Fiesta Tableware Parent Sells Iconic Newell Bridge

NEWELL, W.Va. – After 116 years of ownership by HLC Holdings Inc., parent company of The Fiesta Tableware Co., the Newell Bridge and Railway Co. changed hands at midnight Wednesday.

Officials of Fiesta Tableware, formerly known as Homer Laughlin China Co., announced that the bridge has been purchased by Frank Six, owner of Six Enterprises in Newell.

The bridge will continue to operate under the same name, although Six Enterprises anticipates some upcoming changes to toll collections.

“We’re focusing on our core business of making dinnerware,” Elizabeth McIlvain, Fiesta Tableware president, said. “The Six family has been a partner to us in the maintenance and safety of the bridge for many years. We know the iconic Newell Bridge is being passed off to an organization that has as much passion and pride for it as we have had all these years.”

The bridge was built in 1905 by the North American Manufacturing Co., an organization composed of area pottery leaders who wished to expand their operations into the newly purchased Newell farm.

The organization planned to build factories, housing for workers, infrastructure and supporting businesses and a park. 

Permission was granted in 1904 by the War Department to begin construction on the bridge, which connected the pottery town of East Liverpool to the developing town of Newell.

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

With a total length of 1,590 feet, the height reaches 160 feet above the Ohio River. The deck is supported by cables that allow the bridge to move and sway, making it less rigid and allowing it to last longer, so it has stood the test of time, officials said. This design also makes the deck lighter, alleviating the need to use corrosive salts that can damage the deck.

The first crossing took place July 4, 1905. When it opened, the bridge was operated by the Newell Bridge & Railway Co., controlled first by the North American Manufacturing Co. and then by Homer Laughlin China.

The bridge initially carried trolley cars from the loop at Ninth Street in Newell, around Laurel Park, into East Liverpool. In 1954, the wooden deck was replaced with steel grating that cost nearly as much as the original construction. The steel grating is still in use today. 

Six Enterprises began maintenance on the bridge in 1967 under the direction of Frank Six’s uncle and former owner Wayne Six.

Initially, the company worked on the sway cable seats and performed small maintenance jobs until 1969, when maintenance of the bridge became a steady project for Six Enterprises with the beginning of annual inspections.

Unlike state-owned bridges, which undergo inspections every five to seven years, privately owned bridges such as the Newell structure are held to a higher standard and must be inspected annually, Six explained.

When he learned the bridge was to be sold, Six said he knew of no other option than to purchase it. 

“Once I heard it was up for sale, because we did the maintenance, I thought we had a vested interest. I didn’t want to lose the contract for the bridge. I didn’t negotiate. I just went to the bank, got the money and paid them,” he said.

Asked the going price for a 116-year-old bridge, Six responded, “That’s not something I want to discuss,” but added it went for “fair market value.”

Six said the bridge is in “great shape. It gets inspected every year, and based on that inspection, we do the work. It’s kept up; that’s why I had confidence in buying it.”

He added, “I was worried about an outsider coming in and buying the bridge, putting the toll revenue in their bank account and letting the bridge go.”

Because of rising costs of maintenance and insurance, Six anticipates an increase in toll rates. He plans some modernization of payment methods to include an incentive membership program, Apple pay, and acceptance of credit and debit cards. 

These upgrades should be in place within three to four months.

Meanwhile, Six said plans are to retain toll workers and to use proceeds from the bridge to invest in the community of Newell, making improvements to attract more businesses.

“Newell is unincorporated, so therefore [it] does not receive any tax revenue to make improvements. Bridge revenue proceeds used to fix up the town will attract more business, which will attract more people. More people mean more traffic going across the bridge which in turn will create more revenue proceeds for the town,” Six said.

“I think it’s important for people to keep in mind that each crossing on the bridge means more improvement to the town.”

Pictured: Elizabeth McIlvain, president of The Fiesta Tableware Company, shakes hands with Frank Six, president of Six Enterprises, after brokering a deal to sell the Newell Bridge & Railroad Company, which has carried traffic across the Ohio River between East Liverpool, Ohio and Newell, W.Va., for 116 years.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.