The Delaware River Covered Bridge Network (Part 2)

The first wooden covered bridges built in Bucks County bore little resemblance to the dozen that survives today. At one time, 11 great bridges spanned the Delaware River from Riegelsville to Trenton.  These bridges typically were 800 to 1,000 feet long and some were designed by famous early 19th Century architects, such as Theodore Burr, Lewis Wernwag, and Ithiel Town.

Before then, a system of ferries took goods and people over the river in boats. But during the Jeffersonian era, the expansion of transportation systems became important to a growing local and national economy.

Lower Trenton Bridge in 1843 from Sherman Day’s Historical collections of the State of Pennsylvania

In January 1806, Burr’s Lower Trenton or Decatur Street opened for business. The wooden bridge extended for more than 1,000 feet between Morrisville (the recent home of Founding Father Robert Morris) and Trenton. Burr’s bridge was the second-known covered bridge built in the United States, after Timothy Palmer’s Permanent Bridge in Philadelphia.

Link To Part 1 In The Series: Discovering Bucks County’s Covered Bridges

The Trenton Delaware Bridge company, a private concern, paid $180,000 for Burr’s bridge between Trenton and Morrisville, which used a combination of arches and trusses to support two lanes of traffic. The bridge company collected tolls from anyone who used the bridge – a practice that would go into effect for 10 other privately owned Delaware River bridges in Bucks County built before the Civil War. In 1824, the Marquis de Lafayette took part in a parade on the bridge in his honor, as Americans paid tribute to Lafayette on a return visit to the United States.

Lewis Wernwag’s New Hope-Lambertville bridge, completed in 1814 for the New Hope Delaware Bridge Company, rivaled Burr’s bridge is size and complexity; it contained six spans and was 50 feet longer than Burr’s bridge.

New Hope BRIDGE IN 1843 FROM SHERMAN DAY’S HISTORICAL COLLECTIONS OF THE STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA

Soon, other private companies received paid subscriptions for long covered bridges that replaced ferry service on the Delaware River and also connected into the Delaware River Division of the Pennsylvania Canal. Bridges built during the 1830s and 1840s in Center Bridge, Taylorsville (now Washington’s Crossing), Frenchtown, and Yardleyville also tied into the canal and road systems in Bucks County. At least one bridge, the Center Bridge-Stockton Bridge, employed the innovative lattice design invented by architect Town, which would later be used for most Bucks County covered bridges.

All Posts In The Series

During their existence, the long wooden bridges over the Delaware River faced generational threats from historic floods in 1841 and 1862. Burr’s Lower Trenton Bridge was replaced with a metal structure to accommodate increased use. Two other bridges, in Upper Trenton (on Calhoun Street) and Point Pleasant, were lost to fires By the late 19th Century, some people also questioned the use of covered bridges over the river and paying tolls to use them.

The end of the Delaware River covered bridges started with the Great Pumpkin Flood, or Freshet, of October 10 and October 11, 1903, which entirely destroyed the great wooden covered bridges at Riegelsville, New Hope, Taylorsville, and Yardley. Three other sustained serious damage in Bucks County.

The Upper Black Eddy-Milford Bridge before the 1903 flood. Image: Theodore Burr Covered Bridge Society

THE UPPER BLACK EDDY BRIDGE after THE 1903 FLOOD. IMAGE: THEODORE BURR COVERED BRIDGE SOCIETY

The New Hope-Lambertville Bridge was hit especially hard by the Pumpkin flood. It had survived the 1841 flood but needed three spans replaced. The 1903 flood devastated the bridge and the local economy. On October 13, 1903, the Philadelphia Inquirer said hundreds of railroad and mill workers were stranded from their jobs. It would take nine months for a modern metal bridge to be constructed on the piers that had supported the wooden bridge for the past 90 years.

New Hope’s new bridge opens in July 1904

In 1916, the governments of Pennsylvania and New Jersey started the process of modernizing the Delaware River bridges by forming a Joint Commission for the Elimination of Toll Bridges. In 1919, the joint New Jersey-Pennsylvania commission bought the Lambertville-New Hope Bridge for $225,000.

In 1923, the wooden bridge at Center Bridge was lost in a fire, famously documented by the painter Edward Renfield. The joint bridge commission bought the ruins for $10,000 and installed a steel bridge. In 1945, government officials declared the Lumberville covered bridge as unsafe, officially ending the river’s covered bridge era in Bucks County. A new steel walking bridge replaced it.

THE lumberville Bridge contained a metal span until 1945 when it was deemed as unsafe. It was the last covered bridge over the Delaware River in Bucks County. IMAGE: THEODORE BURR COVERED BRIDGE SOCIETY

The Delaware River Bridges

Name Location Built Lost Style Length Spans
New Hope – Lambertville New Hope 1814 1903 Wernwag 1050 6
Stockton-Centre Center Bridge 1814 or 1818 1830 823 6
Stockton-Centre Center Bridge 1830 1841 Town Lattice 821 6
Stockton-Centre Center Bridge 1841 1923 unknown 821 6
Lumberville – Raven Rock Lumberville 1835 1947 Town Lattice 705 4
Point Pleasant – Byram Point Pleasant 1855 1862 unknown 895 5
Point Pleasant – Byram Point Pleasant 1862 1892 unknown 895 5
Uhlerstown – Frenchtown Uhlerstown 1844 1862 unknown 962 6
Uhlerstown – Frenchtown Uhlerstown 1862 1933 unknown 895 5
Upper Black Eddy – Milford Upper Black Eddy 1842 1862 Burr 666′ or 681′ 3
Upper Black Eddy – Milford Upper Black Eddy 1862 1933 Burr 666 3
Yardleyville-Wilburtha Yardley 1835 1903 Burr 903 6
Taylorsville Washington’s Crossing 1834 1841 unknown 875 6
Taylorsville Washington’s Crossing 1841 1903 unknown 875 6
Lower Trenton Morrisville 1805 1876 Burr 1008 5
Morrisville – Upper Trenton Morrisville 1861 1884 Burr 1274 7

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