by Bob Linnenberg ‘63
Daily, occasionally, or in the annual graduation Bridge Walk, generations of Withrowites have crossed the graceful footbridge at the entrance to our beautiful grounds, but few know that it might never have been built. In 1915 the architects at Garber and Woodward had to make a decision on what to do about the ravine that ran along Madison Road in front of the proposed East High School.
When it became apparent that it would be too expensive to fill in the entire ravine, it was decided to design and build a footbridge over it. Palladian in style, the concrete and brick open spandrel arch bridge proved to be the proper practical and esthetic choice, and its construction was endorsed by the president of the Cincinnati Board of Education, Dr. John M. Withrow.
In the years following, it was sometimes necessary to maintain and make repairs to the understructure and decking, always at the expense of the Board of Education. By 1979, however, lack of funding led to the bridge’s having deteriorated to such an extent that it was condemned as unsafe by the City of Cincinnati. A ten-foot high fence was erected at either and to block its use.
The Friends of Withrow, spearheaded by community activist Monica Nolan, was created, and volunteers, alumni, friends and students raised over $150,000 to help fund the repairs. Reopened in November 1981, the bridge was dedicated in honor of Miss Nolan’s sister, Nora May Nolan, a popular English teacher at Withrow from 1953 to 1976 and the main force behind the beautification of the school grounds. Annie Glenn, wife of Ohio Senator John Glenn (the first man to orbit the earth), was guest of honor at the bridge re-opening ceremony. In 1983 Withrow High School was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
By 2010 the bridge was once again showing signs of deterioration. Substantial repairs to the concrete arch and columns were needed. Bricks were missing or dislodged on the walking deck.Withrow Alumni Inc., the successor to the Friends of Withrow, needed to raise $50,000 toward the cost of repairs, with the Board of Education covering the balance. At a cost of $130,000, repairs began in June 2011 and were completed in Spring 2012. The bridge had a new deck and water guides. Repairs to the understructure were made, but some major repairs had to be deferred due to, once again, lack of funding.
After 100 years the bridge remains an iconic symbol of Withrow. It is in active use by students, alumni and friends, many of whom have contributed to its maintenance and care. The annual Bridge Walk is still an important and emotional experience for graduating seniors, which hopefully will continue for another 100 years.