Bellaire restores Great Stone Viaduct

Written by Donovan Hunt, Photos by Jessica Stelzer.

The Great Stone Viaduct has stood tall for over 150 years, connecting Bellaire, Ohio, to Benwood, West Virginia, over the Ohio River by rail. 

Construction on the bridge began in 1870, five years after the Civil War, and each arch is supported by 37 ring stones representing the nation’s 37 unified states. Dan Frizzi, trustee of the Great Stone Viaduct Historical Education Society and its original organizer, says every stone on the arch is supported by a central keystone and if one stone were to falter the bridge would collapse. 

Originally part of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad system, parts of the track still carry trains. However, in 1996, a portion of the track ceased operations. Frizzi says it quickly fell into disrepair, which encouraged him to unify the community’s support by forming the Great Stone Viaduct Historical Education Society and purchase that portion of the track.  

“When we first acquired the property, you couldn’t see but these first few arches,” Frizzi says. “There was so much vegetation, brush, debris and overgrowth.” 

The group, which became a 501c3 chartered nonprofit in 2012 —with the help of donations from the people of Bellaire and grants from the Ohio Department of Transportation — has cleared vegetation, installed information markers, removed abandoned buildings, illuminated the pathway and paved a walkway that overlooks the former track. Following the numerous improvements, the Society constructed a plaza at the base of the bridge that showcases the efforts of its donors through numerous plaques. 

The Society has dedicated itself to educating the local community and preserving and improving the historic bridge and the land it covers. 

However, its goals are not yet fulfilled, as Frizzi says, the Society has plans to develop the rest of the five acres purchased to further benefit Bellaire. 

“An author writes a book because he wants people to read it,” Frizzi says. “And the inspiration for this, the people actually using it, it’s really gratifying.”