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Suspension Bridge: Opening Ceremonies, 1849

Transportation in Wheeling Icon

▼ Suspension Bridge Newspaper Article

      ▶ Bridge Opening Ceremonies, November 15, 1849

- from The Daily Wheeling Gazette, Nov. 17, 1849, p. 2


The citizens of Wheeling will long remember the 15th of November, the day appointed for the formal opening of the Wire Suspension Bridge erected by the citizens of Wheeling over the Ohio river.

The morning was ushered in by the sound of cannon, and at an early hour strangers began to gather in from all quarters, the bridge was lined with vehicles, and all around seemed life and animation.

The splendid band from Zanesville was brought in by the Ohio Stage Company and dispensed their music in a manner soul-inspiring.

The firing of cannon continued for a great portion of the day, and the crowds along the Bridge sensibly increased until 3 o'clock, when the ladies assembled, and with their escorts passed over to the Island and returned. With them the hour seemed given up to enjoyment, friend met friend, and gaiety and good feeling reigned supreme. We had there the pleasure of meeting more lovely and happy faces than we have seen before for months. A continuous train of human beings moved along the work from 3 o'clock until dark.

At 6 o'clock, the thousand lamps, hung up on the wires, were lighted almost simultaneously and presented an elegant and graceful curve of fire, high above the river, that was never excelled in beauty. It forcibly reminded one of Mr. Clay's remarks, a few days since, when looking at the work from a distance, while his face glowed with pride and exultation — "Take that down! you might as well try to take down the rainbow."

The illumination was under the superintendance of Mr. Williams, the clerk of the company, and reflected much honor on him for taste and industry. Soon after the lamps were lighted, we strove to effect an entrance to the bridge, but the crowd was so dense we gave it up in despair. An anxiety for an intellectual treat soon made itself manifest in the crowd, and after repeated calls, one of the most eloquent of Virginia's sons, T. M Gally, Esq., was induced to mount the rostrum in front of the Monroe House, where in a speech of some length he did honor to his head and heart, his fame and the occasion. With a short interval of music, the Hon. R. W. THOMPSON, of Indiana came forward and delighted the audience with his graphic remarks upon internal improvements, in general and the chain that binds Virginia to Ohio, in particular.

In his address he wielded those high intellectural powers which justly made him the lion of the Pacific Railroad Convention. He said:"I feel honored and gratified by an opportunity to participate in the commemoration of your most extraordinary achievement of Art and genius. I have witnessed to-day the completion of an enterprize which a few years ago would have been laughed at with derision, and which even now staggers the credulity of the world — the bridging of one of our great rivers by a single span of 1010 feet. I feel with you a just pride for the sake of our common country, in commemorating this extraordinary achievement of American ingenuity and skill."

"We are an extraordinary people — we live in extraordinary times, and we have an extraordinary country. We have astonished the world no less by what we have attempted to do, than by what we have done."

In a more advanced stage of his remarks Mr. Thomson said that "such a structure could only incur opposition from the most petty animosities, which he regretted to see a flourishing western city manifest towards its neighbor. he adverted to the important line which the Bridge would be in the great chain of Railroads seeking a connexion with the West, and considering its giant magnitude as such a great National link, the persons who would seek to break and demolish it, deserved a curse, loud, deep and withering."

"But," said the eloquent speaker, "the Bridge is there, and it will be there. Our progress is onward — onward to the highest destiny that ever awaited any nation. As well might you attempt to chain the tornado as to arrest that progress. The opposing efforts of your Pittsburgh neighbors remind me of the calf which the Irishman met in the railroad track attempting to stop the impetuous cars: 'Faith,' said he, 'I admire your courage, but the divil take your discretion.'

"We have heard of your Bridge in Indiana and we have not been ignorant of its progress and its purposes. Let me assure you that in that State a series of railroads are steadily tending towards one great thoroughfare, and pointing as unerringly as the needle points to the poll, to the West end of that Bridge! And we too are going to erect bridges in Indiana, and we intend to take yours as a model too. [Cheers.] Not only will your bridge remain there, but others like it will be rected at other points on the Ohio; ay, and more than all this, the great 'Father of Waters' will be bridged. It will be done. You know and Europe knows and all the world knows, that what American enterprize dare do, it will do, and what it wills to do, it can do! Not only will your bridge remain there when I am forgotten, but similar bridges will span the broad waters of the Mississippi, binding in an iron embrace the East and the West, and bidding defiance to the powers of disunion and dismemberment. Long after politlcal aspirants have been forgotten, when the castle piles of Kings and dynasties have been razed to the earth; long after you and I and your opponents shall have passed away, with the parchment in which their petty hostilities and their declarations are written, the towers of your noble structure shall stand as a monument to your enterprize, energy and genius."

We give but a meagre account of Mr. Thompson's speech: the crowd was dense and it is with difficulty that we present the above, divested as it is of that nice connexion by which his unanswerable argument was characterized.

At 9 o'clock the supper was announced as prepared by mine host of the Monroe House, and a supper it was, worthy of the best days of the greatest epicures and fully ensuring him to the future title of F. R. S., — fried, roasted and stewed. Oysters in every style, chickens, ducks, sallads, everything in short, that could be asked, abounded, and was partaken of.

The supper being over and sparking sherry and more lively champaign produced, our worth Mayor S. BRADY, Esq., presiding, and Judge JAMES WILSON, acting as vice president the following proceedings filled up the hour with an intellectual feast, until the old town clock, like a peevish mother, began to strike the little ones.


1. The Bridge over the Ohio — One of the most magnificent highways of Art, spanning, like a triumphal arch one of the noblest highways of nature.

2. Charles Ellet, Jr. — The fame of his genius will be as enduring as the towers he has erected, and as pure as the beautiful river he has spanned.

Mr. Ellet rose and responded to the sentiment in an easy and graceful manner, and concluded with the following sentiment;
Old Virginia — The land of honorable men and lovely women.

3. Virginia — Though she gave away half a continent, she will repel every invasion, of her domain, even to the ninth part of a hair. 

4. Ohio — We are proud to have bound her to Virginia with links of iron."The friends thou hast and their adoption triedGrapple them to thy soul with hooks of steel."

Judge WILSON, of Steubenville, Ohio, being called upon, by the company, observed that, not being in the habit of public speaking, he was apprehensive he could say but little, and that in a clumsy way, calculated to attract their attention — but inasmuch as he had been called upon to respond to a toast so highly complimentary to the great and growing commonwealth in which he had for a great length of time been a resident, he would not remain altogether silent. He observed that, in reference to the National Road, of which the new Bridge now forms a part, it was constructed, or rather intended to be constructed, as far as the Ohio river, by the appropriation of two per centum of the avails of the public lands in Ohio. This two per cent. was soon expended, and, if the completion of the road had depended upon that fund alone, it would not, in all probability, have reached Wheeling to this day — and the magnificent and beneficial structure, the erection of which we are now assembled to witness and celebrate, would hardly have been thought of. There is one individual, a citizen of Ohio, to whose exertions and influence in the councils of the nation, you are mainly indebted for the first improvement, to wit, the Road, of which the other improvement, the Bridge is but the consequence — that individual is the Hon. BENJAMIN RUGGLES. In standing and influence, in the U. S. Senate he succeeded our distinguished and meritorious citizen, Governor MORROW. His services were so highly appreciated by his constituents, as to secure him a seat in that body for eighteen years. — His appeals were so able and earnest, and I may add, eloquent, as to induce Congress to appropriate the necessary amount of money from the U. S. Treasury, to construct this road, without waiting for the tady and uncertain avails of the said two per cent. It was a great national work, and, as such, he and coadjutators induced Congress to view it — and, had he held his seat in the Senate only one other term, it cannot be doubted but that this new and splendid structure, this first bridge over the beautiful Ohio, now erected by the means and resources of private and patriotic individuals, would, like the road itself, have been constructed from the National Treasury. It is, however, constructed — it is an enduring monument of the public spirit and munificence of the people of Wheeling, far exceeding the monument at Bunker's Hill or that in progress at Washington City. The Wheeling monument, if I may so call it, facilitates the intercourse of millions of Freemen, conferring benefits upon them to the end of time — the other monuments alluded to, however pleasing to the eye of the patriot, and however ornamental to the places in which they are situate, are divested of what, in this age, is deemed essential, that is — utility. So long as the art of Printing shall remain among us, and present appearances to not indicate its decay or diminution — posterity will be at no loss to properly estimate the heroism displayed upon Bunker Hill, or to cherish the character and services of our great and good Washington.

Now that this splendid and useful structure is completed, what do we hear? Why some few smoke pipes of steamboats, have been constructed so high that they cannot get along without doing as is done at all other places where bridges are constructed over navigable streams — to wit, letting down a portion of said smoke pipes! And because these few smoke pipes have no hinges attached by which this can be effected, why, forsooth, the Bridge must be pulled down! — the Ohio river must remain without a Bridge, unless it be elevated in the air to such height as a rifle bullet would hardly reach it! But I need not take up the time of this assemblage in adverting to such absurdities — absurdities which, however far they may be countenanced by the technicalities of law, are revolting to public opinion and the common sense of all. The time is near at hand at which many such structures will grace the beautiful Ohio; and I venture to predict, that it will not be long before this smoke pipe farce, like all other absurdities, will end in smoke. Permit me, in conclusion to offer a toast:

The Hon. BENJ. RUGGLES, of Ohio — The man to whose exertions, influence and eloquence, in the U. S. Senate, we owe the early construction of the National Road, is entitled to our gratitude. may the evening of his days be as happy in his retirement, as his public life has been beneficial to his country.

The following letter from the Hon. Judge Ruggles was then read:

St. Clairsville, Nov. 14, 1849

— I have received your kind invitation to be present on the 15th instant at the opening of your great "Wire Suspension Bridge" across the Ohio River at your City. It was my intention to have been with you on so important and interesting an occasion, but temporary ill health will deprive me of that pleasure. The construction of a bridge at this point, connected with the National Road, has long been in contemplation by Congress and also by eminent and patriotic men through the Country. All efforts upon this subject have hitherto failed, and it has been left until private enterprize has accomplished this great object. It reflect the highest honor upon the citizens of Wheeling who, under the superintenence of their able and accomplished Engineer, mr. Ellet, have projected, carried forward and completed this truly national work. At this place, the United States Mail passes daily to and from the East and West, containing as much mail matter, probably, as crosses the mountains at all other points. Personal travel and transportation of produce and goods on this route is immense, all whichcan now pursuetheir onward course without delay, danger or obstruction. Beyond all these present benefits, there lies in the future another great advantage which willsoon be realized. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which is progressing rapidly to completion, under its able and efficient directors, will soon reach Wheeling, where it will meet the Central Railroad of Ohio, now in progress, when a connection will be formed with Columbus, Cincinnati, St. Louis and the shores of the Lakes. This bridge will then furnish an easy and safe transit across the Ohio for the Cars running in either direction. Baltimore will occupy an advantageous position to obtain a full share of the extensivetrade of the whole West. The contemplated Railroad from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean through our own territory must and will be made. The General Government is in honor bound to protect and preserve the country it has purchased, and give to the people inhabiting it some form of civil government for their safety and security. This road when completed will contribute to this object, and create the strongest bond of union by connecting the Atlantic with the Pacific Ocean. It will furnish the means of personal and commercial intercourse among its distnat and wide-spread citizens. The Wheeling bridge will form an important link in this grand chain of communication, and the Country at large owes a debt of gratitude to the enterprizing citizens who at great labor and expense, have constructed it.

Yours, respectfully,


To Messrs. T. Sweeney, and others.

The following letter from the Governor of Virginia was then read:


Nov. 5, 1849.

— I received by the last mail your letter, written at the instance of the Wheeling and Belmont Bridge Company and the Council of the City of Wheeling, inviting me to visit your place on the 15th of this month, for the purpose of inspecting the Wire Suspension Bridge which connects us with the opposite shore of Ohio. It is, Gentlemen, with unaffected and sincere regret that I feel constrained, by circumstances quite beyond my control, to decline your polite invitation. The near approach ofthe session of the Legislature, with the indispensable duties it imposes upon me, require my constant presence here during this entire month.

I have always looked with deep interest upon the struggle, so nobly sustained, which your prosperous city has been making for years, to secure to herself, and to the Commonwealth, a large share of the commerce and capital which enlightened enterprize and energetic industry never fail to secure any where in our country; but more particularly upon the great rivers of the West. The work you have accomplished is a noble monument to that far-seeing sagacity and public spirit for which the City of Wheeling has now become proverbial — and I cannot believe that any tribunal in America can be found, which would fail to see that the present effort to demolish this structure had its origin rather in a morbid and jealous rivalry, than any serious apprehension of injury to the commerce of the Ohio river.

As a citizen of the Commonwealth, and as a public functionary, I shall be proud to do any thing within my legitimate power, to sustain and to promote the interests of your enterprising citizens and their prosperous city.

For "the cordial hospitalities of your city," which you so obligingly offer me, accept, I pray you, and tender to the authorities you represent, my prfound acknowledgments and sincere thanks.

With the highest respect,
I have the honor to beYour ob't. servant,


To Messrs. T. Sweeney, and others.

The following sentiment was then given and heartily responded to:

5. The Governor of Virginia — Worthy to preside over the most renowned of the States.

The following letter from Mr CLAY was then read:

Nov. 12th.

— I have to thank you for your kind invitation to me to be present at the formal opening of the wire suspension Bridge at Wheeling on 15th int. Having passed your city but a few days ago, thus early to avoid the severity of the winter in crossing the mountains, I regret that I cannot so soon retrace my steps and accept your invitation. That regret is diminished in consequence of my having had an opportunity to view the noble structure the completion of which you purpose to celebrate. I have been long anxious that such a Bridge should be erected at Wheeling and I offer sincere congratulations upon its execution. I hope that all fears of its creating any serious obstacle to the navigation of the river, will on experiment be found to be imaginary.

It would indeed be a subject of deep regret, if that beautiful river could not be navigated, and crossed by a bridge, at all seasons and under all circumstances, without any incompatibility.

I am with great respect,
Your obedient Servant,


To Charles W. Russell, and others.

The following sentiment was drank with deafening cheers:

6. Henry Clay — The eloquent advocate of the National Road and all national interests. Our Bridge crowns one of the great purposes of his public life.

7. The Union of the States — Every new means of intercourse between the States tends to confirm it "Esto perpetua."

8. The Ohio River — May the navigation of the "beautiful river" remain forever free, a great channel of commerce between the North and South without being a barrier to commerce between the east and the West.

9. Pittsburgh Bridges — If fairly tried by their piers, they must be condemned.

The following letter from Thos. Swan, President of the B. and O. Road was then read:

Office of the B. & O. R. R. Co.
Nov. 3, 1849

To Messrs. Charles W. Russell and others;

Gentlemen: I had the pleasure to receive your favor of the 30th ult., inviting me, and through me, the Directors of the Baltimore & Ohio Rail Road Company to be present at the opening of the Wire Suspension Bridge over the Ohio river, on the 15th of November.

I will lose no time in communicating your invitation to the Directors of this road.

I regret extremely, that owing to a stated meeting of the Board on the 14th inst., and the arrangements now in progress to place this road under contract to the city of Wheeling, early in the ensuing spring, requiring my undivided attention, it will not be possible for me to respond to your kind invitation.

The important work you have just completed, so creditable to the public spirit and enterprise of the city of Wheeling, and the skill of her distinguished engineer to whom you owe its design, havs been watched with deep interest by the Directors of this company and indeed I may say by the whole community.

In facilitating the transit of the vast trade and travel destined to render your city a point in their progress to the sea-board, this work cannot fail to be attended with the most beneficial results, to say nothing of its local influence which it must exercise, in expanding your business relations.

It affords me sincere pleasure to tender you the cordial congratulations of the Directors of this company, in the completion of this important link in your Western connections. I am, gentlemen, with great respect,

Your obedient servant,


10. Thomas Swan, the President of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad — His administration marked by ability and efficiency will be speedily crowned with success.

"Our distinguished guest, the Hon. R. W. Thompson — He has won fresh laurels by giving form and impulse to the great system of improvements which overleaping rivers and scaling mountains, is to connect the Atlantic with the Pacific. Of such sons, Virginia may proudly say; 'These are my jewels'"

Mr. THOMPSON replied to the sentiment just offered, by saying: If he "could have any inducement to make another speech to-night, it would be to express his deep sense of the flattering reception he had met with from the sons of Virginia, and which, coming as he did from the wilds of his youthful State, might well embarras a less modest man. — True, continued Mr. Thompson, I am a son of Vrginia and proud to acknowledge her my mother, (cheers) though, perhaps, I am more of an Ohio man than a Virginian, for my 'better half' is a Buckeye (laughter) and adverting as I have done to the union by your noble structure, between Ohio and Virginia, it is to me a source of pride that in our union, (that is myself and better half,) there is one link which binds it to Virginia. Nor shall i forget that the Virginia ladies are not the least inducement to claim kindred with her people. They, while they have curbed your more wayward and impetuous passions, have given embodiment and nobility to your genius and your enterprize."

Gliding gracefully to the exciting subject of the occasion, Mr. Thompson siad,

"The attitude of the Pittsburgh people towards your Bridge, is one in which they appear to exercise no justice, no consistency, no equality. They oppose it on the grounds of the ordinance of '87, but like a man of rather antiquated views down in my part of the country, who arrayed himself against a public enterprise, they oppose your Bridge not because the ordinance of '87 prohibits it, but because the Bridge is not mentioned in the ordinance! (laughter.) Again, they appear to accord to you but little right to follow their construction of this ordinance, (which, I suppose, is that all the great waters of this land shall remain forever unbridged,) and to carry out this construction, they have erected five bridges, but refuse to let you erect one!

"I was forcibly struck with a remark in the letter from your Governor, Mr. Floyd, and I cannot, after an examination of your immense structure suspended in the air, but share in the belief expressed by Gov. Floyd, that no tribunal can be found in America who will, by its decision, declare that such a bridge is an obstruction to the navigation of your beautiful river, and I think your Pittsburgh neighbors will find, to use a homely phrase very well understood down where I live, that they are "barking up the wrong tree." I hope that all this affair will pass off, and your rights and your interests be maintained. Keep your tempers, and stand in defence of your rights, and if you fail, do as we proposed to do in Indiana, when we were threatened with a refusal of the right of way for one of our canals, by the State of Illinois — dig a tunnel under the state and come out on the other side of the river! (laughter)

"As I observed in my previous remarks, we have been waiting for your Bridge, the people of Indiana have been looking to it with interest. Our railroads are cleaving their onward way, right towards the western end of that bridge, (cheers,) and those roads are every day hastening the connexion of this Union from sea to sea, by one indissoluble chain in which your structure as will form an enduring link. This noble enterpize of thus binding our Union together will be consummated. It is one in which I feel a deep interest, one in which I am proud to be engaged. I shall work night and day for the development and successful application of that one idea. Think of it: the genius and enterprize of our people are equal to the task, and through the vast field of their commerce and their wealth will, pass one unbroken, national thoroughfares, beyond the reach of party ruptures and party hostilities, and owned by the one great family of American people."

Mr. Thompson concluded with the following sentiment:

The citizens of Wheeling: their enterprize and energy are only equalled by their good old Virginia hospitality.

The City of Columbus. — Honorable distingushed by her connection with the System of Internal Improvements. We welcome her citizens to our midst.

To this the Hon. Joseph Ridgway of Columbus rose and responded in a happy manner, and concluded with the following sentiment:

The City of Wheeling. — Their enterprize has added another wreath to the glory of the State of Virginia.

The following letter from the Hon. Judge Daniel was read:

Nov. 4th, 1849

Gentlemen: Your polite invitation on behalf of the City Council of Wheeling, and of the Managers of the Wheeling and Belmond Bridge Company, to be present on the 15th inst., at the opening of your great Wire Suspension Bridge, has been received.

To witness a spctacle of so much interest, and to partake of the hospitalities of my fellow-citizens so kindly tendered, could not fail of yielding me the sincerest gratification; but that gratification a state of health not very firm, the advanced state of the season, and the necessity for preparing for protracted official duty, compel me to forgo. The structure whose completion your propose to commemorate, must inspire every American bosom with just pride in contemplating it as another, and a noble monument, added to many daily produced, in illustration of our native genius and enterprize; and I trust that its benefits may far surpass the hopes and anticipation of those on whom its conception and execution reflect the hightest admiration.

Be pleased, Gentlemen, to convey to those whose organ you are, and to accept for yourselve, my most respectful acknowledgment of your kind invitation, and although bebarred the pleasure of participating in your celebration, allow me the favor of expressing thro' you, on that interesting occasion, the following sentiment flowing warmly from an American — a Virginia heart.

"The city of Wheeling — already unsurpassed in the perfection and beauty of some of her manufactures, may she be yet more distinguished by the rapid growth of her commerce, and by prosperity in all things."

With great respect, Gentlemen,


To Messrs. T. Sweeney, and others.

The following letter from W. B. Hubbard, Esq., was then read:

COLUMBUS, Nov. 12, 1849.

To Messrs. T. Sweeney and others:

Dear Sirs: Your card of the 21st ult., inviting me to be present on the 15th inst., and partake of the hospitalities of your citizens on the occasion of the opening of your "great Wire Suspension Bridge" was duly received and for which permit me to tender to you and through you to the council of your city my profound thanks.

It would have afforded me much pleasure to have been with you on that occasion, and with the thousands of other citizens of this and the neighboring States, witnessed the consummation of that gigantic work which unites by a Single Span the Eastern and Western shores of the Ohio River at Wheeling, and the trade, travel and general business, ot only of the two noble States of Virginia and Ohio, directly, but of nearly half of the Union indirectly.

Situated as it is upon the main and direct line Eastward from the interior of this State and the West, the citizens of Columbus in common with (I feel warranted in saying) the people of the West generally, have looked forward to the completion of your great undertaking with the most cordial and ardent desires for its success. And now that it is finished, the mighty structure will be viewed by them as a proud and enduring monument to the skill of the distinguished chief architect who planned the enterprise and liberality of those who furnished the means ot complete so vast and so useful an enterpise — a work that may justly be denominated the mammoth link in that great Hemispherical chain of iron that is destined to connect the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans.

Regretting, that on account of official engagements I cannot be present in person and share in the festivities of the day, permit me to offer for the occasion the following sentiment:

"The Union," of Virginia and Ohio by the great Wire Suspension Bridge "it must be preserved." I am with much respect

Your obedient servant,


Wm Pitts, Esq., being loudly called for, rose and responded, happily closing with the following sentiment:

The Bridge over the Ohio — The chain that binds mother and daughter, let its sacred links never be broken.

Wylie H. Oldham, Esq. of Marshall co. was then called out and responded in his usual felicitous manner. We could not catch the words of his sentiment.

The following letter was then read:

Nov. 12th 1849.

To Messrs. T. Sweeney and others:

— The invitation with which you honored me, to be present at the opening of your great Wire Suspension Bridge, on the 15th instant, only reached me yesterday. I deeply regret that indispenable professional engagements make it impossible for me to be there. But I shall be with you in spirit; for, as an American citizen, I glory in the accomplishment of such works by the enterprize of Freemen. Accept my thanks for the honor of an invitation, and believe me,

Very truly, your obd't serv't


Judge Walker — Distinguished as a jurist and a public man; we are honored by interest he expresses in our great work.

This sentiment in the absence of the Judge, was happily responded to by J. M. McCreary, Esq.

The following sentiment was then drank, and responded to:

The President and Board of Managers of the Bridge Company. — We congratulate them on the successful completion of the great work which they have so ably superintended.

Several letters were then read, and speeches made, which our limits prohibit us from noticing.

The party broke up at a late hour, all confessing that they had enjoyed a delightful and harmonious day.

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