As we approach the last weekend in July, something will be missing from Marietta’s calendar of traditional events. This year, even before COVID-19 forced the cancellation of events and activities across the state, the annual Harmar Days Festival was impacted by the very structure it celebrates when the Harmar Bridge was closed to public access. And so, this Saturday there will instead be The Great Westside Street Sale, a one-day sale with a very important fundraising goal.
Earlier this winter the historic Harmar Bridge, the oldest working mechanical railroad bridge in the country, was deemed to be unsafe in its current condition. On March 1st, as a somber group of citizens looked on, the bridge was swiveled into the open position one last time and the access points at both ends were blocked from pedestrian traffic. The bridge will remain closed to the public until it can be renovated, a task that comes with a long list of requirements and a big price tag.
Anyone familiar with the Harmar Bridge knows that it isn’t just another old structure providing quaint photo ops and a point of interest to visitors. The bridge is an integral connection between Harmar Village and Marietta, and has been for over a century. Its story is entwined with the settlement and growth on both sides of the Muskingum River and its enduring presence has been enjoyed by residents and tourists alike. You can read more about its origin and history here.
Even before the beloved bridge was temporarily put out of commission, community members had already rallied to create a grassroots effort to Save the Bridge. In February Chuck Swaney, president of the Historic Harmar Bridge Company, addressed neighbors and local leaders at a Main Street West meeting to share the unfortunate news. Although that news was indeed sad, the resulting partnership with Marietta Main Street, the support and participation of Harmar and Marietta residents, and the passionate interest of City Council members such as Geoff Schenkel offered optimism and determination. One of the first tasks toward saving the bridge was the creation of a website, SaveHarmarBridge.com, which provides a wealth of information. You can learn more about the history of the bridge, the current status and planned improvements, and read how you can make a donation or volunteer your skills and time.
At the bridge turning in March, Swaney made the following remarks: “The Bridge Company, who has been charged with caring for this bridge the past 30 years, carries a big load on the shoulders of just a few volunteers. Our decision to close the Bridge was not easy, but out of concern for the safety of our citizens and tourists and our obligation to maintain access to vessels crossing underneath the bridge in cases of high water, this decision has been made.
While we are not celebrating today’s events – the closure of a beloved community landmark and treasured access way for our east and west side neighbors – we are encouraged by the rallying cries of this community, of our friends in Columbus, and of Mariettians across the U.S. who have offered to help in significant ways. Whether it’s been the offer of time, of talents, or of resources, we are grateful for it all.”
While Swaney is optimistic about the potential for future grant monies and possible large donations, he acknowledges that grassroots fundraising is an important part of the process. The funds raised during the annual Harmar Days events have always been used for maintenance and operation of the bridge; funds raised from the Street Sale will help with maintenance along with Save the Bridge efforts.
The Great Westside Sale will be held in the 100 Block of Maple Street from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Volunteers have been busy collecting donations and sorting items, and the sale promises a treasure trove of furniture, art, clothing, household goods, kitchen items, vintage and collectibles. All proceeds will benefit the Historic Harmar Bridge Company so grab your friends, show your support, and snag a bargain in the process. For more information contact Chuck Swaney at 740-215-4663.