a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A bridge to remember

Donora Fire Chief Patsy Vince, shown above, readies the Donora-Webster Bridge for a host of events this year, including the 60th anniversary of the Donora smog. More than 20 people died over a Halloween weekend in the area in 1948 in what became the deadliest air pollution disaster in the United States.

Residents of Donora and its neighbor, Webster, in Southwestern Pennsylvania also are in early discussions about how they plan to celebrate the 100th birthday of the steel bridge that connects the two communities. There is talk about them seeking a couple to get married on the bridge, as such a ceremony marked the Dec. 5, 1908, opening of the span.

Meanwhile, the fire department in Webster is planning an August 16 festival to mark the village's 175th birthday.

Stay tuned for more information about these developing stories......

Until then, here is a timeline, taken from the pages of the Donora American:

1902: A.W. Kelly, the squire of Webster, first pitched a bridge connecting his village to Donora in a meeting in Greensburg with Westmoreland County commissioners. He believed a bridge would help to revitalize his town because it was quickly becoming overshadowed by the boom in Donora. His suggestion led to six years of political fighting about the need for the span.

March 23, 1908: Both towns celebrate the groundbreaking of the bridge, which was expected to cost $150,000 and replace a wooden ferryboat operated by George Sickels.

The first week of June 1908: The first trainloads of steel, engines and derricks arrive in Donora.

June 18, 1908: Construction began, with the contract awarded to Toledo Massilon Co., which hired a subcontractor, Dunseath & Son of Pittsburgh. Dravo Co. had been hired to build the cofferdams and piers. Shortly thereafter, construction was delayed for a month because lumber for the project was slow in arriving from New York.

Oct. 23, 1908: The invitation went out to all communities of the area to attend the bridge opening, with the proclamation: “Hurrah for Donora. Hurrah for Webster.”

Oct. 28, 1908: The center channel span was swung into place. At 517 feet long, it became the second largest span over the Monongahela River, behind the Wabash Bridge in Pittsburgh, a railroad span that was demolished in 1948. Measuring 1,547 feet long, the Donora-Webster was deemed the largest structure of its kind in Pennsylvania.

Dec. 5, 1908: The bridge opened, nearly a month ahead of schedule, and without a single fatality among the workers at the job site. No other bridge of its size had been completed without the loss of a life. The worst accident during construction amounted to a worker smashing two fingers.

Click here to watch a video about the bridge.

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