The through truss spans incorporated in the present Coraopolis Bridge were originally erected across the Allegheny River at Sixth Street in Pittsburgh, linking Pittsburgh with the main business thoroughfare of neighboring Allegheny City. This was the third of four bridges to serve that location, which is considered among Pittsburgh's most important river crossings. The growth of Pittsburgh was strongly influenced by its numerous waterways, and the successful linking of the city with its neighboring communities by means of bridges was a significant factor in the development of its metropolitan identity. Allegheny City was annexed by Pittsburgh in 1907, becoming the city's "North Side".
Although the Roebling bridge, with its iron superstructure, was generally believed non-flammable, it fell victim to fire on June 19, 1881. The bridge was not destroyed, but its floor system of white pine and white oak was severely damaged. John Harper, president of the Allegheny Bridge Company, which owned and operated the structure, stated that he believed the fire was the result of "sparks and perhaps flame from the stacks" of passing steamboats igniting bird nests located under the superstructure of the bridge. After heavy electric streetcars were introduced to the bridge in 1890, concern over its functional capacity grew, and in 1891 plans were begun to replace the suspension bridge with one that could better handle the steadily increasing traffic, as well as permit trolleys to cross without reducing their speed.
The third Sixth Street Bridge was designed by the nationally-significant engineer Theodore Cooper (1839-1919). This bridge has been identified as the last surviving structure entirely designed by Cooper, whose involvement extended even to such details as the bridge's handrail, lamps, and fascia.
The third Sixth Street Bridge, like most roadway river bridges in the 19th century, was privately built and operated as a toll crossing. The total cost of construction was $560,000. This cost was underwritten by the Sixth Street Bridge Company and Fidelity Title and Trust Company, successors to the Allegheny Bridge Company, which had received its charter in 1810. When the bridge was opened in 1893, the toll was set at two cents for each man, while women crossed at no charge. Beginning in the late 1890s, Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh undertook a systematic program of acquiring the privately owned bridges within their jurisdiction and eliminating their tolls. The Sixth Street Bridge was purchased by Allegheny County in 1911 along with nine other bridges at the combined price of $2,851,000; all ten of these bridges were subsequently declared free.
The trusses for the third Sixth Street Bridge were fabricated by the Union Bridge Company. This company had been formed in 1884 by the merging of the Central Bridge Company of Buffalo, New York, and Kellogg and Maurice of Athens, Pennsylvania. The Buffalo plant was closed around 1890, so presumably the trusses were produced in the shops which remained at Athens.
The superstructure was erected by the Baird Brothers, John and William, who first advertised in the Pittsburgh and Allegheny City Directory in 1886 as contractors located at Home and Valley Streets. In the 1891 and 1892 editions of the Directory they were listed as bridge builders; their listings no longer appeared by 1900, and by 1911 William Baird had left the construction business and had begun managing a hotel.
The Baird Brothers had been involved with numerous bridge projects and companies in the late nineteenth century. William Baird had worked on seven bridges crossing the Missouri River, the Merchants Bridge across the Mississippi River at St. Louis, two bridges crossing the Ohio River at Wheeling, West Virginia, the bridge carrying the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad across the Susquehanna River, and bridges at Steubenville, Ohio, and Poughkeepsie, New York. John Baird had also been involved in the construction of the Eads Bridge in St. Louis and the Cairo bridge in Memphis, and had been employed by the McCann Construction Company, the Keystone Bridge Company and American Bridge Company.
This bridge was also outgrown.
While the Pittsburgh City Council and the Municipal Affairs Committee of the Chamber of Commerce argued for the retention and upgrading of the existing bridges, the issue was ultimately decided by the Department of War, acting under the authority of Section 18 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of March 3, 1890 (30 Stat., 1121-1153). This act empowered the Secretary of War to require the removal or alteration of any bridge which " ... is an unreasonable obstruction to the free navigation . . . on account of insufficient height, width of span, or otherwise". So, unfortunately, the War Department decreed that the numerous bridges over the Allegheny with their differing spacing of piers, main spans, and generally low clearances, were an impediment to navigation, and decreed that all bridges would have to be replaced. Although the decree was mooted in the early 1900s, and first issued in 1917, serious work did not begin till 1924. As part of the Three Sisters (Pittsburgh) project, the bridges at Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth Streets were to be demolished and replaced. The other two bridges were destroyed and scrapped, but the Cooper Bowstring trusses were moved to Coraopolis and reused.
The 1892 Sixth Street Bridge (as described above, a pair of camelback Pratt trusses and the third bridge built in this location) had a second chance. In 1927, it was lowered from its piers, the top chords partially disassembled. The structure was floated downriver to a new location over the Ohio River back channel between Coraopolis and Neville Island to make way for the current Sixth Street Bridge structure.
Each truss consisted of sixteen eye-bar panels pinned together. Removing one part would break the structure's rigidity and make moving it very difficult. Instead of shifting the spans off piers for lowering or pivoting them from their present support, the Foundation Company lowered the structure in position, taking off the masonry and using substitute supports for resting the structure without getting in the way of the process. The contractor attached a frame to each of the piers and abutments, used straps to bind the trusses to each frame, and lowered them using the straps.
With twenty-six 7" holes punched in the strap, the company used a matching chain to counter the eight straps. Using pins to move the strap by hole sets, the company brought the spans downward 15" at a time with jacks. The pins attached to the plungers of eight 500-ton jacks. The jacks remained in place while the pins moved 15". The water-cylinder jacks were also 15" high, capable of exerting 3200 psi after pumping. By bleeding water out of the cylinders of the jacks all at once, workers used the four jacks on each side of the bridge to lower the spans on alternate sides to the full depth of 16-0.
The Farris Engineering Company, a Pittsburgh company located in the Empire Building, performed a great deal of work on the bridge at its new location. The original approved contract for their work had a price total of $271,811.50. They built portions of the substructure that the Foundation Company had not done. Farris also erected the two pony truss approach spans, repaired and painted the main superstructure, and paved the bridge deck and the two approaches.
The approach spans, and the end bearings for the main spans, were fabricated by the American Bridge Company at its shops located in Ambridge, Pennsylvania.
After nearly 50 years of additional service, which included weight restrictions and closings during cold weather (for a time it was restricted to carrying vehicles with a maximum weight of three tons, and it was only open to vehicular traffic during periods when the temperature is above 30 degrees Fahrenheit), the old bridge was replaced by a unremarkable deck girder bridge which was completed in 1995.
Thus, eventually it was closed, replaced, and demolished, ending a unique chapter in American bridge history.