Dozens gathered inside the Boys and Girls Club in Harmar last night for a special Main Street West neighborhood meeting to discuss the future of the Historic Harmar Railroad Bridge. Chuck Swaney, President of the Historic Harmar Bridge Company, announced the imminent closure of the bridge to all pedestrian traffic as well as a newly forged partnership with Marietta Main Street to launch a Save Harmar Bridge campaign.
For the past 30 years the Historic Harmar Bridge Company has been the custodian and caretaker of the Historic Harmar Bridge, with the long-term preservation and restoration of the bridge being their singular mission. Despite on-going fundraising and maintenance efforts, the Harmar Bridge has been deemed unsafe for public use in its current condition. On Tuesday, January 28th, 2020 the Historic Harmar Bridge Company unanimously passed a resolution to close the Harmar Bridge to pedestrian traffic until the structure has been fully restored.
“In order to protect and promote both public safety and secure community support, the Historic Harmar Bridge Company deems it necessary to close the Harmar Bridge,” said Swaney. “While it was not an easy decision to make, the safety of our community must come first.”
I’m counting our blessings because we have an ever-growing ability to come together to deal with the impacts of such challengesGeoff Schenkel
“Turning a bridge is a loss for visitors to our community. It will affect our local economy,” said Geoff Schenkel, Fourth Ward City Councilman. While the positive nostalgia and recreational aspects are important, Schenkel is most concerned with the impact it will have on those who use the bridge on a daily basis. “We have older residents who use that bridge to walk with heavy loads of laundry to the laundromat. We have residents without cars who have appointments to go to in public buildings downtown and crossing that bridge for most feels safer from a traffic standpoint than crossing the street at Front and Putnam.”
While the closure of the bridge is not good news for the community, Schenkel said, “I’m counting our blessings at the same time because we have an ever-growing ability to come together to deal with the impacts of such challenges, thanks to recent efforts through Main Street West and our community’s ability to work together on issues such as a blight, public transit and public health.”
Harmar residents responded to the announcement of the closure with optimism and a willingness to help. Residents volunteered to hand out flyers, reach out to area businesses for support, and join the effort to Save Harmar Bridge.
Initially built as a covered bridge in 1856, the Harmar Bridge was converted to a railroad bridge in the 1860s, making it one of the first iron bridges during the Civil War, the oldest swinging railroad bridge in the country, and the only one of its kind still in operation today.
“The Harmar Bridge is worth protecting and saving,” said Swaney. “It has a unique role as it is still operational. It is amazing that a handful of men can still take a key and turn the bridge – it’s truly a historic treasure not just for our community, but for the country.”
For many years, it has been the goal of the Historic Harmar Bridge Company for the bridge to become an integral part of the City of Marietta’s Multi-use River Trail. The organization has raised funds through the Harmar Days Festival and Spaghetti Dinners to cover ongoing maintenance costs, but profits from these annual events are no longer enough to meet the financial needs to properly care for and repair the bridge.
We hope the Bridge can become an even stronger asset for generations to come.Cristie Thomas
“What’s been done over the last three decades has really been a herculean task from a neighborhood standpoint,” said Schenkel during last night’s meeting on the West Side. “It’s been an extremely heavy load that the Historic Harmar Bridge Company board has been carrying for a long time. For this campaign to succeed, for us to Save Harmar Bridge, we need to add some more tools to the toolbox. We won’t abandon Spaghetti Dinners or the Harmar Days Festival, but we need to expand our reach exponentially. And that’s only going to happen if we bring more people with a broader set of skills to the table.”
To accelerate efforts to restore the bridge to safe conditions and maintain the structure for future generations, the Harmar Bridge Company is partnering with Marietta Main Street. “Being approached by the Historic Harmar Bridge Company was bittersweet,” said Interim Executive Director of Marietta Main Street, Cristie Thomas. “The decision the Harmar Bridge Company made to close the bridge I’m sure was very difficult, but the opportunities are far greater and we’re optimistic that our community – and far beyond – will rally behind our Save the Bridge campaign.”
The two organizations will work together to launch and sustain a $4M fundraising campaign inclusive of public and private funds generated from citizens, state and federal grant requests, and other revenue streams.
“This bridge is not only a tremendous historic asset that we – the community – are the caretakers of, it is likely the most photographed landmark in Marietta,” said Thomas. “It is an access point for the residential quality of life and offers incredible views of the confluence of our Ohio and Muskingum Rivers. The bridge is a tourist attraction and a selling point to families looking to call Marietta their home. Plus, the Harmar Bridge holds close so many memories for generations of Mariettans and with the Save Harmar Bridge campaign, we hope the Bridge can become an even stronger asset for generations to come.”
To ensure a successful campaign, the Harmar Bridge Company and Marietta Main Street will recruit and establish a strong leadership team equipped to manage the Bridge Company’s assets and capable of carrying preservation efforts through the next generation. “We need everyone from Devola, Harmar Hill, Norwood – the whole community – around the table,” said Swaney.
Those who donate to save this iconic landmark can rest assured that their generosity will be stewarded with care.Heather Allender
An endowment fund has been established through the Marietta Community Foundation with the explicit purpose of saving the Historic Harmar Bridge.
“As the sole community foundation in Washington County, we remove any barriers that might stand in the way of giving. Just like every fund in our charge, the Save the Bridge Fund, will have the benefit of our expertise behind it!” said Heather Allender, President and CEO of the Marietta Community Foundation. “Those who donate to save this iconic landmark can rest assured that their generosity will be stewarded with care.”
In partnership with the City of Marietta, the Harmar Bridge will be turned within the next two to three weeks with temporary signage installed at both ends of the bridge to prevent residents and tourists from crossing until repairs have been made.
“While we understand there is much work ahead of us to accomplish these goals, we are prepared and committed to working with the community to preserve this historic landmark beloved by so many,” said Thomas. “To lose this bridge would be devastating and irreversible. We must work together to protect this bridge – the last of its kind – for the betterment of our community.”
Schenkel is also optimistic about the community’s ability to come together to support this cause. “In our neighborhood, we have networks of businesses and residents who can ‘round up’ a purchase so as to make a financial contribution. We can do penny jars near cash registers in local businesses. I still recall making a presentation to Rotary once where I stressed the money raised through a neighborhood change jar and within 20 minutes, two individuals offered to multiply that neighborhood contribution 10 times over. We won’t do it alone. We can do this.”
The Historic Harmar Bridge Company and Marietta Main Street are grateful to donors past, present, and future for their support. To support the Save the Bridge campaign, donations can be made to the Save the Bridge Fund at the Marietta Community Foundation. More information on the Save the Bridge campaign and volunteer opportunities can be found at www.saveharmarbridge.com.