Zanesville Ohio’s First Y Bridge: 1814 to 1818

Zanesville, Ohio came into existence when Colonel Ebenezer Zane contracted with congress to build a road from Wheeling, West Virginia to Maysville, Kentucky. In return for this road known as Zane’s Trace, Zane was to receive three 640 acre tracts of land. In addition, he was to establish ferries where his Trace crossed important rivers.

The first settlers in Zanesville were Ferrymen Henry Crooks and William McCulloch who, in 1797, operated ferries across the Muskingum River. Early ferries were planks secured to canoes.

The first bridge in Zanesville was built by the Putnam Yankees in 1813 and named the Third Street bridge. Moses Dillon and others planned to build a bridge "from the point opposite Main Street of Zanesville, to an island at the mouth of the Licking, thence north and south each way across the mouth of Licking Creek."

That first Y bridge was constructed of wooden trestles and stone with logs and planks bolted to the trestles. The center pier was made of limestone and above it stood the toll house.

On November 16, 1814, the Muskingum Messenger reported: Muskingum and Licking bridge. This grand and important work is now passable. Great credit is due to Mr. Rufus Scott, the architect. Now the south and north sides of Licking Creek were joined with Zanesville on the east side of the Muskingum River.

Some Toll Fees

  • Each foot passenger - $0.03
  • Each horse, mule, or ass one year old or upwards - $0.04
  • Each horse and rider - $0.12½
  • Each sleigh or sled drawn by two horses or oxen - $0.25
  • Each coach with four wheels and driver, drawn by four horses - $0.75

Zanesville Ohio’s Second Y Bridge: 1819 to 1832

After the first Y Bridge fell into the river, the stockholders of the Muskingum and Licking bridge built a second three-branched structure on the same sight in 1819: The designer was a strong believer in "camber" in a truss, and his plan gave the structure a rolling prairie appearance.

A sketch of this bridge appeared on a five-dollar bill issued by the old Muskingum Bank of Zanesville. The artist represented the bridge as being completely covered but old records show there was not enough money to finish covering the bridge.

Stephen H. Long, in 1825, described the structure as an "Uncouth mess, contrasting well with the magnificence of the scenery.The bridge appears destitute of solidity, and will probably soon be replaced by a more elegant and permanent one."

About 1830, The National Road, a narrow ribbon of crushed limestone, reached Zanesville from Cumberland, Maryland. Surveyors laid out a new road due westward.

After 13 years of service, the second Y bridge was condemned as unsafe. During the winter a flood carried twelve-inch thick ice against the second Y bridge and weakened it.

The piers were reinforced, but it was necessary to plan a new bridge by the spring of 1832.

The second Y bridge was not strong enough to bear the heavy traffic that poured in from the new roads into Zanesville. When the structure was about to be condemned as unsafe, Ebenezer Buckingham and Company bought a controlling interest. Buckingham’s son, Catherinus Putnam Buckingham, who had studied engineering at West Point, designed the new covered bridge.

While the bridge was under construction a flood threatened the supports under the eastern span. Ebenezer Buckingham hurried the completion of the work. Then he gave orders for the removal of the wedges which held the supports so that the flood waters could carry them away without taking the bridge. When the wedges were removed, the span fell into the river and Buckingham and Jacob Boyd were killed by falling timbers.

In 1832 the other stockholders completed the third Y bridge which stood until 1900.

On January 4, 1902, the new Y bridge was opened for foot passengers. Ten days later, streetcars and wagons started to cross without any opening ceremony.

Muskingum County people were proud of their new Y bridge. They boasted that it was the only Y shaped bridge in the world. To meet the competition of other cities, they started to call Zanesville "The Y Bridge City."

Zanesvillians liked to boast that they had a bridge you could cross and still be on the same side of the river you started from (by going from West Main Street to Linden Avenue).

Zanesville Ohio’s Fifth Y Bridge: 1984 to Present

Newest Y BridgeIn 1979 the fourth Y bridge was deemed unsafe and plans were made to build the fifth Y bridge. Franklin Consultants of Columbus stated: nothing of the Y bridge is salvageable above the piers "and that it is deteriorating rapidly and becoming a serious hazard."

Federal, state and local officials as well as Zanesville citizens who voted in 3 separate meetings, preferred a steel girder construction because it would be the quickest and least expensive to erect.

Federal, state and local preferences were disregarded. Historic Preservation authorities insisted the design of the new bridge must include the same type of railing, light poles and parapets which were included on the existing bridge during the original construction. These solid concrete balustrades were wiped out in the 1913 flood and replaced with pipe railings.

After the fourth bridge was demolished, a project inspector for ODOT announced that only the Linden span had needed to be replaced with the other spans needing surface repairs. A fellow project engineer and his superior, an engineer for ODOT, supported his findings. It was too late, the old bridge was gone.

In 1984 the city wanted to celebrate the opening of the new bridge. Democratic authorities announced the head of ODOT would preside at the Friday ceremony because the governor, Richard Celeste, had a previous commitment. The Republicans could not permit their rivals to be the first to dedicate the bridge. On Friday morning, October 5,1984 an unannounced parade led by former governor James Rhodes marched down Main Street. They cut the first ribbon.

On Saturday, October 6,1984, amidst much local gala, the Fifth Y Bridge was dedicated. ODOT then found defective expansion joints and the final ceremony heralding the actual opening of the bridge was held November 9, 1984.

While Zanesvillians were relieved to have the convenience of the new bridge, they were dismayed at the tunnel- like effect the bridge had. No longer could they see the convergence of the Muskingum and Licking Rivers through wonderfully open railings. Only a new generation will be able to completely accept the "bridge without a view. "

Related Reading

  • Zanesville: A Forward-Thinking Community - by Marsha Lewis
  • Article from Cities and Villages, the Journal of the Ohio Municipal League
    January/February - 1998 Issue

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