It had been a cold winter in Toledo in 1908, cold enough that the Maumee River had become clogged with ice. Lots of ice.
When the ice started to melt, and the river began to rise, it spelled disaster for the Cherry Street Bridge on March 6, 1908.
The previous day, The News-Bee warned of a precarious mass of ice (and water) lodged below Perrysburg.
A great gorge which has formed at Pilliod’s Island, opposite Perrysburg, is holding an immense volume of water above that point. Should this gorge break suddenly there is grave danger.
All the gorges between the city and the bay seem to be holding firmly.
When it broke loose the next day, a torrent of amazing prose broke loose from the News-Bee describing the event.
With a roar that resounded like the belching of distant cannon and a tremor that shook the earth in the vicinity of the city water front, the tremendous body of ice that had been accumulating in the Maumee river for two months began to move out 12:20 Friday afternoon and in half an hour the great ice pack, in many places filling the river from the bottom, had passed on toward the lake.
When the ice moved it took along the steamer Yuma, which was lying on the west side docks. The vessel crashed in Cherry street bridge, tearing its way six feet into the flooring, putting the bridge entirely out of commission.
The movement in the ice pack came when the gorge at Pilliod’s island, which formed two days ago, gave way and let the immense sea of water that been pent up between Maumee and Waterville, down the river with a rush of an equinoxial tide.
A gorge which had formed on Thursday night at the upper Terminal bridge gave way before this onrush of waters and like a mighty tidal wave which swept everything before it to the mighty volume of water rushed down upon the city.
Here’s the one paragraph report from the Steamboat-Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce and Labor (1909) link:
March 6 – About 12:30 p.m., during a movement of the ice gorge, the steamer Yuma, 2,194 gross tonnage, which was moored at the docks in the Maumee River at Toledo, Ohio, broke her fastenings, causing her to collide with the Cherry Street Bridge, throwing one span of the bridge about 100 feet out of line. About 2 hours later, a further movement of the gorge caused the steamer to shift still farther and the span fell into the river. Harbormaster John A. Page was carried down with the bridge, but was rescued soon after. He is reported as having been seriously injured. A spectator was struck by one of the hawsers when it parted, and he died later in the hospital. Another sustained a broken leg. It has since been ascertained that the damage to the steamer Yuma was $4,883. Estimated damage to bridge, $30,000.
(A hawser, by the way, is a thick rope or cable used for mooring or towing a ship.)
Indeed, the News-Bee reported, harbormaster Page was paralyzed from the waist down, having been thrown from the bridge and pinned under some of the wreckage.
Well, anyway, the Cherry Street Bridge was, as it is now, the link to the east side. And a big part of it was now gone. But its reconstruction was quick. A little more than a week later, the breach had been temporarily rebuilt. By March 14, the bridge was open to Big Con streetcar traffic.
It was only two years later that construction on the current Cherry Street Bridge started. It was finished in 1914 and still stands today, now named after Dr. Martin Luther King.
Here are some photos of the wreck: