Charleroi-Monessen Bridge

The History of Charleroi-Monessen Bridge is
Important to Washington County!

>> Click here to view a photo history of the bridge

At the foot of North Charleroi, formerly known at Lock Four, way before Charleroi or Monessen came into existence or what became the location for the Charleroi-Monessen bridge were found to be pioneering families who had came into the expanse of the Monongahela Valley frontier, primarily of the Frye family who came to that area with the Speers and Fromans among others who came about 1772. These families had to build rugged places of refuge from indians to which they would have to occasionally flee for their very lives. The Speers taking a spot called Gibsonton on the East side between present day Monessen and Belle Vernon, the Frye’s settled on the West side with going on 2000 acres of a "tomahawk claim". The rest of that early Fallowfield Township history is very similar to many others throughout Washington County.

The rivers and creeks were a teaming source of life and activity with canoes as the main mode of travel in those early days. In 1841, the Old Monongahela Navigation Co. built the first Lock 4 with it being completed in 1844, by 1874 the gates were mechanized. It is believed that Reason Frye contributed a large part of the stone and timber affiliated with its construction.

Early on, of course, raftsmen were obviously angry and resistant to this transportation change, for instance: There once existed a small mining transport town called Whitesville 1 mile North of Lock 4 that had 15 homes, a sawmill and a boat yard - right along the Monongahela River that was also called "Wolf Harbor". Coal was transported in small flats and floated to Pittsburg. When the Rail Road finally came through Whitesville had became a ghost town abandoned due to the competing transportion changes.

After 1842, the locks were remodeled 4 times up to 1951. Dan. Killett was the 1st Lock Master, and the locks were owned by the Navigation Co. till 6-12-1897, then sold to the US Govt., with their 1st Lock Master being Walter Pangburn.

In 1885, John Conrad founded and laid out the plats for property under the title of the Lockland Co. to be sold for "Lock Four", chartered in 1894 with the assistance of Thom. McGowan, Geo. S. Nutt, S. A. Walton, Geo. Mathews, W. L. Kline, and Thom. Watkins as the 1st Council elected.

In an early picture of the original Lock it can be seen that there were very few homes in existence along the river. Some of those early residents were made up of the Conrad, McGowen, C. B. Copeland ("Old Man River"), Cooper, Alfree, Coyle, Rayan, Crabba, Richardson, Taylor, Wise, Nutt, Dowd, Pangburn, Watson, Westlake, and Speakman families.

Thom. Frye, the oldest homestead in that area, was located at the bottom of current day 6th St. in North Charleroi, later owned by Thom. Conrad who helped lay out the plats for sale.

In 1873 - the telegraph office opened in Lock 4, being one of the first 21 between Jefferson and Pittsburg, later with one being established by Robt. McKean also, and with the first phone being installed Jul. 8, 1889. These were all viewed as signs of great progress for further prosperity of the Lock 4 as a boat community.

In 1908 a major fire destroyed the Monongahela Bridge and it was rebuilt. But, shortly before that happened, efforts were being initiated for a "new" span to be built between North Charleroi and Monessen to connect the prosperous efforts of the "city of push" (Charleroi) and the "city of steel" (Monessen). The capital for the bridge-building enterprise were provided by friends in both of those communities but mainly from Charleroi mercantile entrepreneurialists. On Nov. 2nd, 1907, festive dedication celebrations took place on both sides of the Monongahela River to rejoice over this way of transport being completed in and for North Charleroi.

The history of how the bridge came to be is as follows: In 1903, the Mercantile Bridge Co. was formed by D. M. McCloskey, T.P. Sloan, Henry Sheets of Charleroi and Howard Nelson of the American Bridge Co., and Jn. Percival of Pittsburg with Congressman Acheson aiding in getting the Charter through. They conferred and made plans over the next 3 years, but did nothing until the organization was re-organized with John. K. Tener being made President and supported by Chas. L. Thompson, VP; D. M. McCloskey, Sec./Treas.; and Jn. Tener’s brother, Geo. E. of Sewickley, and Geo. Nash of Monessen heading it up as a team. $225,000 was donated by the contributors through the Mercantile Bridge Co. to complete it. Emil Swenson was the engineer and the work was considered to be a remarkable feat in the era in which they lived. It was considered even more remarkable because it crossed the river at a diagonal angle and when built was spanned over very busy locks and marine ways on the Monongahela River. Work only started in earnest in 1907, but the 1907 spring flood wiped out $25,000 of work being washed away, so work re-began and was finished in November.

In a Charleroi Mail article pertaining specifically to the Charleroi-Monessen bridge, it explains that with truss-steel bridges came the end of flat boat and "whiskey-keel" boating and most ferrying in the region. The bridge was built mainly to more directly connect and quickly link the 2 great and growing industries that were prospering on both sides of the river.

A "plain" truss designed bridge - unique and unusual to see in today’s world of existing bridges, with 2 — 400' spans, 1 — 200' span over the Pittsburg & Lake Erie tracks on the East side and viaduct approaches. 23' wide and fitted with a special steel grated floor of ultra-modern design of that day to prevent winter hazards with wide approaches and little grade.

In the Monessen Daily Independent (1916-11-15), many wanted the bridge to become a "free" bridge, but the Bridge Co. opposed it at the time. It was stated that this bridge was "one of the most important bridges along the Monongahela in this county" and "one of the heaviest toll bridges along the Monongahela". The bridge was estimated to be valued at $1,000,000.00 at that time.

1949 - the bridge was bought by the state and was to continue to collect tolls till 1956 and to be a free bridge there after. In the 1980s the span was placed upon the National Register of Historic Places listings making it the most dominant historical asset of the community of North Charleroi and the largest existing memorial to the endeavors of John K. Tener.