WHIPPLE – Just feet from the railroad bridge spanning Ohio 821 in Whipple, Scott Bever and William “Bill” Byers were installing brick-type edging in Bever’s front yard Wednesday.
Because of safety reasons, Bever, 58, of 40 Railroad St., said the historic bridge should not be there.
“That thing needs to come out of here,” he said.
That hasn’t been the opinion of every resident, however, as in recent weeks citizens mobilized to try to save the bridge, after a rumor that an oil and gas company planned to tear it down in order to create a more usable route for workers and equipment.
Beaver said the three side streets that intersect along Ohio 821 on either side of the railroad bridge have blind spots, forcing
vehicles – especially school buses – far out onto the highway so the driver can get on Ohio 821 safely. A check of the time allowed for that to happen before getting hit by another car was 4.8 seconds, he said.
“I’ll pay for the seed to seed it down (after the bridge and abutments come out),” Bever said. “It’d be doing a service if they took this out.”
While it is unclear which oil company made at least an inquiry about the bridge’s ownership and the possibility of removing it to make launching a drilling operation nearby easier, community leaders and citizens of Whipple began organizing themselves into the Sons and Daughters of Whipple to save the bridge.
A post on the group’s Facebook page reported that Maria Haberman, legislative aide to Ohio Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville, told Whipple resident Lloyd Booth this week “the trestle will not be coming down. The state has no demolition and expects none. Also, the drilling company said it was too costly to tear down.”
“My office has been contacted by concerned citizens, and I plan to be in contact with all parties involved,” Gentile said.
He was not aware of any final decision related to bridge removal, an oil drilling permit or changes in the oil company’s plans.
Washington County Engineer Roger Wright said an oil company approached him recently to ask about ownership of the bridge. Wright said he told the representative he would ensure the tax maps and ownership information at the Washington County Recorder’s Office was correct. He verified the information and reported his findings to the representatives, he said.
Jamie Hendershot, with the Ohio Department of Transportation highway management administration, said a company asked about the bridge’s ownership. It is privately owned at least partially by Albert Lang, of 135 Morris Loop Road.
“There are no intentions to do anything,” Hendershot said of the bridge.
Bever suggested dismantling the bridge, painting it and moving it farther up Railroad Street, behind where he lives, so people can look at it.
The railroad bridge is so special to some residents of Whipple that Chelsea Warren had to have a wedding portrait shot May 18 on the historic bridge when she married Devon Polk.
“That’s one thing we wanted to do is to get a picture there,” said newlywed Chelsea Polk, 21, of Whipple. “We weren’t sure how long it would be there. We had 700 pictures for the wedding, and that has to be my favorite.”
Polk said her grandparents owned a gray home near the bridge until the flooding in 1998 destroyed it. Her husband’s family bought the home and renovated it.
“My husband grew up in the same house my dad did,” Polk said.
The railroad was built in the late 19th century and remained in operation until about 1967. The tracks extended to Cambridge, Bever said.
Lloyd Booth’s son, Justin, had his own role in the campaign to save the trestle. He was in charge of contacting media outlets and local and state government representatives.
Justin, 36, of Nelsonville, is service manager for Mark Porter Chevrolet in Pomeroy.
“It’s a small town,” Justin said. “When push comes to shove, they all get behind each other. (The bridge) is iconic to people who have grown up there. Everything is in relation to the bridge.”
Justin’s memories of the bridge include being a teenage and hanging out on Whipple’s favorite landmark.
“There might have been some spray-painting involved,” he said. “For anyone who grew up in there, ‘WBA for life’ will ring a bell.”
He also remembers carrying 5-gallon buckets up and down the track picking up remnants from the railroad days, including railroad ties and spikes.
Isaac Ayers, 39, was working in his A&S Machine Shop with A.J. Johns, 38, of Whipple Wednesday. The shop is next to the bridge.
Ayes said the landmark is a forever kind.
“You don’t see too many of them anymore,” he said.