WHEELING, W. Va. (WTRF)
Right now, the Wheeling Suspension Bridge is in the midst of a $17 million rehabilitation project.
But it isn’t the first time the historic span has been repaired.
On May 17, 1854, a bizarre storm came up, and literally blew the bridge deck upside down.
“The newspaper reported that the bridge started undulating in the afternoon, and people chose not to walk or drive across the bridge that day,” said Jeanne Finstein, president of the Friends of Wheeling. “Of course, it would have been horses and buggies back then.”
By 3 p.m. that day, the deck of the bridge had flipped over.
“Weather forecasting back then wasn’t as sophisticated as it is now,” Finstein noted.
We checked with 7News Meteorologist Aaron Myler for his estimate of what that weather event might have been.
He believes it was not a tornado.
“You can’t just have a tornado that’s going to stay and rock the bridge back and forth like that,” Myler noted. “Tornadoes don’t last that long. It was probably just a storm with sustained wind speeds all day, and eventually it just picked the bridge deck up.”
The bridge had been built by engineer Charles Ellet Jr. five years earlier.
It has been said that John Roebling came to Wheeling to repair the span after the storm turned it over.
But now historians don’t believe he came in person.
“We think his plan was what they used to install the stabilizing cables that are there now,” noted Finstein. “They go from the deck to the ground and on the east side of the bridge, those cables are actually anchored in the basement of the Capitol Theatre.”
The Wheeling Suspension Bridge is 173 years old.
One year from now, its latest rehabilitation will be complete.
“It’s a national historic landmark,” Finstein said. “It’s an engineering landmark. And it’s a symbol of Wheeling.”
When it was built in 1849, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world.