Any wooden bridge built at this level was destined for destruction because of the periodic flooding that occurs on the broad valley. A particularly vicious flood was Feb. 3, 1882, when an ice jam was flushed down the river, washing away timbers of the old bridge, as well as sections of the Harmon Flats road.
The wooden bridge was repaired, but it was obvious a high-level span across the Gulf was needed. As is typical with such projects, there was controversy as to where that span ought to cross. Options included where the Route 20 viaduct eventually would be constructed, a straight shot from East 51st Street, and the most sensible of options, the narrowest portion of the chasm.
The latter won, thanks to Lucius Jason Fargo, an eastside landowner who obviously had a stake in the development the bridge would bring. He donated the land needed to create the East 46th Street from State Road to the river’s west bank.
There was just one problem: the bridge would end at Fuller’s livery stable on the west side of the river and the cost of acquiring Fuller’s property had not been included in the bond issue. Another $5,000 had to be raised, or it would have become Ashtabula’s “bridge to nowhere.” Already heavily invested in the project’s success, Fargo stepped forward with the cash to purchase a right of way from Fuller, and construction started in 1895.
The Parker Deck Bridge cost $75,000 and was built by the King Bridge Co. of Cleveland. The steel bridge had stone footers quarried in Windsor. The bridge was 1,000 feet long and had a deck 110 feet above the valley floor.
From the start, there was controversy about the bridge’s ability to carry the heavy loads entrusted to it. The P&O; Traction Co. was given the right to run its streetcar tracks across the structure, despite those concerns. Later, when motor vehicles replaced the horse-and-buggy traffic, the flooring was replaced with 2-by-4-inch boards covered with blacktop. Again, scoffers questioned whether the bridge was up to the weight of the new deck, let alone the traffic.