13 inches.

While Toledoans celebrated this first unimpeded access to East Toledo, they couldn't agree on a name. According to a 1931 Blade article, Toledo City Council passed a resolution naming the bridge the Warren G. Harding Bridge to honor the 29th President of the United States and an Ohio native. However, the resolution was repealed and a contest held to solicit names from citizens. The winner was Toledo High Level Bridge.

You would think that would settle the matter, but council, under pressure from a group of citizens who wanted to honor one of northwest Ohio's military heroes, voted to adopt a new name--The Anthony Wayne Bridge.

Mayor Jackson refused to sign the resolution which is why today the bridge has two names.


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