EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio – For 118 years, the Newell Bridge has spanned the Ohio River between East Liverpool, Ohio, and Newell, West Virginia, first carrying trolley cars and now passenger vehicles. As of July 4, the familiar span has a new name, honoring the man who has maintained and cared for it the past 56 years.
With the bridge closed to traffic for only the third time in its history, a crowd gathered July 4 at its center to see a plaque unveiled and a ribbon cut as it was renamed Wayne Six Toll Bridge.
Shannon Giambroni, a family friend, welcomed those gathered, saying it was 118 years ago when the bridge was opened. “It’s pretty telling that this bridge was maintained well if we’re able to stand here and it’s that old and still in that great a condition,” she said.
Speaking with Six before the event, Giambroni said he told her the bridge has never failed an inspection. No one ever sees much of what it takes to maintain it, he pointed out, because that happens underneath.
“He has actually looked at every single square inch of this bridge yearly. It’s recorded. The condition is noted. It’s replaced when it’s needed. Wayne has done that to keep us safe,” Giambroni said.
“This has had an impact on all our lives without us knowing it. His family crosses this bridge. So he cares for it like his family is crossing it.”
Giambroni said he told her of a time in the 1980s when bomb threats were made and Six climbed every single bridge tower from top to bottom, searching but finding nothing.
Saying he has created tools to meet the needs of maintaining the bridge, Giambroni said Six has been called as a consultant to inspect other bridges over the years.
Asking for a show of hands from those who have helped Six with bridge maintenance in the past, many were raised, including many of his family members, prompting Giambroni to say, “Yeah, a lot of people have been keeping our community safe on this bridge for a long time.”
Emphasizing that Six is “not slowing down,” Giambroni said he has new recruits from his family to step up and help, including his nephew Frank Six who joined him in working on the bridge in 2016, then bought into the Six Enterprises company.
Last year, when Fiesta Tableware sold the bridge, Frank Six saw the potential for further improvement and bought it. It is one of only two privately held bridges in West Virginia.
“It is fortunate that Frank came in and made this big step, this big investment,” Giambroni said. “He did that for all of us. If it had been purchased by someone from out of town, it wouldn’t have been cared for the same way and we would have lost the history of how the bridge should be taken care of.”
In speaking of his uncle, Frank Six said he grew up without money so he had to learn how to repair anything that was broken.
“Him, my dad and my brothers have each become someone anyone can go to because they learned how to do so much,” he said.
Frank Six said his uncle sat him down and told him there was no cutting corners in bridge maintenance, that everything had to be done correctly.
“He has so much respect for this bridge and how it has to be taken care of. What he has done in the past 56 years, there is no one else I’d rather make it named after. The day I bought the bridge is the day I knew I’d be standing here,” Frank Six said of his decision to rename the bridge after his uncle.
With obvious emotion, Wayne Six addressed the crowd, saying, “Maintaining the bridge has been a pleasure for 56 years. I never imagined some day my name would be on the bridge. It’s a tremendous honor.”
He elicited laughter in recalling the day his nephew called him into the office.
“I thought maybe he wanted to let me go,” Six said. “He said he wanted to name the bridge and I asked, ‘To what?’ When he said Wayne Six Toll Bridge, I said, ‘I don’t think you can do that. I think you have to be a politician to get your name on a bridge.’ ”
Six has lived in the Newell area all his life. He grew up on Murray Road with his three older brothers and attended Wells High School. He returned home to West Virginia after two years in the Army during the Berlin Crisis to work in a steel mill before becoming an independent contractor.
This led to him doing small jobs for Homer Laughlin China Co. – now known as Fiesta Tableware – in the 1960s. Because the company owned the bridge at the time, Six’s company did a small job on it in 1967. That led to his performing regular maintenance ever since.
“The Newell Bridge has had an impact on all our lives,” Six said. “Having the ability to cross over to Ohio quickly and safely, bring visitors to Mountaineer, our factories and Homer Laughlin has increased our quality of life.”
Wayne Six said his late wife, Wanda, always told him she was concerned he would get hurt. But well into his late 70s and early 80s, he was “still climbing the bridge like I was young. …
“She [His wife, Wanda] would really have enjoyed being part of it [the day’s ceremonies]. We traveled the bridge many evenings going to different places back and forth across the Ohio,” he said.
Family members flanked both men as Wayne Six cut the ribbon, officially naming the bridge for him.
The bridge was built in 1905 by the North American Manufacturing Co., an organization composed of pottery industry leaders who wished to expand their operations into the newly purchased Newell farm. They planned to build factories, housing for their workers, infrastructure and supporting businesses and a park.
The bridge is 1,590 feet long, reaches 160 feet above the Ohio River. Its deck is supported by cables that allow the bridge to move and sway, making it less rigid and allowing it to last longer, according to officials.
The first crossing took place July 4, 1905, with trolley cars using the bridge until 1954 when the wooden deck was replaced with steel grating, still in use today.
Pictured at top: Frank Six unveiled the plaque that honors the work of his uncle, Wayne Six.