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PA Bridge Plaques Found, Restored

Friday, October 9, 2020

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At the end of September, the Donora Historical Society in Donora, Pennsylvania, made a shocking discovery whilst searching through salvaged remains and relics from previous building demolitions.

Among the pieces discovered, society volunteer Mark Pawelec reports that he found a dedication plaque for the Donora-Webster Bridge. The plaque once adorned the borough’s side of the structure.

About the Bridge

Built in 1908 by Toledo-Massillon Bridge Company (Toledo, Ohio) and designed by A. N. Nelson, the Donora-Webster Bridge was constructed on top of stone piers, featuring metal pinned connections in a combination of Pennsylvania through truss and Parker truss spans. At the time, the cost to build the structure was $189,500 and it weighed 1.4 million pounds when it was completed.

Also called the Lieutenant Gov. Ernest Kline Bridge, the structure used to span the Monongahela River, connecting Washington and Westmoreland counties. The main span of the of bridge measured 518 feet, while its total structure length measured 1,547 feet.

The bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its style of pinning beams together in a method borrowed by the Pennsylvania Railroad.

While the bridge was reportedly rehabilitated in 1986, the structure permanently closed in 2009 due to advanced decay. At the time of its closure, the bridge had only a three-ton weight limit and saw roughly 3,000 vehicles per day.

At the time, PennDOT told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that repairing the structure would have cost $30 million, while demolishing the bridge only cost the state $2.6 million. However, the decision received backlash from Nathan Holth, a Michigan man who has studied bridges and maintains the website historicbridges.org. According to Holth, the bridge was a very rare example of Pennsylvania truss configurations through its use of pinned connections and multiple spans.

“A bridge like this should be one of Pennsylvania’s most treasured landmarks,” wrote Holth.

Saxonburg-based Demtech LLC conducted the demolition using 380 explosive charges in July 2015.

Plaque Restoration

After making the discovery in the borough’s garage, Pawelec reached out to a member of Rostraver Historical Society to find the plaque from the Webster side of the bridge. From there, society members found the other plaque in a township maintenance garage in Rostraver, Westmoreland County, where the plaque had been stored since the bridge’s demolition in 2015.

According to Observer-Reporter, the bridge plaques were saved under an agreement between PennDOT and the Historical and Museum Commission because the truss span had been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Pawelec adds that the bridge was assembled with Cambria Steel as the U.S. Steel mill in Donora made wire and rods. Donora founder William H. Donner was president of Cambria at the time.

As of now, the plaques are resting in Donora at Regal Industrial Corp., a company that specializes in sandblasting and metal coatings. Regal has agreed to restore the plaques for free and are slated to be completed in roughly two months where they will then be displayed at both historical societies’ museums.

Project manger, Anthony Rusch says that the endeavor is a way to give back to the town.

The plaques bear the name of Wylie Civil Engineering of Washington County and those of the commissioners from the counties on each side of the Monongahela River. The commissioners at the time were: J.A. Huffman, D.W. Myers and R.D. Wylie in Washington County; and D.W. Shupe, B.C. Shaffer and W.D Reamer in Westmoreland County.

   

Tagged categories: Bridges; Bridges; Demolition; Historic Preservation; Historic Structures; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Rehabilitation/Repair; Restoration

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