The Willow Grove Bridge (or Wampum Road Bridge) spans the Mahoning River just below Mahoningtown, the southern portion of New Castle, Pennsylvania. It is located on old Route 18 (aka Willow Grove Road) in an area once known as Willow Grove. The skewed truss-type steel bridge is 369-feet long (in total), 32-feet wide, and was constructed from April to December 1932. It was a modern bridge at that time and allowed for easier access over the Mahoning River into the southern ward of New Castle. An article in the December 6, 1932, edition of the New Castle News reads, “The new bridge is one of the finest pieces of bridge construction in Lawrence County. Of steel and concrete it replaces the old bridge which was narrow, unsafe, and dangerous.” The old bridge was an antiquated structure built back in 1890, which in turn superseded an earlier bridge built in 1805.
The new bridge was dedicated during a ceremony on Thursday, December 15, 1932. A procession of motor vehicles, led by grand marshal and wealthy banker Alex Crawford Hoyt, started out from the Castleton Hotel in New Castle at 2:30pm, paraded through the southern portions of the city, and soon arrived at the site of the recently completed bridge. A decent crowd gathered despite temperatures hovering down near zero. The bridge was christened by Mr. P. O. Elder, a member of the Board of County Commissioners, with a bottle of seventy-year-old champagne presented by Mrs. J. K. Pollock. Mrs. Pollock was the widow of one of most prominent physicians of the New Castle area. Afterwards, two young kids from New Castle, Diane Eakin of Wilmington Avenue and Freddie Rentz of Winter Avenue, cut the ribbon to officially open the bridge to traffic. The procession of cars crossed over the snow-covered bridge, circled back, and headed back to the city concluding the brief ceremony.
The New Castle News of Saturday, September 1, 1934, reported, “Willow Grove Bridge, as a name, passed out Friday afternoon and in its place was born the Kushuskie Bridge, a name designed to commemorate the fact that near where the bridge now stands was once a thriving village of Delaware or Lenape Indians. Under the auspices of the Daughters of the American Colonists, two handsome bronze commemorative tablets were unveiled, the bridge was christened with its new name, and the crowd heard C. Hale Sipe, Indian authority deliver an interesting lecture on the history of the Delawares. Because of the traffic hazard the exercises were held in a grove just south of the bridge, with Judge Jas. A. Chambers acting as chairman of the day.” Despite the ceremony it appears the official new name did not catch on with the public.
The Willow Grove Bridge was the scene of an unfortunate accident on the early morning of Tuesday, November 9, 1954. Warren and Ruth Andrews and their four sons were headed to their nearby home after visiting family in Wampum. Walter Andrews apparently lost his way in a heavy fog and struck a bridge beam at 12:30am. The right side of the car was sheared off and his wife Ruth and three-year-old son Russell were killed. Another son, ten-year-old Warren Jr., was critically injured but apparently survived. Ruth and Russell Andrews were laid to rest in Newport Cemetery.
The bridge served as a main route for just over twenty-five years and was bypassed when a new stretch of Route 18, and the new Route 18 concrete bridge, connecting New Castle to Moravia was completed in 1958.
At some point the nearby Hickory Creek Bridge was closed and the Willow Grove Bridge remained the only way for a handful of families to access their homes – located along the short stretch of road between the two bridges. A state inspection in late 2006 deemed the Willow Grove Bridge to be in poor overall condition and “structurally deficient,” and a weight limit restriction was placed on it. When a new Hickory Creek Bridge was opened in 2012 the rusting hulk of the Willow Grove Bridge, co-owned by the city of New Castle and North Beaver Township, was finally closed to traffic. It sits in a secluded and peaceful location and can only be crossed by pedestrians. Further inspections have made it clear that this neglected span is doomed.
An aerial view of the general location of the old Willow Grove Bridge, located just south of Mahoningtown along old Route 18. (c2013)
The view as you approach the Willow Grove Bridge while heading south on old Route 18. (Jul 2009)
The grand old bridge which opened back in 1932. (Jul 2009)
The aging bridge sits in a very peaceful location. (Jan 2012)
The bridge is quite wide and is still used by the residents of a handful of homes down the road. Weeds grow along the sides of the neglected bridge. (Jul 2009)
A view of the upper beams of the bridge. (Jul 2009)
The old sidewalk is crumbling away. (Aug 2011)
Lots of rust is evident on this structure. The newest Route 18 bridge – being built at the time of this photo – is visible in the distance. (Aug 2011)
The new Route 18 bridge over the Mahoning River is visible to the north. (Aug 2011)
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anita devivo #
I am tickled to see that Freddie Rentz cut the ribbon at the dedication. I believe that’s the same Fred Rentz who became publisher of the New Castle News. He was honored in September 2011 by the Lawrence County Historical Society for his long support of local history. Now in his 80s, he is wheelchair-bound, but I’ll bet he remembers that occasion in Willow Grove.
John Walko #
I grew up running around in Willow Grove in the 1970’s
Sam Mielke #
I noticed a “sub-heading” below Willow Grove Bridge. (Willow Grove Dance Hall). I would like to read any information that you may have on the dance hall. My dad, Carl “Stump” Mielke, called square dances there for many years.