Friday, May 17, 2019

When The Lewisburg River Bridge Was A Covered Bridge

Did you know that the bridge between Lewisburg and Montandon was once an 8 span, 7 pier, covered bridge, used by both trains & wagons?


"Allow me to picture my Lewisburg . September 1863, after alighting at a farm shed in a bare field by the side of a road, near a hotel named Montandon, from a small passenger car with red plush seats for about 30 passengers, which ran up the east side of the river from Dauphin, 19 miles above Harrisburg.  There was only one track.  The canal then in use occupied most of the ground between the river and the rails.  After picking our our small trunks and eyeing each other, we packed into a coach drawn by two slow horses and drove to the mouth of a covered bridge, which was also used for the horses or mules. Paid our toll.  Thru the dust we emerged and a big woolen mill greeted us.  " Lewisburg Journal  29 Dec 1927, Thu  •  Page 4


"On the 9th of February 1818 the bridge was completed and on that day the first toll was collected by Andrew Shearer.  The total cost was $59,000.  The bridge had seven spans and crossed the river from the foot of Market street to just above where the Cross-Cut centers the  river on the other side. " Centennial History of Lewisburg by Mauser

View of Lewisburg, Union County, P.A., 1884 / drawn & published by O. H. Bailey & Co, showing the covered bridge spanning the river. 

Notice the location of the covered bridge - it was located where the old  railroad bridge is today.  In 1884, the toll house blocked the end of Market Street.  In 1907, when the new steel bridge was built, the toll house was moved. The stone bases for the water towers still remain, beside the new bridge. You can read more about Lewisburgs water towers here, and see a photo of the toll house, here:

The same map as above, with color added - 

The bridge can be seen in the background of this photo taken from the cupola in the Union County Courthouse.


 "Across this bridge marched the brave soldier boys from Union county on their way to Montandon, then called the Cameronia, after one of the esteemed residents of the place, where they boarded the train for Harrisburg and were sworn into the service of their country." The Selinsgrove Times Tribune 21 Jan 1915
The construction was a Burr Arch Truss type bridge.  A style invented by Theodore Burr.

In 1902 the bridge was declared unsafe, and in 1910, after two new bridges were constructed (one for the railroad, one for vehicles), the old covered bridge was demolished.

1906, the piers being built for the new vehicular bridge, with the covered bridge shown in the background.


"Just before his death, Mearns (Bud) Arbogast, retired from the water company, brought in a 2' X 3' photograph, complete with water standpipes and a harnessed mule, of the tollkeeper's house. Having grown up in the North Ward, he took me down to the vacant lot, across the street, where I could see the obvious comparative views. The tollkeeper maintained an office within the house, but the actual toll collecting was done from a bridge-attached white box, on the Union County side." - Paul Matrey 


The Floods
The bridge was severely damaged by flood waters, and rebuilt twice, before being declared unsafe in 1902.  It was torn down some time before 1910.
The old covered bridge built at the foot of Market street here in 1816 was swept away with the exception of one span which was left standing at the Lewisburg end of the bridge.  The first teams to cross this bridge went over the structure in 1817.  After this bridge was washed out on the greatest flood the river experienced up to this time a new subscription was taken and of the original subscribers to the new bridge at the time are three residents of Lewisburg, namely J. Foster Van Valzah, Weidler Roland, and Ellis P. Gundy.

The new bridge to which these gentlemen subscribed was built several hundred yards north of the old structure.  At the time the Pennsylvania Railroad was extending it's lines from Montandon to Bellefont and the new bridge was built as a combination wagon and train bridge.  Travel over the bridge increased as the years went by and the population increased.  the house which until ten years ago stood at the front of Market street was the original structure that stood at the entrance of the old covered bridge walked out in 1865.  Here the toll keeper lived when the bridge was operated and in later years the building was turned into a dwelling house. The Selinsgrove Times Tribune 21 Jan 1915

The Lewisburg Journal, January 15th 1915




"The greatest river calamity, however, was the loss of bridges.  Bridge followed bridge, and span followed span, until it seemed as if there were no more to follow. The splendid railroad and highway bridge at Lewisburg - built in '68 and '69, at an expense of $125,000 - withstood the terrible poundings by the logs and broken bridges until part of the P & R bridge and a section of the Milton highway bridge, having come such a short distance, were not broken.  One of these truck the third span from the eastern shore with a force that it could not resist, and it succumbed to the stroke.  The span following passed through the opening without doing any further damage, but a worse fate was to follow.  Other heavy bridges followed taking span after span, until but three spans - the western end - were left.  The entire bridge had been weighted with heavily loaded cars of coal and of course cars and coal went with the wreck." - the Lewisburg Journal, June 6 1889





The Trolley
 "The trolley used the covered toll bridge.  The grade from the riverbank to the railroad bridge at the East Lewisburg was steep and difficult to negotiate.  Before crossing the bridge, the conductor called the Pennsylvania Railroad station agent at Lewisburg on the telephone to request a clear track.  He then opened the switch, crossed the bridge, and pulled onto a siding at the station at North Second and St. John Streets."

The New Steel Bridge


The free bridge at Lewisburg - so called because the covered bridge, shown off to the left, was a toll bridge.

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Sources:
Lewisburg by Marion Louis Huffines & Richard A. Sauers 

Centennial History of Lewisburg: Containing Also a Chronological History of Union County I.H. Mauser, 1886

Pennsylvania's Historic Bridges Fred J. Moll

Lewisburg Journal Lewisburg, Pennsylvania
08 Aug 1913, Fri  •  Page 6

Posts by Paul Matrey & Stephen Benion in the facebook group "You're Probably From  Lewisburg If"

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Covered Bridges In The Central Susquehanna Valley

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Additional Research Notes:

Lewisburg Journal 
Lewisburg, Pennsylvania
29 Dec 1927, Thu  •  Page 4

THE RIVER BRIDGE The bridge company was incorporated under an act of approved March 26 1814 The charter is dated May 1st 1816 William Hayes William McQuhae James Geddes John Cowden JP DeGruchey John Boyd Jacob Dentler Jacob Brobst Andrew Reedy James Duncan Lyons Mussina John Vaughan Henry Toland and Simon Gratz were the commissioners to secure stock The board of managers elected were Williatu l layes president Geo Kremer Daniel Caldwell J atnes Geddes Jacob Musser John Dreisbach and George W Brown The contract was made with Reuben Field on July 4th 1816 the price being $52,600 $2,400 additional allowed later for additional length of bridge titan named in the contract The state subscribed $20,000 oi stock.  On the 9th of February 1818 the bridge was completed and on that day the first toll was collected by Andrew Shearer.

The total cost was $59,000 The bridge had seven spans and crossed the river from the foot of Market street to just above where the Cross-Cut centers the  river on the other side.  It was taken away by the flood of 1865 and the company immediately established a ferry until October 19 1868 when the present bridge was completed at a cost of $140,000.  The capital stock having been $90,000 $10,000 more had been subscribed bur never paid.  The Lewisbnrg Centre and Spruce Creek Railroad Company had made an agreement with the bridge company by which the latter was to build a bridge strong enough for a railroad bridge and the railroad company then laid their track across and first began using it regularly in July 1869.  It has since been used both as a wagon and railroad bridge A watchman is on duty at either end to warn any one from crossing when a train is due thus insuring perfect safety The present bridge has been a paying investment The par value of stock is $50 per share but its market value is about $100 The old bridge never paid tnore than five per cent ln 1885 water was put in the bridge and with plenty of hose to be used in ease of fire it is very nearly 

secure from that element The present ofiicers of the company are Eli Slifer president Jonathan Wolfe secretary and treasurer John Walls Mark Halfpennv John C Smith Eli Slifer JC Bucher DB Miller and Geo S Mutlack directors 
Centennial History of Lewisburg: Containing Also a Chronological History of Union County I.H. Mauser, 1886


Lewisburg Chronicle 
Lewisburg, Pennsylvania
06 Jun 1889, Thu  •  Page 1


Lewisburg Chronicle June 21 1867


A compilation of facebook comments - 
"The railroad bridge trestles were erected on existing covered bridge piers. The piers, as you see them today, were erected in 1868. The covered bridges were torn apart by floods, while the train bridge suffered a fire, yet the piers remain."

Just before his death, Mearns (Bud) Arbogast, retired from the water company, brought in a 2' X 3' photograph, complete with water standpipes and a harnessed mule, of the tollkeeper's house. Having grown up in the North Ward, he took me down to the vacant lot, across the street, where I could see the obvious comparative views. The tollkeeper maintained an office within the house, but the actual toll collecting was done from a bridge-attached white box, on the Union County side.

"The tollkeepers house (Actual house, not toll station) was at the end of Market St., with it's back to the river, a full block from the covered bridge entrance. The covered bridge was at the site of the current retired train bridge (The piers were reused & refurbished from the covered bridge to the train bridge, allowing the builders to concentrate on the trestles.). When you faced the tollkeeper's front door, to your left were the water standpipes (the bases still exist in the park). When construction started on the Market St. steel bridge (Rt. 45), the tollkeeper's house was moved, relocated to the western end of North Water St., , where it meets St. Anthony St.. The house currently exists as an apartment building, on the west side (Across from Wolfe Field). When I last looked, the apartment building was painted yellow.". 

Just above the train bridge, on the Lewisburg side, between the shoreline and the large island, you used to be able to see a "V' shape, spanning the entire channel, of stacked rocks (visible during low water, only.). In the 1920's &'30's, Mearns used to wade out with his father (it was built by him), to recover the burlap bags. Seems that eels, which were quite common, would swim along the walls, then escape through the narrow "V'' gap, into an awaiting burlap bag. The rushing current would hold them in the bag. Mearn's father would sell the eels, which would be prepared, as dinner.
- Paul Matrey 

1 comment:

  1. Nicely done...My dad, Harry T Fornwalt, born in 1909, lived on Water Street as a young boy, swam in the river, and dove off the bridge/bridges...

    ReplyDelete

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