CARMICHAELS—Decades of memories cascaded into the Monongahela River between Greene and Fayette County Saturday morning as the 1925 Masontown Bridge was demolished shortly before 11 a.m. Its replacement was reopened to traffic in time for lunch.
From the vantage point of St. George Serbian Orthodox Church in Greene County, media, those involved in the demolition and a chosen few waited from as early as 6 a.m. They talked about things like how many explosives would be used, how loud the sound would be on impact and how odd it would look with it gone.
It was several hours into the morning before the truss style bridge was visible. It was hidden from view by a dense fog. As it slowly lifted, the sun beat down and a gentle breeze blew.
The fog, and a scheduled train that passed beneath the bridge, delayed the inevitable but positioned the sun perfectly to capture the moment.
Locals in the crowd didn’t speak much of the immediate nature of the event. Instead, they shared stories of the bridge’s past.
Milos “Serb” Krewasky, 75, owner of the Red Star Inn in Carmichaels and Stan Brozik, owner of Dolphis’ Restaurant in Masontown, Fayette County, agreed it was time. Krewasky said the bridge served its purpose well but it was beyond repair. Brozik agreed.
Krewasky laughed when asked about the tolls that were once paid to cross the bridge. He recalled a story of some who got around paying the entire 25 cents to cross by automobile. He suggested a visit to the beauty shop of Josephine Gresko, 81, in Carmichaels to get the details.
Long after the smoke had cleared and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation declared the demolition a success, Josephine sat down at a hair-drying station to tell the tale.
“My Uncle Tony used to work in my dad’s bar (in Carmichaels) and every afternoon he would go home (across the bridge) to take a nap for a couple of hours with my aunt Mary, like they did in Italy,” she said.
Tony operated a small grocery store in the village of Mount Sterling in Fayette County, Gresko said.
“While he and Aunt Mary napped my sister and I would watch the store,” she said. “He and my dad were both tight with money and he (Tony) wouldn’t pay the quarter for us to cross. So, he’d park (on the Greene County side) and make me, and my sister, walk with him across the bridge.”
It was only .05 cents per person to walk, noted Krewasky, who stopped by the shop.
Tony saved .20 cents a day for the trek back and forth with his nieces. He’d return in the afternoon to work at his brother’s bar, The Red Star Inn, while Mary returned to minding their store across the river.
The smell of cabbage rolls, pig in the blankets, or halupkis, as Gresko and Krewasky call them, wafted through the beauty shop. She has just finished making 800 of them with a goal of a couple thousand for the annual Pig in the Blanket Festival next weekend in the town circle.
Cooking and doing hair didn’t afford her the time to be with Krewasky at the church Saturday. He says to watch the evening news because he may be on it talking about the bridge.
Krewasky said someone told him they remembered when the toll for cars was just a dime and Gresko notes that was one cent more than a loaf of bread when she was crossing the bridge in the 1940s. Two bags of groceries were under $10 she recalled.
“Sometimes when we would cross the bridge that nice fellow in the toll booth would say, ‘Oh, go ahead.’ He knew Uncle Tony would never pay the quarter.”
Tolls were collected until Dec. 31, 1945 to recoup the more than $600,000 it cost Greene and Fayette Counties to build the bridge.
Putting it into perspective, in one month of being frugal, Tony saved enough to buy one bag of groceries. One wonders what he would have thought if he were alive today with a $49.6 million bridge he can cross for free, minus of course the tax money that built it.