Local volunteers host fundraisers to restore the Historic Harmar Bridge

In February of this year, just one month before the COVID-19 global pandemic shut down communities worldwide, a new effort to Save Harmar Bridge launched and hundreds of Mariettans rallied together to watch the turning of this historic asset; in turning the bridge, it was officially closed to the public by way of disconnecting the pedestrian walking bridge from one side to the other.

The Historic Harmar Bridge remains closed and Historic Harmar Bridge Co. leaders are making an impact through year-end fundraising efforts, ending 2020 with a bright, hopefulness for what’s to come in 2021. Fundraisers include the design and production of ceramic mugs and ornaments as well as a raffle of high-value items donated by local businesses and organizations.

Chuck Swaney, President of the Historic Harmar Bridge Co., came up with the idea to sell the ceramic camp-style mugs and limited edition pewter ornaments and said they’ve already sold more than half of their inventory of mugs and ornaments. 

Mugs are $15 each and ornaments are $10 each

A secondary fundraiser to save Harmar Bridge is the gift basket raffle with the grand prize valued at $3,000, which includes a Coach purse ($295), a Baker & Baker Jewelers gift card and bracelet ($200), a Joe Burrow autographed football, and over $500 in gift cards. A second place prize includes a gift basket with over $500 in gift cards, a Craftsman Tool Set ($150), an Electric Toothbrush from Frye Dental Group ($130) and more. And, finally, the third place prize includes $500 in cash and gift cards.

Larry Sloter, owner of the Busy Bee Restaurant and new Historic Harmar Bridge Co. board member, said the raffle came to mind from his previous work with nonprofits and the successes he’s seen in other raffles-type fundraisers.

“My original plan was to try to sell a couple hundred tickets for a $1,000 prize. I reached out to 60 fellow business owners and contacts in two days asking for small gift cards or donations to add together. Within 4 days I had commitments from 52 businesses for almost $5000 in total prizes,” said Sloter.

Raffle tickets are $25 each, only 2,000 tickets are available

“I was quite humbled by how much so many were willing to give considering what a tough year it has been for most of us small businesses,” said Sloter.

Larry shared that there is a run of 2,000 tickets available in the raffle for $25 each, which would enter the purchaser into the running to win one of the high-value gifts. However, if just 500 tickets are sold, Larry would consider the effort a smashing success, resulting in over $12,000 going to help the Bridge.

Local business owner Laura Pytlik, of Wit & Whimzy, is currently selling the mugs, ornaments, and raffle tickets inside her storefront and via her website in support of the Save Harmar Bridge effort.

“I’m happy to support any fundraiser to save the Harmar Bridge. I know what an important role it played in Marietta’s history and what a valuable connection it is between downtown and the west side,” said Pytlik.

The Historic Harmar Railroad Bridge was closed to pedestrian traffic earlier this year

“I meet a lot of out-of-town visitors in my shop, and many of them come with a checklist of things to see in Marietta. The Harmar Bridge is usually included in that list, and having it closed to pedestrians is disappointing. We’re all looking forward to seeing the bridge renovated and reopened!” Pytlik said.

Between the two fundraisers, the Historic Harmar Bridge Co. has the potential to raise over $15,000 and funds would be used to help the Bridge Co. leaders meet some of their goals for 2021. Funds can be utilized in a number of ways, including operational items, matching funds for grants, repairs, studies, and more.

“We want to strengthen our local fundraising for grant matching and first steps in the restoration process. If possible, one of the first steps toward restoring the Bridge is a pier inspection of the 165-year-old sandstone piers. We are in the process of sourcing a bid and the cost associated with an inspection,” said Swaney.

Sloter mentioned his true focus is to hopefully raise enough money to commission a new engineering study of the Historic Harmar Bridge.

Aerial photo of the turned bridge by Timothy Roman

“In speaking to local engineers, we’ve decided that we need to verify that the piers are structurally sound and then combine and update previous studies to give us updated information on what is needed to repair the current structure of the bridge, what is needed to put in a new walking/riding platform through the center of the bridge, as well as ongoing maintenance and inspection schedules for the next 10 years. This will give us a full picture and provide the cornerstones for developing a plan and moving forward,” said Sloter.

Between Swaney and Sloter, the Historic Harmar Bridge Co. leaders are looking forward to a productive, goal-oriented 2021. Goals include updating the engineering study, developing a plan and budget for securing the structure, reinvigorating Harmar Days and other fundraising efforts, building a stronger Historic Harmar Bridge Co., and gathering a short list of potential grant sources that focus on restoration of historic bridges and multi-purpose pedestrian and bike paths.

“I’m very happy to be a part of the Historic Harmar Bridge Company. We understand that this is going to be a multiple year project and take several million dollars to make it happen, and everyone is on board with it and willing to take on the challenge,” Sloter said.

“The Bridge is not only significant historically to Marietta, but it’s very special to both train and bridge enthusiasts alike, and for me, it has a direct economic impact on my business and other businesses in the Historic Harmar District. For those reasons it needs to be saved and reopened and I feel we have a team in place and obvious enthusiasm from our community to finally make it happen,” said Sloter.

Swaney mentioned the true value of saving the bridge is almost inestimable.

“It will connect a vibrant downtown commercial district with a historic westside community which truly needs an impetus to foster commercial and residential development,” said Swaney.