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Original bridge linking Monessen to North Charleroi sparked huge celebration

| Monday, July 1, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Fred Schwalb, assistant fire chief for Lock 4 and North Charleroi councilman, unveils the historical marker of  the  Community of Lock 4  beside the community's Veterans Memorial just before the opening of the new  John K. Tener Bridge.
Jim Ference | The Valley Independent
Fred Schwalb, assistant fire chief for Lock 4 and North Charleroi councilman, unveils the historical marker of the Community of Lock 4 beside the community's Veterans Memorial just before the opening of the new John K. Tener Bridge.

Perhaps it was the growing anticipation of the opening of the new John K. Tener Memorial Bridge between Monessen and North Charleroi (Lock Four) on Saturday, but a familiar question has stirred the interest of more than a few people in this Mid-Mon Valley.

They want to know when the original span – known as the Charleroi-Monessen Bridge – that linked Washington and Westmoreland counties was officialy opened to traffic between the communities.

According to the archives of The Daily Independent of Monessen, the answer is: It was nearly 106 years ago – on Saturday, Nov. 2, 1907.

And the celebration marking that historic event was, up to that point in time, one of the biggest ever on both sides of the river.

Newspaper accounts of the grand opening reported the event was “celebrated with pomp and circumstance rarely repeated” in the communities' history.

The Daily Independent, in a story on Monday, Nov. 4, 1907, recalled that: “a drizzling rain failed to dampen the ardor of the crowds” as Burgess F.H. Shutterly of Monessen and Burgess J.J. Hott of Charleroi “pulled away the ribbon which formed a barrier on the new $225,000 bridge connecting the two towns, and amid a storm of cheers and a blast from a hundred whistles, shook hands as a token of the union.

“Judge Doty of Westmoreland County and Judge Taylor of Washington County then advanced and grasped hands to signalize the joining together of the two counties in a closer relationship,” the story said.

Recounting the festivities of 50 years earlier, a story in The Charleroi Mail on May 13, 1957, offered this observation:

“High over the Monongahela River and the splashing rapids of the old dam site of Lock 4, there was stretched in 1907 a web of steel 1,800 feet long and 23 feet wide. It was double-tracked for street cars and vehicles and also maintained a side footway for pedestrians.”

According to the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), the Charleroi-Monessen span was “significant as a rare surviving example of a long, multiple-span metal truss bridge.”

“Built as a toll bridge to carry vehicular, pedestrian and trolley traffic across the Monongahela River, the bridge improved regional transportation and contributed toward the economic development of Monongahela River towns,” an HAER report compiled by historian Dr. David S. Rotenstein for the website said. “Construction of a bridge across the Monongahela River at North Charleroi surmounted a formidable natural barrier and completed a regional street railroad transportation network that stretched from urban Pittsburgh to developing Westmoreland County.”

The HAER and the Historic American Building Service (HABS) reported that the first streetcar crossed the bridge on Oct. 20, 1907, nearly two weeks before the official opening. The trolley was owned by the West Side Electric Street Railway Company, which was responsible for paving the street leading to the bridge's approach on the Monessen side.

The toll booths were located about 200 feet from the Lock Four side of the span and at the top of winding steps leading from the railroad tracks below.

The opening of the bridge in 1907 was an interesting event in the history of the two towns, the newspaper said.

The abutments were constructed during the fall of 1906 and steelwork began immediately after completion of the masonry support. The arrival of winter weather throttled the work and only one span was completed. Another setback came in May 1907 when high waters swept away all the new construction, causing a loss of $25,000. This left the company where it had started in the spring.

“However,” The Daily Independent emphasized, “this did not faze the organization, which was determined to put the new bridge across the river. Rapid progress was made and by that fall the bridge was ready for dedication.”

The contract price for the bridge was originally $225,000, and $50,000 was paid to purchase properties on both sides of the structure. The total cost of the project was over $300,000.

The bridge was owned by the Mercantile Bridge Company, which was formed in 1903 and chartered on March 25, 1904, and whose directors placed a toll charge of three cents a person. It was the successor to the Charleroi and Monessen Bridge Company, which was formed on Jan. 5, 1900, but which allowed its authorization to build the bridge to expire.

The Mercantile Bridge Company was founded in 1903 by David M. McCloskey, Thomas P. Sloan, Henry Sheets, A. Howard Nelson and John Percival. According to the newspaper, they had “great difficulty in securing a charter” and were assisted by Congressman E.F. Acheson of Washington.

A new Mercantile firm was organized in 1904 and its officers were John K. Tener, president; Charles S. Thompson, vice president; David M. McCloskey, secretary/treasurer, and George K. Tener of Sewickley and George Nash of Monessen, directors. The new bridge that opened Saturday is named in honor of John K. Tener.

Construction of the bridge was done by the American Bridge Company of Ambridge.

On the day of the grand opening in 1907, the morning was spent receiving guests. Promptly at 12:30 p.m., newspaper accounts said, the Monessen delegation of officials, speakers and guests paraded in a rainstorm to the center of the bridge. They were met there by Charleroi and North Charleroi officials and a parade was formed.

“At the head of the line was a platoon of mounted police of the Monessen Police Department,” The Daily Independent reported. “Postmaster E.M. Frye, chief marshal, led the marchers and was followed by organizations and delegations from the various industries of the city.”

Chief of Police Woolsey led the Monessen lawmen and Sgt. McCall was at the head of a unit of 10 state police officers on horses.

“Little Pearl Price, Monessen's first daughter, was driven at the head of the Monessen line,” the newspaper reported. “She was the center of attention. Dressed in white and driven in an attractive pony cart, she was the subject of many compliments.”

Highlighting the post-parade festivities was an ox roast at 2 p.m. on an empty lot where The Daily Independent building was later constructed on Sixth Street in Monessen. The meal was prepared and sandwiches were served to all. At 2:30 Congressman J.F. Burke of Pittsburgh addressed the crowd from the foundation of the Baptist Church on Schoonmaker Avenue.

The delegations then paraded through the streets of Monessen and proceeded to Charleroi, where “the celebration in Monessen was repeated,” the Independent said. “The heavy rain kept a large number of Monessen people away but the Charleroi crowds were just as enthusiastic as earlier in the day.”

A huge fireworks display in Charleroi was witnessed by a large crowd in the evening to culminate the day-long celebration.

Ron Paglia is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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