Silver Bridge collapse 50 years ago affected residents in Pleasants County

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Updated: 12/14/2017 7:00 P.M.

The mayor of St. Marys was just 17 when news came of the collapse of the Silver Bridge at Point Pleasant in late 1967.

He remembers, as do many Pleasants County residents, the closing a short time later of the bridge linking St. Marys and Newport, Ohio.

That span was one of three world-wide (the third was located in Rio De Janiero, Brazil), including the ill-fated Silver Bridge, that had similar characteristics.

"I remember when it was closed," St. Marys Mayor Paul Ingram recalled, "for athletic events, when St. Marys played Newport, they met us with a bus on the other end to take us to school."

Mayor Ingram believes there was little impact on downtown St. Marys economically, but people commuting to and from Ohio had to travel over bridges that were miles away.

The problem eventually-and permanently-was solved with construction of the Hi Carpenter Bridge, completed nearly ten years after the Silver Bridge tragedy.

"Somehow, money came through from the federal government to put in a new bridge," the mayor says. "The public wanted a new bridge, and, eventually, they got it.

The old bridge, perhaps as soon as next year, is due to get some renovation work. In a small way, that, itself, may be a part of the legacy of the Silver Bridge disaster.

"It really put a light on how important bridge inspection is," says Brent Walker, spokesman for West Virginia Division of Highways. "And that has come to what we know it (as) today, and, no doubt, it has saved thousands of lives."

And Walker isn't just referring to a city 80 miles from Point Pleasant. The bridge disaster has had an effect on the safety of millions of drivers throughout the nation.


12/15/2015

December 15th, 1967: the collapse of a bridge spanning the Ohio River between Mason and Gallia counties took the lives of nearly four dozen people.

Point Pleasant resident Bob Rimmey: "I couldn't imagine something like that happening. I had been across that bridge hundreds of times, and never dreamed it would have fallen in the river."

But it did, exactly 48 years ago, on a December afternoon, with drivers heading home from work and Christmas shopping. But in spite of the words of that resident, who we interviewed in 2007, others for years had a fear that, one day, the silver bridge would give way.

"You would be sitting on that bridge, with trucks and things (crossing it), and you would feel it kind of bouncing," recalls Jack Fowler, Director, Point Pleasant Museum. "And it would give you kind of an eerie feeling. Everybody would say, someday it would fall, without really knowing someday it would fall."

While a first time commemoration was held Tuesday afternoon, the bridge disaster for years has had an exhibit of its own at the Point Pleasant Museum. and, as time goes on, the exhibit continues to grow.

"We have added a blanket a lady gave us," says museum administrative assistant Ruth Fout. "Her grandfather found it floating in the river the night the bridge fell."

Things like the exhibit and Tuesday's memorial are ways of reminding younger people of the tragedy that, in one way or another, struck their parents and grandparents. Because, as it approaches its 50th anniversary, fewer people are left who can tell the story.

46 lights-one for each of the victims-were lit on a tree remembering the event.