An extensive report of the history of the Charleroi Monessen Bridge can be found at HistoricBridges.org
What I found most interesting was the appendix at the end. It tells of how all the records of the American Bridge Company (the company that built the bridge) were lost with filing cabinets full of documents and scores of historic photographs thrown away. It’s tragic.
Transcript of a telephone interview, on the subject of American Bridge Company records, with Raymond Shepherd, director ofthe Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s Old Economy Village (Ambridge, Pennsylvania), 24 July 1997.
DSR David S. Rotenstein
RS Raymond Shepherd
DSR: Can you tell me why you do not have the records of the American Bridge Company?
RS: As they were closing, they offered Old Economy •the Commissioner •any furniture that we wanted from their offices. So I went down to the Strip District [Pittsburgh] where all the records were and everything and took what I needed. When I got there 1 saw all these banks of records of files and so on and I asked what they were. They said, ‘Well, they’re our business records.’ I said, ‘1 hope that you’re going to do something with
them. Would you think of giving them to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to Old Economy for the archives?’ And they said, ‘Absolutely not. We don’t want people going through our records and looking and finding mistakes and things like that.’ There was even an architect’s drawing of one of their bridges, I recall, it was the Bay Bridge in San Francisco that was over top ofthese maybe ten file cabinets that were four drawers each, legal sized, and I said, ‘Well, could you at least let us have that?’ They said, ‘Absolutely not.’ So when I asked, and I will again ask, when I engineered our getting the furniture, to find out what did happen. But it’s my understanding that ail the files were thrown on the trash heap in Pittsburgh to get rid of them. We do not have them and I do not believe that the Western Pennsylvania Historical Society [Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh] got them either, but you might want to check them.
DSR: Do you recall the name of the American Bridge Company official with whom you spoke?
RS: Not now …. I think they’re gone. We did our best to try and encourage – as a matter of fact, when I went back to the American Bridge headquarters here in Ambridge, there were probably a hundred photographs just sitting against the wail on the floors and I said, ‘Well, gee, what about those photographs. What are you going to do with those?’ This is the time that it was U.S. Steel, that they were trying to place it before the Russian College went in there. I said, ‘Would you give us some of the photos….’ We do have some photos, for instance, the building of their headquarters building back in 1905, 1910, whatever it was. And i said, ‘It would be very nice to have that as a document of the history of Ambridge.’ And they said, ‘When we’re finished with them, we might consider it.’ But I’ve tried two or three times since then to get those photographs and they wouldn’t give them to me. [He explains that his efforts to secure the records were ‘five or more years ago, at this point.’]
DSR: You said something earlier [before the tape] about insurance liability. Was that something they said specifically?
RS: Oh yes, that was exactly the reason that they would not give them to us. I said, ‘These bridges, a lot of them have already been taken down and it would be such an important part of the history of bridges in the United States.’ And they said, ‘[It’s] of no importance. We’re not interested in that, in these records to survive.’
This reminds me of a story I was told about how boxes of old photographs in the archives of Monongahela’s newspaper, The Daily Republican, were discarded when the newspaper was sold to The Observer Reporter. The person telling me the story said he (or she – can’t remember now) rescued a few but many were thrown out.