THE WILLOUGHBY VIADUCT, LAKE COUNTY, OHIO
By Allan King Sloan
The Willoughby Viaduct, built in 1920 to carry U.S. Route 20 across the Chagrin River in the village of Willoughby, was probably the last major bridge structure built by the King Bridge Company. It was a multi-span reinforced concrete structure and a much celebrated landmark in its day. It carried a large volume of vehicular traffic on this important route until it was replaced in 1979.
The building of this structure was a major feat for the company for it required the use of reinforced concrete and a new construction technology that had not been its repertoire until this time. The structure was designed by the chief engineer of the Watson Engineering Company, Wendell P. Brown, and the construction supervised by Harry Fuller, chief engineer of the King Bridge Company who had been promoted to vice-president by this time. The Lake County Board of Commissioners, headed by W.E. Thompson, had commissioned the structure.
The family of Harry Wheelock King, Zenas’s youngest son and last president co the King Bridge Company, has recently discover photographs of the construction of the bridge which they are donating to the Special Collections of the Cleveland State University, home of the Watson Bridge Book Collection, donated by the family of Wilbur. J. Watson, whose firm designed the bridge. (http://www.clevelandmemory.org/watson/) Two of these are shown below, provided by the Harry King Jeanneret family, grandson of Harry W. King.
Construction photos of the Willoughby Viaduct July and September, 1920
The bridge was dedicated in June of 1921 at a ceremony attended by 25,000 people presided over by W.E. Thompson, whose great grandson, John Thompson, furnished a transcription of the article the Willoughby Republic Herald of July 8 1921 quoted in part below:
“(This date) will live in the annals of Willoughby and Lake County as the date of the completion and dedication of the great high level bridge spanning the Chagrin River—the Willoughby Viaduct.”
“We are indeed grateful for being permitted to belong to a generation that is possessed of a progressive spirit and yet not forgetful of the attributes of its forefathers who labored with splendid, heroic pioneer devotion and made possible the achievements to be secured.”
“God grant that this wonderful bridge may be an object of reverence, a thing of beauty and a means of practical service for generations.”
“ The president of the Willoughby Chamber of Commerce introduced Mr. Harry Fuller, vice president of the King Bridge Company, builder of the viaduct who stated that his company was not only the contractor for the bridge, but as taxpayers, part owner. Therefore, it was deeply concerned with having the bridge in harmony with its surroundings, the natural beauty co common in Lake County, the garden spot of Ohio.”
“Mr. W.P. Brown, chief civil engineer of the Watson Engineering Company, who designed the new viaduct, briefly reviewed the preliminary work necessary to get the bridge, complemented the contractors for conscientiousness, praised the county commissioners, and pronounced the structure completed according to plans and specifications.”
“County Commissioner, W.E. Thompson thereupon made a brief speech of acceptance.”
“Miss Maude Thompson (daughter of the commissioner).... thereupon broke a bottle containing a quart of Chagrin River water to christen the bridge.”
The viaduct was not the only King Bridge to be built in Willoughby across the Chagrin River. Two railroad bridges were pictured in the company sales catalogues of the 1890s.
These bridges might be the same as those pictured in the background of the Willoughby Viaduct postcard above.
 However, there is an unconfirmed family story that because of hard times economically, there was some excessive use of sand in the concrete