History of toll bridge traced

TRACING the history of the Bellaire Toll Bridge while looking toward its reportedly short future, a Shadyside man has compiled a scrapbook with a variety of information as well as photos of the landmark.

Not only did Albert Minet delve back into the history of the 84-year-old span, but he took close-up pictures as well as overall photos of the span. He also met the Krystle and Lee Chaklos family, whose companies purchased the span and will be responsible for the bridge demolition currently scheduled for October.

Minet, who was only 3 years of age when the bridge closed, researched several sources such as newspapers, Internet and various records about the bridge and those associated with it. His efforts began a couple of months ago after the news about the bridge’s upcoming implosion.

As to what he thought what was the most interesting about his endeavor, Minet replied, “Everything. There was a lot of history on it.”

He mentioned the wedding of Roberta Pearl Thomas of Wheeling and Harry E. Stricklin of Bellaire on the bridge July 4, 1927, during bridge dedication activities. The span had opened Dec. 22, 1926, and the couple had met “when they walked the bridge each day to reach their places of employment,” Minet said.

Nearly 1,000 people attended the wedding held at an improvised altar in the middle of the bridge, and the July 1, 1927, edition of the Bellaire Daily Leader (a forerunner of The Times Leader) related that it “will be symbolic of the wedding of the two states” – Ohio and West Virginia. According to Minet, the happy couple whose wedding occurred on the bridge later had three children.

Governor’s Day, however, was not as successful as the wedding, because neither Ohio Gov. A. Victor Donahey nor Gov. Howard M. Gore appeared for the festivities with the Bellaire Daily Leader contending their non-appearances were caused by “a closed season for politicians, a time when they are not seeking office.”

The newspaper also noted that the governors “had not sent official notice that they would not be present, but indicated that in the event they would not come, able substitutes would be sent, designating who would represent them. However, none showed up.”

It points out, however, that the reception and luncheon that day still were enjoyable with several guests attending.

Details about the bridge’s construction are in Minet’s scrapbook, which also includes information about Fred Morning, the only person killed while the span was being built. A copy of Morning’s death certificate also was obtained by the Belmont County man.

In more up-to-date events, he learned that Ted Levin, a Bellaire native, portrayed Buffalo Bill in “The Silence of Lambs,” the award-winning movie filmed in 1991 on the bridge and Bellaire. He included detailed information about Levin in the scrapbook.

Copies of tickets and tokens also are featured.

His scrapbook also notes that Jerry Morris of Wheeling was the last motorist to pay a toll on the bridge in 1991.

It also includes later developments as well as information about hearings and plans for the bridge’s demolition, past and present.

Minet mentioned his intention to prepare a book, possibly 27 pages, about the highlights of the bridge’s history.

Although he wears a “Blow Up The Bridge” T-shirt, purchased from the Benwood Fire Department, Minet isn’t happy about the upcoming demolition of the 84-year-old span. “I’m sorry to see it come down,” he said. “It’s a piece of history.”

Pokas can be reached at timesleader@timesleaderonline.com.