The "Bascule" Lift Brdige, a medieval term for draw bridge, works on the same counterweight system that raised and lowered drawbridges over moats that surrounded fortresses in the 15th and 16th centuries. In 1850, a pontoon bridge had been constructed to link the east and west Harbor communities adjacent to the Ashtabula River. The pontoon, or floating bridge, had to be pulled with long ropes and pulleys, which made it very unstable. In 1889, the need to widen the river channel to accommodate larger ships became apparent and a swing bridge replced the cumbersome pontoon bridge.
During the summer season, the Bascule Lift Bridge is operated 24 hours a day and is lifted on the hour and half hour for pleasure boaters making their way along the Ashtabula River to and from Lake Erie. The bridge is operated by a bridge tender who views the bridge and river from the control room or "operations house" below the counterweight. Before the bridge opens to its jackknife position, the bridge tender signals a horn and lowers the gates to alert pedestrians and automobiles to stop. Due to its unique structure and history, the bridge was added to the National Register in 1976.
A New York City native, Thomas E. Brown, famous for designing the original elevator in the Eiffel Tower in Paris, developed the first bascule bridge
in the 1890's. His bridge invention features overhead counterweights connected to trusswork balance beams. Wendell P. Brown of no relation to Thomas E. Brown, designed the Ashtabule Bascule LIft Bridge in 1925. Through the cooperation of the City, County, State and Federal governments, the Lift Bridge was restored in 1986 at the cost of $5.2 million This bridge is the only one of its kind still used for automobile traffic in the State of Ohio.