Marietta and Parkersburg are no stranger to beautiful architecture. From the high arches and fret work of the Victorian homes on Juliana to the looming turrets and french doors of the Gothic homes on Fourth Street, the Mid-Ohio Valley is rich when it comes to culture and history. These layers of brick and mortar have seen much progress over the years, but the banks of the Ohio and Muskingum River hold a tried and true structure that dates to a pre-Civil War Marietta.
Built on existing piers in 1856, the Harmar Bridge was originally a covered bridge; however, it was converted to railroad use in the 1860s. This makes it one of the first iron bridges during the Civil War. Since its beginnings, the bridge has been rebuilt four times due to the famous Marietta floods. Its last reconstruction was in 1913, and if you look closely, you can see two different ironwork styles displayed on the bridge from engineers whom pieced in various parts.
“In terms of its historical significance to the city, the bridge brought commerce and residents. The bridge itself had an integral part in Marietta’s growth and prosperity with promoting river and railroad traffic,” Harmar Bridge Company Vice-President Chuck Swaney said.
Harmar Bridge stood idle for about 20 years before the non-profit organization purchased the structure from CSX Railroad in the 1980s. The group also owns surrounding property in Harmar Village including the railroad cars on the West side. While under the company’s ownership, the bridge has only closed once due to safety concerns.
In 2007, Harmar Bridge closed for eight months due to rotting railroad ties. The tracks may be closed to the public, but the wooden walkway leading beside the bridge allows visitors to walk back in time and make history of their own.
“The love locks are drawing newer and older generations to the bridge. It is great if people are spending time and doing that project together. In the future, I hope they will be the people that will want to preserve the bridge because it is where they first fell in love or became engaged,” Chuck said.
One event that helps with the preservation of the historical landmark is the Harmar Days Street Festival. Not only does it help in raising funds for the organization to keep future festivals going, but it also keeps the bridge at the forefront of the community’s mind.
“We want it to stay in the present tense and in the front and center of everyone’s minds, because it is worth protecting and saving. It has a unique role, and it is still operational. It is amazing that a handful of men can still take a key and turn the bridge during the festival,” Chuck said.
The total restoration of the Harmar Bridge is an estimated $2.1 million project. It is still a strong and beautiful part of Marietta, and it deserves to be preserved. The buildings and structures change with the people, therefore recording a piece of each generation’s history.
Help your community and the historic Harmar Bridge by writing to your congressional representatives and city council. For more information on the Harmar Bridge, or to become a member of the Harmar Bridge Company, contact Chuck Swaney. For more information on Marietta’s Most Endangered List and how you can help Historic Preservation efforts in Downtown Marietta, contact Marietta Main Street.
Rebecca is a Mineral Wells native attending WVU Parkersburg. By studying public relations, she hopes to one day use her skills to benefit non-profit organizations in the Mid-Ohio Valley. Even though Rebecca loves the written word, she has a passion for history. You can find her digging through postcards at any antique store or giving tours at The Castle of Marietta.
Photography by Liv Hefner