GLENVILLE, W.Va. -- Built 125 years ago over a wide stretch of the Little Kanawha River in downtown Glenville once used as a turnaround site for sternwheelers, the Glenville Truss Bridge now rusts in peace atop its cut stone pilings, unused but not unloved.
Last weekend, a group of volunteers led by Lynn Stasick of the West Virginia Preservation Alliance and WVU history professor emeritus Emory Kemp, removed damaged truss components and decking from a section of bridge on the north bank of the river that collapsed in February.
Their plan is to save the materials until funds can be raised to restore the damaged components and rebuild the collapsed span section so that the bridge can be reopened to pedestrian traffic.
"This bridge is the linchpin of downtown Glenville's historic district," said Jim Bailey, president of the Gilmer County Historic Landmarks Commission. "It was the first highway bridge in the county to cross the Little Kanawha, and it's a unique wrought iron structure that's listed on the National Register of Historic Places. I'd like to see it restored and used to carry hikers and bikers across the river from downtown to Cedar Creek State Park along scenic country roads."
The span, named to the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia's Endangered Properties list in 2009, is the largest of six wrought iron bridges built in Gilmer County in 1885 by Stewart, Shirreffs & Co. Contractors of Richmond, Va., for a total cost of $13,132.
The Gilmer County Court, anxious to build reliable wagon crossings of the county's flood prone rivers and creeks, followed recommendations for new span sites proposed by the county's surveyor, Michael Stump.
The county court ordered that the components for the six bridges, manufactured at the Canton Iron Works in Ohio, be shipped to the nearest rail yards -- either Weston in Lewis County or Burning Springs in Wirt, and then carted to the construction sites.
Completion of the bridges helped Gilmer County take advantage of a timber boom that took place near the end of the 19th century, and an oil boom that followed close on its heels. The Glenville span is the last of the six bridges still standing.
The 265-foot-long bridge brought traffic in and out of downtown Glenville through the first half of the 20th century, until 1963, when a newer and larger bridge was built about 50 yards upstream to replace it. But the old wrought iron bridge remained in service as a pedestrian crossing until neglect and deterioration led to its recent decommissioning.
"What makes this bridge unique is that it was made of wrought iron, not steel," said Stasick, the field representative for the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia. The span is also a Pratt truss bridge, built under a design patented in 1844 by the father-and-son team of Caleb and Thomas Pratt of Boston. Pratt truss bridges made use of iron components manufactured in shops that were transported to the site and assembled by contracting crews, reducing both cost and construction time.
Kemp, whose historic restoration credits include the Philippi Covered Bridge, believes the Glenville span could be fairly easily rehabilitated.
"What we're trying to do is save the damaged section of the bridge in hopes of getting a grant to start the rehabilitation process," Stasick said.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.