Once upon a long time ago the Buch & Donavan Drug Store, the Rose Bowl, the Minute Market, and Ye Olde Alpha were on one side of it, and on one the other side Wheeling College, the Pleasanton ball field and basketball court, Mac’s Club, Pizza Inn, Foodland, and the Tiki Ice Cream Parlor.
But that was four decades ago, and while The Alpha, the Rose Bowl, the basketball court and ballfield remain in place today, the Minute Market is now an eatery, the drugstore is an interior design firm, Mac’s is a dentist office, Pizza Inn is Greco’s Restaurant, the Foodland is both a Dollar General and a Convenient Food Mart, and the college evolved into Wheeling Jesuit University.
But that unnamed footbridge, linking Locust Avenue in the Edgwood area to Ignatian Way in Pleasanton, remains in place and continues to carry kids and adults back and forth over Big Wheeling Creek.
“And it may be a pedestrian bridge today, but there was a time when it was a larger bridge for the city’s trolley system, and it was a major artery for this portion of Wheeling,” explained Ty Thorngate, the fifth ward’s council representative. “And we used it all the time when I was a kid because, for us, it was a safer route to travel because it kept us off of National Road and away from all that traffic.
“And, of course, as a kid who grew up in the Dimmeydale area, I have a ton of memories involving that bridge whether I was on my bike or just running around playing with kids from those neighborhoods,” he said. “The end where the couple of steps are, well, that was the awesome the bike jump, and you always had to get up enough speed up so you could get up that little hill before the road on the other end.”
Plenty of people on both sides have navigated their way below the footbridge, too, to fish and swim in the creek and to hide away to break a few rules mandated by Mom and Dad. The path to the waterway remains worn on the university side, and proof of people remains in place these days with recently painted graffiti art defacing one of the original pier supports.
Chad Thalman, the council representative for Ward 1 and also the city’s vice mayor, also owns memories of the footbridge as a graduate of both St. Michael School and Wheeling Jesuit University.
“When I was at St. Mike’s our football practices were held on the Pleasanton ballfield, so a lot of us used it before and after those practices, and when I was a student at the university, there were a lot of us that walked across the bridge to get to the businesses on the other side,” he said. “I know when the water level of the creek got really high, a lot of people visited that bridge to get that view that you can’t see from anywhere else.
“But I have heard from others that the bridge is in need of some attention, and it is something the city needs to take a good look at,” Thalman reported. “I know Councilman Ty Thorngate is paying a lot of attention to this issue, so it’s good to know that it is on the radar, and I really believe all options need to be placed on the table so we can move forward with it in the best possible way for everyone involved. Once all the numbers have been researched as far as the cost is concerned, that’s when we can move forward with making a decision as to what needs to be done.”
If and when the bridge is addressed, one improvement will need to involve access in accordance to the American Disabilities Act. While a pair of paved paths are in place on the Jesuit side in Pleasanton, that two-step “bike jump” Thorngate recalled, is too.
In addition to the access issues, the span now offers only 53.5 inches in width because of age, a number of flash floods, and natural erosion. The city updated the protective fencing along the path following the flash flooding in September 2004, and there are now several “Love Locks” that now down the netting along the way across.
“I have taken a look at it from the top, and while I am kayaking that stretch of Big Wheeling Creek, I’ve had a very good view of the underneath of it, and yes, you can see that the bridge has deteriorated over the years,” Thorngate said. “But from what I understand from city officials, that span remains safe for pedestrian traffic right now, but I do believe that it will need attention in the future.
“But that bridge is the city’s responsibility and if you look at the pier supports that were installed at the time the trolleys still rolled in this city, they are still in great shape,” the councilman continued. “There was a time, though, when I was a kid, when it was no issue for two teenagers to ride their bikes side-by-side on that bridge, but that’s not possible today.”
He knows what he would like to see take place, Thorngate does, but the councilman also is familiar with the city’s finances and the immediate needs throughout the municipality’s 16 square miles.
“It’s been a learning process without a doubt, but the dream that I would like to see happen for the footbridge is for there to be a plan to improve it in the next four or five years,” he said. “That’s a really interesting part of our city because there are so many different uses for that bridge by the people in the communities that are so close to it. It’s used for commerce, for transportation, and for recreation, and that’s why I think everyone in Ward 5 and Ward 4 have a vested interest in it.
“And I would like to visit the possibility that something of a partnership can be formed between the city and Wheeling Jesuit, and another idea is to see if we can figure out how to include it the bridge in the Wheeling Heritage Trail system. If that were to happen, then we would have a chance to apply for some grants for the future work.”
That progress, however, has not been realized, and at this time the passageway has not appeared high on the city’s Operations Department priority list, according to Wheeling City Manager Bob Herron. Although a quarter-percent of the 1 percent sales tax implemented by city government in late-2013, those generated dollars likely will be used to resolve more pressing infrastructure issues.
“If improvements are to be made to the footbridge, the funds earmarked for infrastructure could be used for whatever project city council may approve, but there is nothing in the plans at this time,” the city manager said. “There are a lot of priorities in the city that are ahead of that kind of project, in my mind, because we have bridges that need work performed or that need replaced, and there are a lot of different kinds of needs right now.
“But it sure does seem as if everyone has memories of that bridge, and I know it’s used these days by a lot of students from Wheeling Jesuit, and it’s used by people in the neighborhoods on each side of it, too,” Herron said. “It has been an important artery for a lot of people for a lot of years; that’s for sure.”
(Photos by Steve Novotney)