Blaine Bridge Community Preservation
Blaine Bridge carries hopes
By BETTY J. POKAS, Times Leader Area Editor
THE RESILIENT Blaine Bridge, which has spanned generations, once carried stagecoaches across Wheeling Creek.
Now, it carries hopes for development of a historical interpretative area in the future.
"We stand here in the footsteps of history," said Sue Slavik Douglass, founder and chief officer of the Blaine Bridge Community Preservation Project Inc., during the grand reopening of the bridge Sunday. She added that steps now are being taken "across the bridge into new possibilities."
Other speakers also pointed out the historical significance of the 1828 span, which is Ohio's Bicentennial Bridge.
Possibly, it was prophetic that Barb's Boys started out the program with the Woody Guthrie song, "This Land Is Your Land," which includes a reference to the "golden valley."
With the sun shining down on a large crowd in the valley Sunday afternoon, indications were that the speakers thought a historical interpretative park near the bridge would be a golden opportunity to develop tourism for the area.
Douglass told of the importance of bridges as "markers in our lives," and she also mentioned the practical and physical importance of bridges.
"Then, there is the rainbow spanning the heavens É Our bridge is a promise as well," said Douglass, who pointed out the importance of the bridge "to keep the story alive and to span the generations."
Bob Zilai, who serves as a Pease Township trustee along with Roger Weaver and George Becca, said the trustees have the creation of a Blaine Bridge Park District in motion.
"Who knows where that will lead?" asked Zilai, who mentioned a proposed park "where tourists can see what Belmont County has to offer. I hope to be part of the future of the Blaine Bridge."
The Pease Township trustees, termed by Douglass as "indispensable to the project," served as the local governmental body handling and helping with the preservation.
"This is a grand and glorious day," said Douglass when she opened the program. Thanking those who worked on the project for their kindness and generosity, she added, "It was about connecting our sense of community in the journey we've all been in together."
Mentioning the pride and work ethic of area residents, state Rep. Charlie Wilson said he wanted the Blaine Bridge to be one of the stops for bus tours.
"I think it's a great symbol of our area," said Wilson. "It's beautiful, but the symbolism is even more important."
Speaking on behalf of the Belmont County Board of Commissioners, Commissioner Mark Thomas said, "We are terribly proud to be here today, especially when the sun is shining."
He then referred to last year when the Sept. 17 floodwaters raged through the Blaine area and elsewhere in Eastern Ohio.
At that time, the water touched the decking of the bridge. Douglass earlier had commented how, for the first time in history, the water reached all three arches and skimmed the deck of the span, which is the oldest documented bridge in Ohio.
Belmont County Engineer Fred Bennett, who referred to Douglass as "the pioneer of the project," traced the history of bridge's preservation, noting it had been closed to pedestrians about 10 years ago because of its unsafe condition.
Bennett, who recently received the "Statewide Historic Bridge Preservation Award," said the far span of the bridge collapsed in 1998, and a quotation was obtained from a contractor to demolish the bridge. Then, he added, "People with vision stepped in" and mentioned the help of Glenn Harper of the Ohio Historical Society and the Ohio Department of Transportation.
Representing ODOT, Belmont County resident Brett Walters told of first working on the 1999 rehabilitation project and then assuming other duties. Walters, who oversaw the day-to-day work on the project, added that it was an honor to come back to Blaine to work on the bridge.
Gordon Proctor of ODOT was praised by Douglass for using his "discretionary power to give this town an unbelievable gift" in regard to a grant from the Federal Highway Administration Enhancement Program. The Appalachian Regional Commission also helped with funding to plan the project.
Telling how the stones from the bridge were carefully removed and tweaked during the preservation project, Bob Dermer Sr. of Sheldon Gantt Inc. emphasized the durability of the 177-year-old bridge.
"It's amazing," he said, pointing out it had been rehabilitated 88 years after being constructed and then another 88 years passed before other major work was done.
Giving the invocation during the program was the Rev. Don Upson of the Pleasant Valley Presbyterian Church where the Blaine Bridge meetings are held. Greg Zelenitz, president of the Blaine Bridge group, opened Sunday's program.
Dressed in colorful uniforms from the Revolutionary War era were representatives of the Ebenezer Zane Chapter, Sons of the American Revolution, while wearing modern uniforms were members of the Martins Ferry High School Junior ROTC.
After the ribbon-cutting, Douglass asked members of the older generation to take the hands of the younger generation for a walk across the bridge. "Your cue to walk across the bridge is 'God Bless America,'" she said.
Carrying small American flags, the spectators walked across the span in celebration of a major step for the old bridge.
Blaine Bridge Community Preservation Project