Mill Street Bridge

Mill Street Bridge demolition 08-25-1970When I’m not thinking about Cape, I hang out on the You Know You’re from Athens, Ohio, If… Facebook page. Folks there post memories of things I shot working for The Athens Messenger in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Someone brought up the old Mill Street Bridge this week.

This is a photo I took of the bridge the day it was destroyed on August 25, 1970, because the river was being relocated as part of a flood control project.

The bridge went splash close to deadline, so I rushed this photo in, only to be told, “Oh, I have that dummied in as a vertical. It’s too late to change, so go back and find a vertical.”

I told the editor to let me have his seat. I laid out the front page to give myself a nice horizontal ride, rewrote a couple of headlines, and said, “This’ll work.” That’s when I appreciated all the pages Missourian editor John Blue let me lay out and the hundreds of headlines I had written.

The biggest lemon in the world

Mill Street Bridge demolition 08-25-1970The vehicle on the left is my 1969 VW Squareback, the biggest lemon ever to be squeezed out of Germany. I loved the car, but it loved the repair shop more. I ended up selling it with the engine in a cardboard box.

Wife Lila and I lived in a basement apartment a few blocks from the bridge and the river. The landlord showed us a big valve they’d have to close if the river got high; otherwise, we were going to find ourselves wading in sewage.

Hocking River gauge

Mill Street Bridge demolition 08-25-1970The little square concrete structure on the far left is the river gauge. It was mentioned in a 1916 Water-Supply Paper talking about the Hocking River Basin. It was located “at a single span highway bridge at Mill Street, about three-fourths mile from business district of Athens, Athens County.” The left bank, it said, overflows at gage (their spelling) height 17 feet and the water passes around the bridge. The study noted there were ruins of an old mill dam 300 feet downstream.

Bridge was cut apart

Mill Street Bridge demolition 08-25-1970The horizontal members of the bridge were cut, leaving only the sides and bed behind. I don’t recall what actually brought the bridge down. The crane has been moved well back, and I don’t see the guy with the cutting torch in the final photos.

I’m pretty sure they didn’t use dynamite, like Dad did with a bridge over the Black River in Wayne county, Missouri. In his case, he had to drop the bridge straight down to keep it from damaging the new bridge next to it on one side and a bunch of phone lines on the other. The blast part went great, but cutting it apart like these guys are doing went not so well. You can see a video of it here.

Bridge demo gallery

Here’s a collection of photos of the bridge’s final moments. Click on any photo to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to move through the images.


Eclipse – A Company Town

Eclipse Company Town 08-23-2014Back in 1955, just about the time I was becoming aware of music, Tennessee Ernie Ford came out with the song 16 Tons that contained the lines

You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store

I ended up living in two parts of the country where company towns and company stores were common: Southeastern Ohio and North Carolina.

The Eclipse Company Store

Eclipse Company Town 08-23-2014There is an excellent website that gives the history of the Eclipse Company Town, built by the Hocking Valley Coal Company between 1900 and 1902. This building, now occupied by Kiser’s Barbecue, was the pay station and general store for the miners. Married miners without children rented the two front rooms on the second floor.

Curator Jessica said that workers were frequently paid in “scrip” that could only be spent at the company store. The Athens County Historical Society and Museum has some coins and one very rare $2 scrip in its collection. (Click on the photos to make them larger.)

Building saw various uses

Eclipse Company Town 08-23-2014The mine operated from 1900 until the early 1930s when it and other area mines fell victim to the Depression. It was called back into service in 1940 as part of the World War II effort, and continued to operate until 1948.

After the mine closed, the store was used as a barn, a machine shop, and then a VFW Hall in the 1950s. It is a very popular restaurant these days.

Located on Hocking-Adena Bike Path

Eclipse Company Town 08-23-2014One reason for its success is its location on the rail-to-trail Hocking-Adena Bike Path. Live music was playing the evening Jessica and I went there. Bikes of every description – a triplet, recumbents, cruisers, beater bikes and kid bikes with training wheels – were parked all around.

Eclipse Company Town today

Eclipse Company Town 08-23-2014The website says the town is comprised of 12 company houses, one shotgun house and the company store.

Company towns came about for several reasons.

  • The mines were in relatively isolated areas with little transportation available, so the work force needed a place to live.
  • Because they were self-contained, the use of scrip was common. The stores allowed workers to buy on credit, so they came to “owe their soul to the company store,” making for a captive labor force.
  • At the first hint of any union organizing, workers would be put out of their company houses, so they not only didn’t have jobs and were in debt, but they and their families were homeless.

Nearly 2500 company towns

Eclipse Company Town 08-23-2014I’ve read that the United States had more than 2,500 company towns, housing 3 percent of the U.S. population at one time.

I remember the neatly-kept company town of McAdenville just outside Gastonia, N.C.. It was incorporated in 1881 to house workers at the McAden Mills, which has been known as Pharr Yarns since 1939.

It’s still known as Christmas Town USA, for the huge Christmas lighting displays that attract some 300,000 automobile visitors a year.