STEUBENVILLE - About 200 people gathered outside the former bowling alley atop Buckeye Street to get a view of the explosive demolition that brought down the Fort Steuben Bridge early today.
Many attempted to capture the implosion with video or digital cameras or a cellular phone.
Some were old enough to remember using the bridge in its earlier days, and some were not, but regardless of their ages, many said they will remember the blast for years to come.
"That was crazy. I won't forget that," said Zach Herrington, 17, of Wintersville.
"That was awesome," agreed his 14-year-old brother, Lucas.
Kim Dulkoski of Jewett was among those surprised by how quickly it occurred.
END OF AN ERA — Crews with Controlled Demolitions Inc. of Phoenix, Md., detonated 20 explosive blasts, each lasting only 0.35 seconds and occurring only nine milliseconds apart, to bring down the remainder of the Fort Steuben Bridge this morning. The blast was part of a $2.3 million demolition project undertaken by the Joseph B. Fay Co. of Russellton, Pa. -- Warren Scott
"We almost missed it," said Dulkoski, who brought her children, Kaylee, 9, Cameron, 6, to see it.
"They wanted to see what it was all about," she said, adding it wasn't too late to take them to school.
"They get to witness this and then go to school and tell all their friends about it," she said.
Detonated at 7:15 a.m., as scheduled, the blast brought down the bridge's truss, towers and cable in large sections to be removed from the Ohio River by crane.
A section of the Ohio tower remained. City officials plan to use it as part of an observation deck to be connected to the Steubenville Marina by a pedestrian bridge.
Crews began lifting the pieces, some weighing as much as 120,000 pounds, by crane onto a barge operated by River Salvage Co. of Pittsburgh.
The barge will make several trips to Strauss Industries, said Dennis Watkins, vice president of the demolitions division of the Joseph B. Fay Co., the Russellton, Pa., contractor for the $2.3 million demolition project.
The contract for the project calls for the contractor to receive the money from the sale of the scrap material.
Conducted by Controlled Demolitions Inc. of Phoenix, Md., the explosion involved the detonation of about 153 pounds of explosives in 136 locations along the span, resulting in 20 blasts, each lasting only 0.35 seconds and occurring only nine milliseconds apart.
As a precaution, traffic on state Route 7 and U.S. Route 22, including the Veterans Memorial Bridge, was closed within a 1,000-foot radius of the span.
Officers from the Ohio State Highway Patrol, West Virginia State Police and Steubenville Police reopened the highways soon after the blast.
Officials with the Ohio Department of Transportation had encouraged morning commuters to take an alternate route. But many area residents took time to view the demolition, lining the chainlink fence between the bowling alley lot and the hillside overlooking the bridge.
Among them was Jill Teramana of Steubenville, who said the experience was both exciting and sad.
"It's really sad there's not enough population in this area to support repairing it. I remember the mill traffic going over it," she said.
Her husband, Albert, said he remembered crossing it in the 1950s when it was a toll bridge.
"My family delivered coal to Starvaggi's left of the bridge," he said, adding the toll had been in place about three years longer than planned.
"Finally enough people complained and they took it off," he said.
Jim Salter of Steubenville said, "I've been across it many times, of course. I remember how narrow it was but it never seemed to bother people. We had narrow roads, too."
"It really served the public well all these years," he added.
Not all of the spectators were at the bowling alley.
Herman Capito of Weirton was 9 when the span opened in 1929. There was a lot of excitement about the new bridge because "it offered a shortcut from Steubenville to downtown Weirton."
Before it, his family used a ferry to cross the Ohio River from Steubenville to their home on Ferry Road, now known as Freedom Way.
He said the bridge's completion sparked an increase in traffic and businesses along the road.
"There was a lot of traffic. Our house was the fifth on the left," Capito said.
He added later he crossed the bridge on his bicycle to work at DiNovo's car dealership on Third Street in Steubenville. The after-school job involved washing cars and sweeping the floor, he recalled.
Capito said the span initially was privately owned and a 25-cent toll was charged. He added it was very narrow, even in those days when trucks were smaller, and it wasn't unusual for a car to lose a side mirror to a passing truck.
Tony Pasquarella of Steubenville also associated the bridge with a childhood memory.
"My brother and I walked the bridge to get to the Millsop Community Center when I was 12," he said. His father gave them money for bus fare, but they used it to buy a hot dog and soda at the center instead, he said.
Since late January, area residents and passersby have observed as the span was dismantled. Ten-foot sections of its 1,225-foot deck were removed, creating a skylight effect for any pedestrians who happened to pass under it. Later large sections of the truss were removed at both ends, creating a bridge that literally led to nowhere.
ODOT closed the 83-year-old bridge in January 2009, citing deteriorating conditions and its limited use.
The span opened in 1928 as a private toll bridge and was the first Ohio River suspension bridge to have a concrete floor. A free facility since the 1950s, when the state of Ohio became its permanent owner, it underwent several rehabilitations.
In the 1960s, when the span was part of U.S. Route 22, it was traveled by 20,000 vehicles daily. In 2007, after safety concerns led to its weight limit being lowered, traffic on it dropped to 6,000 vehicles per day.
Wasseem Khalifa, district bridge engineer for ODOT, said cracks were found in the deck during a routine inspection and they indicated the span's joints had begun to fail.
Such deterioration would have worsened with time and was the reason ODOT didn't allow it to stand unused, he said.
(Scott can be contacted at email@example.com)