The Bridges of Youngstown, Ohio

After having read the guest posts that were written about the bridges of Youngstown with a profile of three of the bridges, this last installment looks at the tour guide of the bridges that a person should see while visiting Youngstown. With a population of 65,300 inhabitants, Youngstown was once a main port for the production and transportation of steel until the great collapse in the 1970s and 80s which resulted in the steel mills being shut down, and with that, the abandonment of much of the city’s infrastructure, including railroads, bridges and highways. The city is currently rebuilding, piece by piece, by reinventing itself and focusing on its history, entertainment and local culture, looking back at what the city is famous for and looking ahead as it becomes a tourist magnet and a day-trip stopping port for tourists. What is unknown is that Warner Brothers Studios was founded by the brothers themselves- Harry, Jack, Sam and Albert, who were born and raised in Youngstown. At least 10 steel and bridge manufacturers had once dominated Youngstown landscape, including the Youngstown Bridge Company, which built the Mill Park Suspension Bridge, also known by locals as the Cinderella Bridge. And even though the steel and railroad industries have dimminished, Youngstown is the center point between Chicago and New York City as well as between Lake Erie and Pittsburgh. And with that, the city will be that stopping point for visitors and commerce alike as it moves on from its 200+ years of steel and become a major entertainment attraction, and with it the historic bridges that are numerous in and around the city center and along the Mahoning River.

Hence the tour guide on the bridges in and around Youngstown. The guide is based on my visit in 2010, driving to Minnesota from the Historic Bridge Conference in Pittsburgh, yet not all of the bridges I was able to visit. There are some examples of structures that are worth visiting that were courtesy of the Ohio Historical Society as well as the crew from History in Your Own Backyard. They have been included as well. So without further ado, here’s a look at what you will see for bridges while visiting Youngstown:

Mill Creek Park Suspension Bridge

The Mill Creek Park Bridge is the most ornamental of Youngstown’s bridges and represents a fine example of a historic bridge that was built locally. The suspension bridge was built in 1895 by the Youngstown Bridge Company and features an eyebar suspension design, whose center span is laced with V-laced trusses supporting the cable. The entire structure, towers, railings and even the outriggers that support the towers are laced with steel trusses. The towers have finials and ornamental features on the lattice truss that forms the steel towers. The bridge is 90 feet long with the center span being 42 feet. It was rehabilitated in 2007. Currently open to traffic crossing Mill Creek at W. Valley Dr., the bridge is a perfect stop for a photo-op for parking is available at both ends of the bridge. With its natural backdrop consisting of trees and other vegetation, one can get many views of the bridge, regardless of which time of season, and still come away satisfied with the visit. If you visit Youngstown, you have to visit this bridge and spend a lot of time there. As there are picnic tables nearby, it makes for perfect picnic outing. Locals call this bridge the Cinderella Bridge because it’s the jewel that is hidden within a mixture of nature and rusted steel.

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Spring Common Overpass

Featuring a closed-spandrel arch bridge spanning Mahoning Avenue, the Spring Common Overpass is part of the quartet of viaducts and crossings that belong to the Lake Erie and Eastern Railroad. They also include the Youngstown Interchange Viaduct, the Division Street and Mahoning River Viaduct (DSMV), and the Mahoning and NSR Junction Viaduct. Built in 1875, the line connected Youngstown with Pittsburgh and was the main transportation line during the days of steel mills. The arch bridge, like the other bridges, dated back to the turn into the 20th Century. The line was discontinued by 1992 as the steel mills in both Pittsburgh and Youngstown were shut down. Since then, the bridges have been sitting idle, their futures unknown. Sections of the DSMV near the West Avenue Bridge have already been removed. The arch bridge at Spring Common reflects its abandonment vegetation growing out of it and salt and calcium leaking out of the spandrels, which are visible from a far distance as seen in this pic.

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Canfield Arch Bridge

There are several arch bridges that span Mill Creek in Youngstown. The Canfield Arch Bridge, which is located at Lanterman’s Mill Historic Complex, is the tallest and the longest of the arch bridges in this area. The bridge features a open spandrel arch bridge that crosses Mill Creek and has a span of 163 feet. The total length is 231 feet counting the approach spans. The structure was built in 1920 by N.R. Porterfield Inc. and carries US Hwy. 62 and Ohio Hwy. 625, which leads directly into the business district. The bridge was last rehabbed in 1990. Access to the bridge was difficult for you need to park at the Lanterman’s Mill lot approximately 700 feet away before you can walk to the bridge. Given its location in a deep valley filled with trees, vegetation, photographing the bridge was difficult during the visit. While one could experiment with a mirror-reflex digital camera with zoom-in lens, the best time to get a crystal-clear picture would be in the winter time, as the leaves are gone and there is enough white snow that would make for great pictures. Just a little word of advice from this bridge photographer. 😉

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Marshall Street Overpass

Spanning Marshall Street and Oak Hill Avenue, the Marshall Overpass is one of the oldest and most active of railroad bridges in Youngstown. The bridge was once part of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which operated from 1830 until ist dissolution in 1940. The structure dates back to the time between 1910 and 1920, for the spans feature two steel pony girder bridges, anchored by art deco arch piers and abutments. The bridge is one of the busiest of railroad crossings for it serves three different rail lines, including the passenger line Amtrak, which connects Chicago with Washington, DC via Pittsburgh. Ironically, the nearest Amtrak station is in Alliance, 27 miles southwest of Youngstown.

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Photo by David Case

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Lowellville Veterans Memorial Bridge

The Lowellville Bridge is the last crossing over the Mahoning River before reaching Pennsylvania. It is also one of the last bridges that features a portal bracing that is supported by heel bracings. It is also one of a handful of arch bridges that is skewed. The bridge is 297 feet long; the main span is 240. The structure was built in 1966 and features a steel through arch with lattice portal and strut bracings. The bridge was built to honor the local veterans who fought in the two World Wars and the Korean War.

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Spring Common Bridge

Spanning the Mahoning River at Fifth Avenue at the junction with Federal Street, the Spring Commons Bridge is the third crossing at this location, having been built in 1949 replacing a Warren deck truss bridge that had been built in 1911 by the Fort Pitt Bridge Works in Pittsburgh and a Warren through truss bridge that had been built by the Youngstown Bridge Company in 1897. Unless the two previous spans, this bridge, which features a double-barrel through arch bridge made of steel, has outlived the two structures combined, having been in service for more than 70 years. The locals pen the structure the Mr. Peanut Bridge because of its dark brown color, yet it has nothing to do with Mr. Peanut from the Planters Peanut products. That company is located in Wilks-Barre, Pennsylvania.

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Photo taken by Janis Ford in 2016

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White Bridge

While this bridge may be hard to find while passing through Youngstown, the White Bridge is one historic bridge that a person must see, let alone spend some time there. The bowstring arch bridge is one of six of ist kind left in the country that was designed by William Rezner. Built in 1877 by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company in Canton and the Ohio Bridge Company in Cleveland, the bridge is the oldest structure left in the city. The 126-foot long bridge crosses Yellow Creek and is located between the Methodist-Baptist Church and the Riverside Cemetary in the suburb of Poland, located east of I-680 southwest of Youngstown’s City Center. The bridge was rehabilitated in 2020 and is now open to pedestrians and cyclists. A video on the bridge’s history can be found below:

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Most Endangered Structure

Photo: Ohio State Historical Society Inventory

Fish Creek Bridge

If there is an abandoned structure that definitely deserves a second chance in life as a recreational crossing is this crossing at Fish Creek. This bridge is hard to find as it crosses Fish Creek on an abandoned township road, a half mile north of Lexington Road (County Rd. 24) east of Youngstown, yet it is deep in the forest. The decking is covered with vegetation and the brick abutments are covered in green moss. One will need to look more closely in order to find the Howe truss railings. The construction of the bridge dates back to 1880. The Howe truss features a crossing of a double diagonal beam with a single beam, the rhombus is cut in half by a vertical beam. As the diagonal and vertical beams are round, they are more likely to have been built using iron instead of steel. It is unknown when the bridge was abandoned but judging by the vegetation and the rotting wood, the bridge has been out of service for at least 30-40 years. Yet the historic value warrants a much-needed renovation of the trusses and a relocation to a park to be used as a bike/pedestrian crossing. Whether or not this will happen depends on the interest, let alone which park or owner is willing to take the structure.

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Photo by Bob Harris, taken in 2010

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West Avenue Bridge

The West Avenue Bridge is perhaps one of the most controversials of abandoned bridges in the city, let alone the region. This has to do with the question of ownership over the bridge as well as the right of way- permission to even cross it. The bridge spans the Mahoning River at West Avenue; sandwiched by two railroad lines, one on each side of the river. The Baltimore through truss span, with a measurement of 287 feet, was built in 1929, but has been closed to all traffic since 1997. The bridge is elgible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Access to the bridge is extremely difficult, speaking from personal experience. On my visit in 2010, I wanted to access the bridge from the north bank only to be intercepted by security personnel who summoned me off the property with post haste. The claim was that the steet and the nearby building were private property and no trespassing was allowed, even though I never found the sign. On the south bank near the remnants of the viaduct is the access difficult but as you can see in a video presented by History in Your Own Backyard (HYB), it’s doable. Since its closure there has been a debate as to who owns the street and the crossing as one side has deferred responsibility and ownership to the other and vice versa. As long as that is not clarified, the bridge will remain as is, yet concerns about the potential of it being a safety hazard will grow over time, threatening the structure with its removal. Being in an obscure location, the only solution to prolong its life and reuse it again would be to relocate it elsewhere. Yet there is not enough money nor interest in this venture, especially at the present time.

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Struthers Union Truss Bridge

Spanning the Mahoning River at Union Street, this three-span through truss bridge was once a railroad bridge before it was converted to vehicle use. While I never visited the bridge, a documentary from HYB will show you its history and photos.

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Mahoning River Skewed Railroad Bridge

This bridge is almost completely off the radar for it never appears on any of the bridge websites in the US. Yet this massive two-span skewed through truss bridge spans the Mahoning River near the suburb of Campbell. The bridge used to be a railroad crossing before it was abandoned. Now it is fenced off. Some more about this bridge can be found through this HYB documentary.

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This sums up the bridge tour of Youngstown. There are a lot of bridges to see while spending a day there, one of the bright sides of the city that had seen its better days. While Youngstown may not be able to fully recover from the collapse of the steel industry oft he 1970s and 80s, the city has some bright sides which, if there is a lot of time and effort put together, it can reinvent itself and become a city devoted to ist history and heritage. The bridges profiled here represent the heritage which we can learn a lot from and if restored to their original glory, they will be profitable for biking, recreation and tourism. As we can see with the Mill Creek Park Suspension Bridge, if that bridge can be called Cinderella, why not nickname Youngstown a Cinderella City? Something for city council members and business leaders to consider.

A complete guide on Youngstown’s bridges can be found here, including those that no longer exist. You can read up more on Youngstown’s history and legacy through a column where a few oft he city’s bridges came from by clicking here.

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