Filed Under Bridges

Hilliard Road Bridge

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.

Audio

Double Pickets At Bridge Work, 1924 This article, which ran in the Plain Dealer on July 18, 1924, describes the labor protests by union supporters at the Hilliard Road Bridge construction site. The protesters believed that the Walsh Construction Company was paying their laborers wages that were below union standards.
Editorial, 1926 This editorial ran in the Plain Dealer on June 23, 1926 prior to dedication ceremony for the Hilliard Road Bridge. The article describes a romanticized version of human progress and places the Hilliard Road Bridge among the pinnacles of human achievement. This is an interesting insight into the style of political rhetoric of the early twentieth century. Would an article like this be found in newspapers today? How has the style of American politics changed over the course of the twentieth century?

Images

Construction
Construction Construction of the Hilliard Road Bridge was finished in 1925. The bridge was built to reduce the traffic on the Detroit Rocky River Bridge as increased suburbanization caused greater traffic in and out of downtown Cleveland. In this photo, construction equipment can be seen on top of the bridge. Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1925
Open Spandrel Arch
Open Spandrel Arch The Hilliard Road Bridge is an example of an open spandrel arch bridge. The "spandrel" is the space between the arch and the bridge deck. In the case of the Hilliard Bridge, it is left open rather than being solid concrete. Bridges of this type became popular in late 19th and 20th centuries because only steel and reinforced concrete is strong enough to support the weight of the bridge. Bridges prior to these innovations had solid spandrels. Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1926
Bird's Eye View
Bird's Eye View The Hilliard Road Bridge towers above the Rocky River Reservation. The Reservation is part of the Cleveland Metroparks and covers 2,572 acres. It is located in Berea, Brook Park, Cleveland, Fairview Park, Lakewood, North Olmsted, Olmsted Township, and Rocky River. The Reservation has been shaped by the river: Tall shale cliffs reveal rock layers, and trails travel through floodplain forests of willows, sycamores, and cottonwoods. Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1928
Aerial View
Aerial View This aerial view shows road construction on one half of the bridge while the other half remained open to traffic. Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1983
View from Below
View from Below This photograph shows the work on the road deck being done from underneath the bridge. Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1983
Completed Deck
Completed Deck This is the newly completed deck on the Hilliard Road Bridge in 1983. Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1983
Swing Bridge
Swing Bridge Virginia Andrews, on the left, and her friend on the Swinging Bridge. They were most likely students at West School. Students and other residents used the unsteady Swinging Bridge to cross the Rocky River. Source: Lakewood Historical Society Date: 1907

Location

Hilliard Road, Lakewood and Rocky River

Metadata

Sarah Kasper, “Hilliard Road Bridge,” Cleveland Historical, accessed July 19, 2024, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/228.