a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Monday, February 20, 2012

The long way home

The aging and historic Donora-Webster Bridge, shown from the hillside in Webster, Pa., is slated for demolition. (Scott Beveridge photo)

By Annie Schempp

DONORA, Pa. – They closed our bridge! And, now we hear that it's slated for demolition.

We moved back to Donora, Pa., in 2006. I was raised here and my first 17 years included an almost daily trip over this wonderful Donora-Webster Bridge. The surface was always a surprise - even if you're accustomed to driving over it. As an open-grate bridge, you can see through it down into the very clean waters of the Monongahela River.

Daddy and I used to walk across the bridge over to Webster and down to the river to sit, to fish (we never caught anything and I'm not sure we really tried). How I loved to look through the grates where the cars drove. We'd drive over the bridge to get everwhere - to Bill's Dari-Delight, to Sweeney's Restaurant, to Pittsburgh (via the naughty Route 51).

The first time I drove over the open grates I thought I was driving on ice - it's a special experience and easier than expected - and the sound is so unique it stays with you forever.

Now we have to drive all the way to the other end of town to cross the New Bridge - the Donora-Monessen Bridge. It's not really that new, but it will bear that name forever. Functional as it may be, it is merely concrete with no real beauty. Then - to go to the Webster river entrance that my Dad and I used to enjoy, we have to drive all the way back plus some - it's walkable if we had hours to walk, shortening our sitting and fishing time.

Believe it or not, the old bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places - it even boasts some significant technologies. The details can be found at the Historical Bridges website.

The bridge just turned 100 years old on Dec. 5, 2008. Scott Beveridge created a nice video, with the whole story featuring our good neighbor Dr. Chuck Stacey.

The bridge opened originally with a wedding. In fact, the parents of my Mom's very good friend, Helen Herk, were married on the bridge on Dec. 8, 1908, when it was dedicated.

Of course it's inconvenient. And it's old-fashioned. And, maybe it's hard to fix. But, it's special to those of us who grew up here and even more special to those of us who moved back.

The New Bridge can take me anywhere I want to go. But, only the old bridge can really bring me back home.

Annie Schempp is co-owner of SilverCrow Creations in Donora, Pa.


Gina said...

I love how we all call it the new bridge/the new highway, etc, regardless of how long it's been there.

And I used to love when my friends from college would come visit me and drive across the open-grate Charleroi-Monessen bridge & freak out about it. The weirdest time to drive over it was when you had brand new tires - you'd get thrown all over the place.

Scott Beveridge said...

For whatever reason the Donora-Webster's grates didn't bounce around cars as much as the Charleroi-Monessen Bridge. We used to lull ourselves to sleep as kids in Webster by counting the hums as vehicles crossed the bridge.

Kevin said...

Wow, this takes me back many, many years. And what a wonferful write this reads, you have touched my heart with the story you've shared, thank you.
I walked the Cat-Walk (narrow portion of walkway visible from under new bridge along route 906) as a young boy during it's construction. I moved away from "The Valley" back in 1982, the summer after graduating HS when I enlisted in the Navy. I now live in South Carolina, but
enjoy my visits back home more & more as time goes

Anonymous said...

Born in Donora in 1940 graduated 1957 then went into the Army, now live in Millbury Ma,my Sister(Carole F) still lives there. I also rember the bridge walking an driving across it an often was caught by smoke as the paddle boats went by an over to Webster to swim then have Dad yell at me after.