Even today, almost ninety years after its completion, The Anthony Wayne Bridge (or the High Level Bridge, which is what everyone I know called it) is still an impressive span over the Maumee.
It was a natural to build such a huge structure, for crossing the Maumee had always been a challenge for drivers. All the bridges were of the open-and-close variety and there was not a bridge that was free from the danger of ice buildups or being hit by ships (both of which happened to the old Cherry Street bridge).
Plus, the east side was clamoring for such a bridge. As was the Toledo Automobile Club. As was the Chamber of Commerce.
City Council eventually voted 15-2 to build such a bridge, as long as the bridge was “…without lift or draw, of sufficient height to permit all lake steamships to pass under the main span…” and asked voters to approve a $3 million bond issue to help pay for it. Voters approved the issue in November of 1928. The bridge was designed by Waddell and Hardesty (now Hardesty & Hanover, built by the McClintic-Marshall Construction Company of Pittsburgh, who which had built the great Ambassador Bridge, linking Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.
The News-Bee was there for the groundbreaking.
Autumn sunshine gleamed on a golden shovel Tuesday as a beacon of a greater Toledo when Mayor W. T. Jackson turned the first spadeful in the construction of the new $3,000,000 high-level bridge across the Maumee river.
A crowd of 500 persons cheered as the mayor accepted the symbolic spade, knotted with blue and white silk ribbons, from the hands of John Forshey, president of the South Side Chamber of Commerce, and forced it into the clay, thus launching work on the West Side approach to the $3,000,000 super-link between two sections of Toledo.
“This is the greatest moment of my administration and one of the happiest moments of my entire life,” Jackson said.
The ceremony was repeated a half-hour later on the east side of the site.
(Amusing postscript: Just a few days after the bridge was dedicated in October, 1931, Mayor Jackson was trounced at the polls by Addison Q. Thatcher.)
But a big bridge needs a big name, and the naming of the bridge was the subject of much discussion.
Eight years prior to the bridge’s completion, City Council passed an ordinance naming the unbuilt bridge the Warren Gamaliel Harding Memorial Bridge. But in those eight years, Harding had his problems – Teapot Dome, an affair with Nan Britton – and naming a bridge after him left some squeamish.
So a few months before the October, 1931 dedication, a mayor’s committee ran a contest: six first-place winners who suggested “Toledo High Level Bridge.” That said, council refused to accept that name and the bridge was nameless when it was dedicated. “It is too bad that certain members of council expect to play petty politics over this detail,” the mayor told The News-Bee.
“Naming of the bridge was blocked in public improvements committee two weeks ago by several councilmen who declare the bridge is not level,” the News-Bee, possibly trying to be funny, said (it made me laugh).
Two weeks later, City Council arrived on Anthony Wayne (and repealed the Harding ordinance, which technically was still on the books).
Dedication Day, Oct. 27, 1931, saw 40,000 people turn out in a steady downpour. The News-Bee for that day is missing but a 1981 article commemorating the 50th anniversary of the bridge written by Frank Krompak (a journalism professor at the University of Toledo who I actually took a class from) put it this way:
Festivities opened at 7 p.m. with a salvo from factory, steamboat and railroad whistles. Two lighted airplanes appeared out of the fog and rain, circled repeatedly, and dropped flares from just above the bridge’s towers. Boats below saluted with their whistles, adding their noise to the martial music of the American Legion band.
The crowd, huddled beneath glistening rain slickers and umbrellas, listened to one official after another praise the structure. Bishop Karl J. Alter stepped bareheaded to the microphone to ask Almighty God to bless “this instrument which is the achievement of human hands and human minds.”
After the mayor cut ribbons at both ends of the bridge, a large parade of marchers, floats and unorganized citizens crossed the bridge from the East Side. They poured into the downtown area, clogging the streets and stores for hours.
One of the most unusual occurrences on the bridge happened on March 31, 1975. About 9 p.m. that night, Cora Phillips, 24, was driving eastbound on the approach when a car crossed the divider and caused her to swerve to the right and then the left, at which point she smashed into the railing. The car ended up teetering off the edge of the bridge and when police arrived, five passers-by were holding onto the car to prevent it from dropping 100 feet to the Middlegrounds. Phillips and a passenger were injured and, adding insult to that, Phillips was cited for driving without due regard for safety.
From a personal standpoint, the High Level Bridge is one of the best bridges around. Driving over it always seemed like an adventure. It’s beautiful, it has served its purpose admirably for nearly 90 years and probably 90 more. It was built during the height of the depression and Toledo’s bank crisis, which makes its construction all the more impressive.