Friday, May 1, 2009

Blaine Hill “S” Bridge

I must confess I have a fascination with the oldest bridge in Ohio. The Blaine Hill “S” Bridge is located in Blaine, Belmont County, about 8 miles west of Wheeling, WV on the old National Road (40.067°, -80.820°). It is now 181 years old having been built in 1828, rebuilt in 1916, and restored to its present glory by September 2005. It is beautifully built of sandstone blocks with a deck of paving bricks.

Here it is in the foreground straddling the Wheeling Creek and literally in the shadow of its bigger brother, the Blaine Hill Viaduct. The viaduct was built in 1933 to carry the ever increasing automobile traffic on the National Road (U.S. 40). And behind the viaduct, not very visible in this photo, is I-70 where traffic flies by at a furious pace. They really should slow down and take a look at what the’re rushing past.

An interesting pair of photos looking west along the bridge and up the hill—the top taken in the 1930s and below it is my attempt to recreate it in 2006. You see the restoration was true to the original brick pavement with the concrete “curbing” separating the bricks laid in opposite directions on either side. But more intriguing is what happened to the mile marker? What a shame for it to be gone now.

Now we’re looking back toward the east after walking over the bridge and you can better see why it’s called an “S” bridge. “S” bridges were a way to cut costs on bridges that would have crossed a creek at an oblique angle. Instead, they were built perpendicular to the creek using less materials. A slight turn approaching the bridge plus another slight turn coming off the bridge equals an “S” bridge

Let’s turn back around and continue up the hill. The postcard on top shows a few cars in the 1920s making the 500-foot descent on the rather steep hill. The bottom photo is looking up that same hill which still contains the original brick pavement. There is an effort to make this area a small park as you can see by the benches half way up and the mulched plantings.

On closer inspection, some of the bricks have been turned to show the make. I only saw these Harris Bricks made in Zanesville, Ohio. I find it interesting to see how far away from their home kilns paving bricks end up. There are other paving brick plants much closer to this site than Zanesville-—must have made a really good bid on the project.

See the beveled edges on these pavers? They’re a type of “hill block”. This type of paver/block was used on hills to afford horses a better footing. Very clever, but kind of useless after the automobile took over.

They have a small problem here though. Looks like the edge of the road is starting to slip into the valley of a little tributary to the Wheeling Creek that this road follows. The use of rip rap on the slope will only help for a while.

And a last note—if you look around the shores of the Wheeling Creek you’ll see lots of well tumbled chunks of coal. Eastern Ohio has been a top producer of coal in the United States and Belmont County is the all-time coal production leader in Ohio. Hard working men, women, and children (yep—children in the old days) have mined out over 760 million tons of coal since 1816.