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Silver Bridge tragedy prompted idea for math class projects

William CasteelNewcomerstown News Published: December 12, 2012 12:00 AM
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Just about anyone that had the late Vernon Powell for junior high mathematics at the Newcomerstown Middle School between 1968 and 1978, will most likely recall participating in the construction of the wooden models of structures and buildings that were once located in Newcomerstown during the late 19th century.

What most people probably don't know is that Powell's inspiration to create these projects was actually prompted by a tragic bridge collapse that took place in the southern part of Ohio in 1967.

It was during this time period that the metric measuring system was being introduced to school systems across the nation. Powell thought that it would be easier learned by his students if they were actually using it to measure something they were interested in. The bridge tragedy was a popular topic and many people were still following the news accounts as officials were still attempting to determine the cause of the collapse many months after it occurred.

Powell decided that he would have his math class to re-create a wooden, scaled-down version of the bridge. Powell had students to start out with information (from media sources) of the actual square footage of the bridge and have them to convert the measurements to metric form.

The bridge likeness was then re-created from use of media photographs of the bridge before its collapse.

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Each year afterwards, Powell had his students to reconstruct scaled-down versions of local structures and buildings for their metric math projects. Some of those projects included the locks of the Ohio-Erie Canal, the "Montecello" (a canal boat from Roscoe Village), the old Wiandt-Emerson Mill that stood along the canal, and later burnt to the ground and re-built twice.

The Newcomerstown Railroad Depot was another project, as was the old covered bridge that once spanned the Tuscarawas River west of town. The majority of these projects are now housed in the Temperance Tavern Museum for the community to view and enjoy.

Tom Mason of Newcomerstown was one of the math students that helped construct the wooden model of Silver Bridge in 1968.

The model had been thought to no longer exist, but was re-discovered from a conversation between Mason's mother, the late Mary Watts, and a fellow member of the Newcomerstown Historical Society said Watts had the Silver Bridge in her basement.

She explained that at the end of the school year (in 1968) the math class that constructed Silver Bridge had a drawing and the winner would take possession of it. She said her son, Tom, was the lucky winner, and eventually the model bridge ended up stored away, forgotten in the basement.

The model is planned to be featured at the museum next summer, and then to be loaned to the Ohio River Museum at Point Pleasant, W.Wa. (located across the Ohio River from Kanauga-Gallipolis, Ohio, where the former Silver Bridge had connected).

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