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.
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.
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
- Discovering Bucks County’s Covered Bridges (Part 1)
- The Delaware River Covered Bridge Network (Part 2)
- How Bucks County lost and then saved its covered bridges (Part 3)
- Modern Covered Bridge Preservation Efforts in Bucks County (Part 4)
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 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.
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 Delaware River Bridges
|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|
|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|
|Morrisville – Upper Trenton||Morrisville||1861||1884||Burr||1274||7|