Ellet’s Gothic Looking Suspension Bridge
“Looking forward to the succession of ages, and even of years, it is beyond the foresight of human intellect to say what innumerable happy results would flow from the erection of a bridge over the Ohio at Wheeling on a permanent and useful plan, both to the Government of the Union, and to the People of this vast, enterprising, and happy republic.” – Charles Mercer, U.S. Congressman from Virginia, Committee on Roads and Canals, January 19, 1837.
When people think about Wheeling and its history, most will visualize the familiar towers of our beloved Suspension Bridge.
Spanning the Ohio River since 1849, the old bridge is iconic – its familiar shape gracing logos and trademarks developed by local businesses and institutions, including the logo of the Ohio County Public Library. It has become the favored symbol of our town, and arguably its most recognizable structure.
But had designer Charles Ellet Jr.’s earliest concept been used, the bridge would look radically different – far more Gothic in design. We know this because of a four-panel fold-out steel engraving of Ellet’s first proposed “Design of a Wire Suspension Bridge Across the Ohio at Wheeling,” which is now housed in the Ohio County Public Library’s rare books collection.
The sketch can be found within a bound collection of three Wheeling pamphlets, which includes a report of the 24th U.S. Congress entitled, Cumberland Road East of the Ohio, House of Representatives, January 19, 1837. The text includes a detailed discussion of the proposed Wheeling suspension bridge as well as letters by Charles Ellet Jr. about his plans for a bridge over the Potomac River.
The pamphlets were part of a gift from an anonymous donor, which included 30 unusual, uncommon or rare publications relating to authorship, printing and publishing in Wheeling and the Upper Ohio Valley. See the complete bibliography HERE. These range from the works of local poets and literary people (the oldest dated 1816) to tracts on religious affairs, the abolition of slavery, and the arrival of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. There are also early city directories, including the city’s first one (published in 1839), as well as works of pure eccentricity.
The acquisition was made possible by the Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley, the Wheeling National Heritage Corporation, the Wheeling Area Genealogical Society, a second anonymous local resident, and Jeanne Finstein of Friends of Wheeling, whose hard work facilitated the process.
Ellet’s sketch will be featured on C-SPAN on January 17-18, 2015, as part of Wheeling Weekend programming, which will air on Book TV/C-SPAN2 Comcast channel 186 and American History TV/C-SPAN3 Comcast channel 105.
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