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Glenville Truss Bridge

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Glenville Bridge Waits for Restoration Money

By JIM ROSS ∙ jross@statejournal.com

They say all good things must come to an end. In the case of the Glenville truss bridge, the end has been a slow one, but there are efforts — stalled, but still around — to bring it back to life.

It all comes down to a question that no one wants to answer, or has the resources to: Who owns it?

The Glenville Truss Bridge was built over the Little Kanawha River in 1885. Engineers describe it as a Pratt through  truss bridge. Its structure is made of wrought iron, not steel, and to many historic preservationists, that makes it worth preserving.

Depending on who's describing it, the bridge is 240, 250 or 265 feet long, with a main span of 147 feet. Money for its construction was provided by the Gilmer County Court, now known as the Gilmer County Commission.

The Glenville Truss Bridge was one of the six highway bridges built in Gilmer County in 1885, and it is the only one of the six still standing. It was built to accommodate both pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

On Dec. 1, 1884, the Gilmer County Court signed a contract with a bridge-building company to erect the six bridges at a total cost of $13,132. The idea was to encourage commerce in the county by allowing year-round, all-weather crossings of the Little Kanawha, which bisects the county. All six bridges were to be completed by July 1, 1885. The county was responsible for building the abutments on which the iron bridges were to be placed.

By the 1940s, the bridge was functionally obsolete. When the new bridge was built 50 yards from the old one, the state declared the old one unsafe for vehicular traffic, but it could be used by pedestrians.

And so it was until the bridge was taken out of vehicular service in 1963, when the state built another bridge about 50 yards away.

"The Glenville Truss Bridge was important to the development of Gilmer County, especially for Glenville as the county seat. It served the county for almost 80 years as a vehicular bridge and today is important to the community's pedestrian traffic," according to the 1998 application to have the bridge added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The bridge received that designation the following year.

The old bridge was used by pedestrians and cyclists until a few years ago when a flood caused one section to collapse.

"We have fewer and fewer wrought iron bridges," said Lynn Stasick, state field services representative for the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia. "In fact, the bridge that was just torn out in Morgantown over Cheat Lake was a wrought iron bridge."

The group is a nonprofit that helps communities save historic properties. 

Stasick said the old bridge could still provide a connection between Glenville State College and the rest of town if it were repaired, and it could be a connector for a rail trail. Local preservationist Jim Bailey said the bridge had had many problems dating back to 1936, long before the flood caused a 60-foot section to collapse. He said local preservationists secured a federal grant to repair the bridge, but they couldn't find anyone to accept the money. The state said it abandoned ownership of the bridge after the new one was built. The county, which paid for the bridge's construction in the 1880s, would not claim ownership. Neither would the town of Glenville.

So, the grant money had to be forfeited, Bailey said.

"It's one of a kind," he said. "It was used by people here in town. It's a sad situation. We can't find an owner for it."

Volunteers were able to remove some of the debris from the collapse, but there's still much more to do. A crane will be needed to remove the broken span, Bailey said.

"It's still repairable," he said. "It's going to take a lot of money — a couple of hundred thousand dollars or more — to get it back into shape.