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.
The Barryville-Shohola Bridge was completely rebuilt several years ago, and has a sleek, modern look. It is named for the two towns it connects, and it has several viewing stations along its pedestrian walkway. One of several treats near this bridge is the friendly town of Barryville, with antique and specialty shops, several restaurants and the River Market.
Continue north along the Scenic Byway (Route 97) and you will arrive at one of the jewels of the Upper Delaware: The Roebling Bridge. This single-lane bridge was constructed by John A. Roebling, who 20 years later built the Brooklyn Bridge, and it was originally one of four aqueducts engineered to raise the river during the D&H Canal era. It retains its old-world charm with a wooden truss structure. In season, you can visit the Zane Gray Museum and also hike along the old D&H canal trails. Don’t miss dining at the Lackawaxen Inn, which has a great porch for gazing at the river rapids going by.
Stay on 97 north a few more miles, and you’ll come upon bustling Narrowsburg, a Town of Tusten hamlet. Narrowsburg is a favorite for eagle watching and fishing and its bridge, the Narrowsburg-Darbytown Bridge, is among those that can be transversed by foot. The bridge is a favorite spot for residents and visitors in late winter who gather to “watch the ice go out,” which it does after a cold season in great sheets and iceberg piles. In addition to breathtaking views, the hamlet has some excellent restaurants, boutiques and shops, and is home to the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance and The River Reporter newspaper. The hamlet and its bridge overlook the Big Eddy, which at 113 feet deep is the deepest stretch of the entire Delaware.
Back on 97, seven miles north of Narrowsburg, you’ll come upon a sign steering you downhill and over railroad tracks to the Skinners Falls-Milanville Bridge, affectionately known as the Skinners Falls Bridge. The bridge (and the falls it commemorates, just visible from the bridge) are named for Daniel Skinner, who took the first timber raft down the river in in 1764. The bridge, built in 1902, replaced a busy ferry service run largely by Skinner’s descendants, who were a prominent family in the area. This one-lane wooden truss bridge is among the more picturesque in the region, and it offers great opportunities for swimming, picnicking and boating. Landers Campground is on the New York side of the bridge, along with public boating and swimming access points. And don’t miss a visit to the Milanville General Store for inexpensive gas and New York-style pizza on the PA side.
Further along on route 97 you’ll find the turn-off for Route 371, leading you to the Damascus-Cochecton Bridge. A wide expansive bridge and heavily trafficked between the two states, its town is long gone. History of the old town and its popularity can be found at the Damascus Community Center in Cochecton Road. However, the view of the river is spectacular, and it is possible to come upon this bridge the back way, by traveling along the meandering and curvy River Road from Milanville to Damascus. (For the intrepid among you, it is also possible to take River Road from Narrowsburg to Milanville, and on to Damascus.)
Still further north on 97, approaching the hamlet of Callicoon in the Town of Delaware, you will cross a wide high bridge, but this bridge crosses Callicoon Creek. You must take the turn into town and stay right to reach the Callicoon Bridge over the Delaware. This is a small two-lane bridge with a pedestrian walkway that affords great views of the narrowing river and its many upriver islands. Callicoon is a great place to visit as well, with restaurants, art galleries, shops and a health food store.
Less than five miles upriver on 97 is the Little Equinunk Bridge, which natives refer to as Kellam’s Bridge. This suspension bridge, constructed in 1890, appears to be from an earlier generation when people rode in carriages and produce was carried along in a wagon. The single sign of modernity is the now defunct railroad tracks that traverse the New York side. This one-lane, picturesque bridge has heavier traffic than one would imagine, but cars and people are polite about the short waits. Fishing access is available here, as the Delaware begins its wander into prime trout territory.
The last of the bridges along this route is the Lordville-Equinunk Bridge. Accessible on the New York side from Route 97 and the PA side from 191, this crossing is loaded with charm and history. There are stories that suggest that at Lordville a ferryman would transport passengers in a basket and— judging from the town itself, one of the region’s most colorful—such a legacy would not be surprising. On the New York side you’ll find roosters running freely among manikins on the road and in the windows of the houses. On the PA side, you’ll find the Equinunk General Store stocked to the brim with containers of molasses and flour, walnuts and candies, weighed out for daily use. The Equinunk Historical Society is also a treasure trove of old photographs and information. The road north from this spot on both sides of the river descends and ascends into some truly wild and breathtaking scenery.
So gas up the car, grab your map of the Upper Delaware, and be prepared to cross a bridge or two as you get to know this magical region.