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Issue Date: August 2009


The Bridges of The Flats

A century ago, industry poured wealth into the city. It did so over the bridges that crisscross our crooked river. Times have changed, but the swinging, lifting and soaring spans remain. We asked Cleveland bridge enthusiast Mark Filippell (who just finished building his fourth bridge replica) about a trio of our favorites.
Colleen Mytnick
mytnick@clevelandmagazine.com
Conrail or "Iron Curtain" Bridge
Year built:1956 | Length: 267 feet

Most of the time, this lift bridge is in the down position to prevent train accidents. But on summer weekends, boat traffic trumps the 70 to 90 daily freight trains, and the bridge's default position is up. (It is raised to a height of 97 feet by a system of cables and counterweights.) What Filippell finds amazing about this one (and other railroad-owned bridges) is its longevity. While the Inner Belt Bridge, built in 1959, needs to be replaced, this bridge is in excellent shape — despite its moving parts and "astonishingly higher" loads.


Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Bridge
Year Built: 1907 | Length: 334 feet

This abandoned jackknife bridge, built in 1907 by the King Bridge Co., is the longest single-track Scherzer rolling lift bridge in the world. "It's like having a David here, and nobody knows it," Filippell says, referring to Michelangelo's gem. The beauty of this bridge is that it requires much less steel to build than a lift bridge. The problem, he says, is the giant cast-iron counterweights and the "havoc" they create after years of rolling over the bridge's foundation. Unused for decades, it remains in the up position and is lit at night.


Center Street Bridge
Year Built: 1901 | Length: 345 feet

"That's a neat little bridge," Filippell says. Its first incarnation was built in the early 1800s as a floating log connection between Cleveland and Ohio City. In 1836, the construction of a rival span prompted the so-called Bridge War, in which three men were wounded before the courts ruled two bridges could coexist. Rebuilt six times, the current steel swing bridge, which rotates on a pier in both directions, was constructed in 1901. Romas Pliodzinskas, section chief of Cleveland's Bureau of Bridges and Docks, says it's the last of its kind.

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