Bridge’s New Name Honors Care that Spans Half a Century

NEWELL, W.Va. – For 118 years, the Newell Bridge has spanned the Ohio River between East Liverpool, Ohio, and Newell, W.Va., first carrying trolley cars and now passenger vehicles, but as of Tuesday, 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 of people gathered Tuesday at its center to see a plaque unveiled and a ribbon cut, renaming it Wayne Six Toll Bridge.

Shannon Giambroni, a family friend, welcomed those gathered, saying it was 118 years ago when the bridge was opened, and that “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.”

Speaking with Six last week, Giambroni said he told her the bridge has never failed an inspection, and he pointed out that no one ever sees much of what occurs in maintaining it, because it 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 does have a new recruitment of family to step up and help, including his nephew, Frank Six, who joined him in working on the bridge in 2016 then purchased a part of the Six Enterprises business. 

Last year, when Fiesta Tableware decided to sell the bridge, Frank Six saw the potential for improving it even more and purchased it, according to Giambroni. 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. 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,” Giambroni said.

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 maintaining the bridge, that everything had to be done a certain way.

“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.”

Wayne Six cuts the ribbon, officially changing the name of the Newell Bridge as his nephew, Frank Six, and other family members look on.

He elicited laughter in recalling the day his nephew called him into the office wanting to talk to him.

“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 area all his life. He grew up on Murray Road with his three older brothers and attended Wells High School. He returned home after two years in the U.S. Army during the Berlin Crisis to work in a steel mill before starting a business as an independent contractor.

This eventually 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 doing the 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.”

He offered his thanks to officials of Homer Laughlin China Co. for the dedication and financial commitment made to keep the bridge in top condition over the years.

“This project was one of (Six Enterprises’) top priorities every year, and we made sure the work was done in a professional manner and to the needed specifications. We worked more than 50 years without an accident or injury.”

Wayne Six said his late wife, Wanda, always told him she was concerned he would get hurt. But late into his 70s and early 80s, he was “still climbing the bridge like I was young.”

Saying he was “very thankful for this great honor,” Six said it was more special that many of his family members were present for the presentation. He said he wished his wife could be present.

“She would really have enjoyed being part of it. We traveled the bridge many evenings going to different places back and forth across the Ohio,” he said.

Frank and Wayne Six unveiled a temporary plaque made for the ceremony, which will be replaced by a permanent bronze one, depicting Wayne Six with his quote: “I have lived my entire life in the Newell area and this bridge has had a tremendous impact on our quality of life and economy, and I’m just glad I could be a part of that.”

The plaque also notes: “There has been a bridge spanning across the banks of the Ohio River, connecting Newell, W.Va. and East Liverpool, Ohio since 1905. For over 56 years, Wayne Six has kept it in great condition. To honor his time and hard work on the bridge, the Newell Bridge and Railway Company dedicated the bridge in his name, Wayne Six Toll Bridge July 4, 2023.” 

Both men were flanked by their respective families as Wayne Six cut the ribbon, officially naming the bridge for him.

Those attending the ceremony were gifted with Fiesta-style magnets with a design featuring the bridge and its new name. 

The bridge was built in 1905 by the North American Manufacturing Co., an organization composed of area potter leaders who wished to expand their operations into the newly purchased Newell farm, with plans to build factories, housing for workers, infrastructure and supporting businesses and a park. 

Edwin Kirtland Morse of Pittsburgh designed the modern wire-suspension bridge with a wooden deck built by the American Bridge Co. of Pittsburgh, taking a little more than a year to build at a cost of $250,000.

With a total length of 1,590 feet, the height reaches 160 feet above the Ohio River, and the 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 was on July 4, 1905, with trolley cars using the bridge until 1954 when the wooden deck was replaced with steel grating, which cost nearly as much as the original construction and is still in use today. 

Pictured at top: A temporary plaque was unveiled Tuesday by Frank Six, left, and his uncle, Wayne Six, renaming the Newell Bridge the Wayne Six Toll Bridge.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.