By the early 1920s, Cleveland's suburbs were growing rapidly. This increased the amount of traffic in and out of downtown, and beyond. In the suburbs of Lakewood and Rocky River, the boom prompted construction of a new bridge over the Rocky River.
Authorization for the Hilliard Road Bridge in Lakewood was given in 1923, along with approval for the Willow Bridge in Newburgh. The Walsh Construction Co. of Cleveland was contracted to build the bridge. The project was completed 19 months later at the cost of $930,000. Once completed, the Hilliard Road Bridge provided a vital link between Cleveland and outlying farms, and also helped the West Side expand and develop into a series of well-populated communities.
Since the Hilliard Road Bridge project was the largest construction project in the area in years, it was watched closely by organizations of both sides of the labor debate. The unskilled workmen who built the Hilliard Road Bridge came from all over the Midwest but especially from Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, and Kentucky. They were paid 40 cents an hour which was less than union pay. Workers and their families were housed on the construction site in buildings of pine lumber which a Plain Dealer reporter in 1924 described as being similar to military cantonments during the First World War. The construction site was also surrounded by fences of barbed wire. Picketers set up camp at either end of the bridge and protested at starting and quitting times. Signs carried by protesters decried the lack of unionized labor of the project and asserted that working conditions were unfair to the "organized workers of Cuyahoga County." This continued for over a month.
The Hilliard Road Bridge was not the first bridge on this spot. The earliest incarnation of the bridge was known as the "Swinging Bridge," and consisted of a rope bridge with wooden planks that was used by school children and Lakewood residents to cross the Rocky River. It hung thirty feet above the water and was located at the end of Detroit Avenue in what is now the Rocky River Reservation. It remained in place until the 1910s.
One Lakewood resident, Kathryn Coleman, recalls a particularly memorable experience on the Swinging Bridge when a mischievous boy began to jump up and down, causing the bridge to swing wildly, while she and her family were trying to cross. "I was 7-years-old at the time and walking beside my mother. In front of us, father was pushing a baby stroller that held my 1-year-old brother. We were frantic, but we finally made it across. Afterwards, mother vowed we would never use that bridge again."
The current Hilliard Road Bridge crosses the Rocky River and runs above the Rocky River Reservation. It is 860 feet long, and the length of the largest span is 220.2 feet. It was rehabilitated in the early 1980s, during which the deck was replaced. It reopened in 1983.