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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Franklin's Bridge History

Dallas Bogan on 3 August 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

Franklin's history goes back to 1796 when Gen. William C. Schenck and Daniel C. Cooper, along with Robert Ross, first settled the small town on the banks of the Great Miami River. Cooper was persuaded to survey and plat the village, but his work was not realized until eight years later.
And then, in 1804, William Barkalow and his brother, poling a rude flatboat with supplies from the Ohio up the Great Miami, began bartering with the occasional settlers along the way. It was on this clearing that Cooper and Schenck had made that they landed and slowly became established.
They opened up and operated the first line of flatboats between Franklin and the Ohio River. They were quite successful, and within a short time Arthur Vanderveer had built a gristmill just north of the settlement, which served to further populate the community.
From Pennsylvania and New Jersey came the settlers by way of Marietta and Cincinnati up the Great Miami to the newborn community. Franklin at this time rivaled in size and importance its neighbor to the north, the struggling new hamlet of Dayton.
Wading, swimming or boating was the only means of crossing the river at this time, that is, until the Barkalow brothers established the first ferry across the river in 1804. The crossing was just south of Franklin, possibly in the vicinity of Farm Avenue and the southern property line of the Atlas Roofing Corporation.
The "History of Franklin in the Miami Valley," says that in December 1815 the "Ohio General Assembly authorized William P. Barkalow and his associates, known as the Franklin Bridge Company, to build a toll bridge over the Great Miami River at the town of Franklin in the county of Warren." A bond of $5,000 was to be posted with the Warren County Commissioners within one year.
Constructed on Second Street, the original plans called for the bridge to be built between Second and Fifth streets. It was to incorporate a standard width, a practical walkway (with proper hand railing), cart ways, and was to be of adequate strength and size, its location not to obstruct the navigation or fording of the river.
Safety was considered a factor for the bridge was to bear the weight of carriages, carts, wagons, cattle, hogs, sheep and passengers.
Ohio state law stated that public mails, expresses and passengers were exempt from payment of tolls. Also excluded were the United States troops along with their artillery, baggage and stores.
The toll bridge was a crudely constructed concern, which had been thrown across the river. The structure was built in a curve instead of spanning the stream in a perfect line. One-half of the bridge curved down stream while the other half curved upstream. However, it served its purpose, adding considerable revenue to Franklin for several years.
In 1844, concern from the citizens was expressed that the bridge could not handle the additional traffic and, needless to say, the wear and tear from the never-ending floods.
Tearing it down proved a chore. The east end was chopped off while the west end had to be burned off.
In 1848, a new "double lattice" covered bridge, consisting of a double driveway, was built at a cost of $10,000. It was funded one-half by Warren County and one-half by subscription.
It was built as a self-supporting structure, with no middle pier. However, in later years, when it had settled substantially in the middle, a pier was added which greatly strengthened it.
In 1871, Franklin residents again renewed their concern for a new bridge. At this time the Warren County Commissioners petitioned the State Highway Department to extend St. Rt. 123 west to Germantown, simply so the State would pay one-half the cost of a new bridge.
Many plans were submitted to the Franklinites, and from the bulk of them they selected a rather novel structure, a suspension bridge. A contract was awarded for its erection to J.W. Shipman, with John Roebling, a German immigrant engineer from New Jersey, to do the cable work. (Roebling is credited with constructing the suspension bridges in Cincinnati and Brooklyn.) Cost for the Franklin suspension bridge was $43,900.
The new bridge was built on exactly the same site as the old covered bridge. It was a marvel of engineering. People for miles around traveled to witness the erection of the new, while observing the slow departure of the old, both at the same time.
They marveled at the skill of the wire workers as they cut, spliced and weaved the small threads of wire into powerful ropes of steel. Each cable consisted of 343 strands and comprised a diameter of 7 inches.
These cables were anchored in deep stone piers located about 50 feet from the end of the bridge on the east side of Second Street and on the west on Park Avenue. Its four towers were each 38 feet high and were constructed of Phoenix column iron. Being ever-so-proud of their work, the J.W. Shipman Company donated four cast iron lions as ornaments on each of the four piers; one observing and the other resting on each end, each looking toward the center of the bridge.
This attractive bridge was opened to traffic in late August of 1873. Its dimensions were 320 feet long, with a 20-foot roadway; masonry was of Dayton stone.
An occasion fit for a king was given in honor of the new suspension bridge. Franklin citizens and folks from near and far turned out to witness the opening. Bands played and flags waved, each in tune with the event.
Two long lines of wagons, each drawn by two horses with each wagon loaded to capacity with stones, were driven upon the bridge from opposite sides of the river. It was a breath-taking scene as each wagon rolled on to the bridge, testing its strength and stability.
For years people came to marvel at the great engineering structure the citizens of Franklin and Warren County had contracted for. But, due to time and wear, in 1930, some fifty-seven years after its construction, the suspension bridge had been proclaimed unsafe.
With the newfangled horseless carriage growing by leaps and bounds, along with other various traffic, as a precautionary measure the speed limit was set at four miles per hour.
In September 1931, due to two broken auxiliary cables on the downstream side of the east end of the bridge, it was closed to heavy traffic. Heavy trucks were denied entrance and only two autos were allowed on at one time. Guards were positioned on each end as patrolmen. School children were removed from the busses and walked across the bridge in small groups, only in the absence of vehicles.
The Oregonia Bridge Company constructed a temporary bridge across the river at Fourth Street, it being finished on November 14, 1931. This bridge was 495 feet long with a 19-foot driveway and a 4-foot walkway. However, due to public insistence, pedestrians were authorized to continue access across the old bridge.
Hopes for repairing the suspension bridge were nil. Its cables were sagging enough to interrupt turning traffic, and the anchorage was too close to the bridge towers.
On January 20, 1933, the footbridge sagged, and if it had not been for the pilings in place for the construction of the new bridge, the entire structure would probably have gone down. The south side cable on the west end was pulled almost free from the anchorage pier. Strain on the cables was so great that it was declared unsafe to permit traffic beneath them. Thus ended an engineering feat that had served the public so successfully.
A new steel and concrete bridge (the present one) was built in 1932-33 by the Dodge Hussey Company of Columbus. Its dimensions are 30 feet wide with two 4 1/2 foot walkways and a lighting system. Total cost was $120,000. The lions were returned to the bridge ends, at the insistence of the locals, but this time they were positioned opposite to conform to the traffic entering the bridge.
As the years moved forward, minor traffic problems cropped up now and again, but on New Year's weekend of 1990, a heavy rainfall had developed and it was believed that the heavy volume of water had shifted one pier on the west end of the bridge. It was closed to traffic on December 31, and traffic was immediately transferred to the new bridge. (The Lions Bridge was reconstructed and reopened to traffic on January 2, 1991.)
The Corwin Nixon Bridge, just north of the Lions Bridge, linking Carlisle and Franklin, was dedicated on December 22, 1987. The $4.2 million bridge was open for public traffic nine months ahead of schedule, thanks to mild weather. It now handles all heavy truck traffic, thus saving the Lions Bridge for future generations. (Portions of this text were taken from "History of Franklin in the Miami Valley.")

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This page created 3 August 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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