A Bridge with a View: The Upper Delaware’s historic bridges
The 300-mile-long Delaware River begins as a series of tiny streams in Delaware County, NY and ends as a mighty expanse of river spilling into the sea at the Delaware Bay. The river is full of beauty and history, and its upper reaches have a very special charm, set off by the historic bridges that cross the river.
In the 21st century, we take bridges for granted and drive across them with ease and without incident. But before the introduction of the bridge, crossing the Delaware was a challenge that could find you on the wrong side of the river and possibly in it. Crossing was generally done by ferry, and a typical trip was long, tiresome and unpredictable.
In the 19th century, bridges slowly replaced the ferries and became a financial boon for their owners and operators. Travelers crossing the bridge first had to pay a fee, or toll charge. Anecdotal stories suggest that the tolls were hefty: in the 1810s, a four-horse carriage cost a dollar and a two-horse carriage 75 cents. Foot passengers and cattle were equal and cost six cents each. It wasn’t until the1920s, when the Joint Bridge Commission bought the bridges, that they became free to cross.
The early 19th-century bridges often experienced damage and even destruction due to severe flooding and poor construction. A toppled bridge could cause injury and occasionally death, but as construction methods improved so did the bridges, gradually being upgraded to the versions we travel on today.
Some of the bridges in this story, such as the Skinners Falls Bridge and Kellam’s Bridge, are reminiscent of earlier days with wooden trusses, one-way lanes and limited tonnage. Others, such as the bridges at Barryville and Narrowsburg, have a more modern appearance and wider lanes, and many have pedestrian walkways.
Our tour begins downstream, with the Pond Eddy Bridge, a petit truss bridge between the hamlet of Pond Eddy in Lumberland, NY and Shohola Township, PA. It was built in 1903 to replace an old suspension bridge that had washed away in a flood, and it connected the bluestone quarries in Pennsylvania to New York.
The bridge is at the center of a swirl of controversy now between residents who want to save it for its beauty and historic value, and others who want to demolish it for something safer and stronger.