On Tuesday, January 9, with of large contingency of spectators both in person and virtually, contractors for the West Virginia Division of Highways (WVDOH) demolished the Upper Gassaway Bridge over the Elk River, one of the final steps in a replacement project that has been in the works for nearly 10 years.
The steel truss bridge was built in 1935, replacing an earlier span across the Elk River dating from 1912. A new deck was added to the bridge in 1963, with further repairs and renovations to the span in 1970, 1992, 1995, and 1996.
Noted local historian Herb Cogar compiled some interesting facts about the structure. Sources included John D. Sutton’s History of Braxton County and a Braxton Democrat newspaper article. The exact date of the newspaper clipping is not known but it was prior to 1935. That information, along with other sources in contained in this article.
In 1912 and 1913, the iron bridge was built across the Elk. The county had been asked to contribute to this enterprise, and the matter being placed before the people, it was voted down, resulting in the town of Gassaway boring the entire burden of its construction.
The first Elk River bridge was completed in 1913, paid for entirely by the Town of Gassaway. Before that, people just had to ford the river about where the bridge would be built. Then a flood damaged the original structure in March 1918. The damaged bridge was removed from the river and entirely rebuilt by a citizen group. That bridge stood until 1935, when the State replaced it with the one that was just demolished.
“The most significant part of this, beyond the fact that The Town of Gassaway footed the entire bill for construction, is that those original piers and abutments were considered strong enough for the 1935 replacement structure. Those pier stones have been there for well over 110 years and were locally quarried, cut and laid by some of the first citizens of Gassaway,” says Cogar.
H. C. Isenhart of Gassaway was put in charge of rebuilding the bridge when it was destroyed in 1918. The newspaper article contained his account of the process… Piece by piece it was taken apart and laid out on the bank. All the steel was used when the bridge was rebuilt a few months later and only two new lengths of steel were needed for the new structure. During the rebuilding it was necessary to resort to the old ford for river crossing.
Some of the Gassaway men who worked with Mr. Isenhart on the bridge, according to the newspaper article, were C.H. Bills, Ode Hayhurst, Elzie Ritchie, Clyde Sands. P.W. Piercy and W.A. Douglas. A Mr. Ott of Clarksburg was in charge of the rebuilding…
By 2016, it was apparent that the bridge was in need of replacement. The bridge carries about 1,900 cars a day across the Elk River. WVDOH engineers began planning a replacement for the aging structure.
“The old bridge didn’t allow commerce to flow freely between Gassaway and the interstate,” said Tracy Brown, P.E., WVDOH State Bridge Engineer.
Brown also said the new bridge will allow heavier vehicles to travel through town and serve the area for the next 75 to 100 years.
In November 2020, Orders Construction was awarded a contract for $4,719,806.85 to build a new bridge across the Elk River and tear down the old truss bridge. Orders Construction built the new, curving bridge immediately downstream of the steel truss bridge to allow the use of the original bridge approaches as well as maintaining traffic access to Gassaway during the construction.
The new bridge opened in December 2023, allowing for the demolition of the 1935 span. Orders placed explosive charges on key points of the old bridge on Tuesday morning, January 9, 2024 a large crowd of spectators gathered to witness the historical event. Braxton Live broadcast the demolition. That live broadcast was viewed by 510 interested residents. According to Eric Campbell of Braxton Live, over 5,700 have additionally watched the recorded version.
The massive steel structure didn’t spend much time in the chilly Elk. Order’s Construction workers had all the debris removed from the river within 48 hours. Finish work, including final pavement, will continue as weather permits with the completion set for spring.
Herb Cogar has contacted the WVDOH and Orders in hopes of salvaging some of the cut stone from the bridge piers and perhaps a piece of the steel to preserve as part of historic Gassaway’s past.