Many of us remember unique places we have visited or seeing historic landmarks over the years. There is a structure in Southeast Ohio that if seen, you will not forget.
Along the Ohio River Scenic Byway and Drovers Trail Scenic Byway in Bellaire, Ohio stands a stone viaduct. Construction of this stone viaduct structure began in 1870 at Union Street in Bellaire as an Ohio approach to the railroad bridge spanning the Ohio River. For 100 years and more, these great arches have carried the commerce of our nation.
Completed in 1871, this viaduct consists of 43 separate stone arches. Each arch contains 37 ring stones that represent the 37 states of the Union at the time of its construction. It was said that the design of the bridge was to represent healing for the country, symbolizing America’s unity following the Civil War. The bridge was completed to Rose Hill in Bellaire, in April 1871.
The entire bridge span connects Ohio to West Virginia and was opened to rail traffic on June 21, 1871. Jointly constructed by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the Central Ohio Railroad, its sandstone piers rise in varying heights 10 to 20 feet above the streets, from which are placed 43 stone arches supported by 37 ring stones (18 on each side of a keystone).
The structure was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. This Ohio River crossing became known as the “Great Shortline to the West.”
The span on the West Virginia side of the river contains stone piers with iron truss-work supporting the railway above. The span comes in from the south and curves 270 degrees to the west and traverses several manufacturing sites within feet of West Virginia Route 2.
In total, the entire span contains 14,854 cubic yards (11,357 m3) of masonry, the piers and abutments contain 25,375 cubic yards (19,401 m3). The bridge span is 8,566 feet (2,611 m) in length and the total cost was over $1,000,000.
Although the structure is no longer in use by railroad traffic today, people can walk beneath the curved arches and observe the careful preservation that has kept the viaduct in near-perfect condition. The structure attracts railroad enthusiasts from all over. Visitors can see the markings where the original masons left their marks on the stones when they carved them, to let people know who they were. It is very impressive that the viaduct was able to maintain its structural integrity over the years.
The bridge is a physical link to the community’s past. It also offers opportunities for the community’s future. It is a reminder of the rich railroad history. And when viewing the structure, it is a great display of strength.
Knowing the importance of historic preservation, a group of individuals took it upon themselves to form an organization known as the Great Stone Viaduct Historical Educational Society, Inc. The organization has embarked on a mission to protect and preserve the Great Stone Viaduct. The goal of the Society is to promote the rich history of the viaduct and surrounding area.
The organization believes that knowing about the places where you live and work make a community a better place to live and build a business. The group has a vision for the property where the bridge is located, that would include a visitor’s center and park, as well as a bike trail.
The bridge was featured in the 2010 film Unstoppable starring Denzel Washington. It will be 150 years old in 2021. The Great Stone Viaduct organization is planning to have a celebration at that time. For more information about the Great Stone Viaduct, visit greatstoneviaduct.org or visitbelmontcounty.com.
The Great Stone Viaduct in Bellaire, Ohio