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Bridge project gets a lift

September 19, 2007|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WILLIAMSPORT - Plans are afoot to repair a historic C&O Canal railroad bridge that, in its time, could be raised to let boats pass.

Western Maryland Railroad built the bridge in 1923 to help get coal to the local power plant, according to the National Park Service. The lifting capability became obsolete a year later when the canal went out of business.

Sixteen years after the Park Service bought the bridge from Potomac Edison Co. (now Allegheny Power) for $1, a movement is under way to fix it as part of a tourism-minded renaissance effort.

"This canal built our town, and now this canal will save our town," Williamsport Mayor James G. McCleaf II said.

Together, the town and the Park Service are paying $60,000 for design specifications to restore the lift bridge.

Several town and state representatives joined park and tourism officials Tuesday to celebrate progress on a report that's required first.

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Christopher H. Marston, a Historic American Engineering Record architect with the Park Service, said the report includes measured drawings, large-format photos and historical information.

The report relies in part on original drawings of the bridge from New York Central Iron Works. State Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said a constituent gave them to him several years ago.

The bridge is about 79 feet end to end and 30 feet high, according to preliminary drawings. The part that lifts is about 41 feet long.

Once the report and drawings are finished, engineers will prepare a preliminary design for fixing the bridge, with a cost estimate. Then, the Park Service will try for funding from the state and other sources, said Kevin Brandt, the superintendent of the C&O Canal National Historical Park.

Brandt said the bridge-restoration project shows "a community's sense of its own history."

Thomas B. Riford, president and CEO of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Williamsport suffered when GST AutoLeather and Fleetwood Enterprises shut down there, eliminating hundreds of jobs.

"Williamsport has an opportunity to diversify its economy by improving its tourism," Riford said, noting several distinctive landmarks in the town's section of the canal.

Marston said a motor and a counterweight system allowed operators to raise the railroad bridge for passing canal boats.

The bridge was only lifted once, he said.

The motor was removed during World War II, when motors were scarce, he said.

The original motor is said to be at Allegheny Power's nearby R. Paul Smith Power Station.

Allegheny Power spokesman Allen Staggers said in a phone interview Tuesday that if the motor is not usable, the company will provide another one.

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