editorial feature

A bridge for Milanville

The story of the Skinners Falls bridge

By ED WESELY
Posted 4/21/21

Excerpted from Ed Wesley’s pamphlet, “The Milanville Bridge,” published in 2017.

[In winter,] the view from Pennsylvania looks toward Skinners Falls, a set of rocky ledges and …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in
editorial feature

A bridge for Milanville

The story of the Skinners Falls bridge

Posted

Excerpted from Ed Wesley’s pamphlet, “The Milanville Bridge,” published in 2017.

[In winter,] the view from Pennsylvania looks toward Skinners Falls, a set of rocky ledges and boulders where New York and Pennsylvania hills pinch together. At the base of this pool, ice covers two quiet eddies. The Milanville Bridge is just upstream, where Milton and Volney Skinner ran a busy ferry in the 1890s.

In 1764, Daniel Skinner, Milton’s great-grandfather, pinned together six pine logs, mounted a steering oar and set off from there to sell them at Philadelphia shipyards, inventing a river-based timber industry that lasted 150 years.

Rafting in spring to markets in Trenton and Philadelphia, he and others used freshets caused by melted snow to run tricky pools and rapids: from Cochecton Falls upstream (now Skinners Falls), to Otter Eddy and Foul Rift farther south. At the close of the 19th Century, heavy ferry traffic to and from New York’s Erie Railroad across the river prompted Milton Skinner to seek a permanent connection to the Erie by forming the Milanville Bridge Company.

In 1901, company directors hired New York City’s American Bridge Company to build a 470-foot steel bridge at the ferry crossing, tendering $14,000 for a job completed in November 1902.

Later, as a unit of Andrew Carnegie’s U.S. Steel Corporation, American Bridge built New York Harbor’s famous Verrazano ­Narrows Bridge and some of the world’s most challenging suspension and truss bridges.

Milanville’s 1901 bridge is rare handiwork [of a Baltimore Truss bridge] that dates from the company’s beginning.

What’s a Baltimore Truss?

In a truss bridge, elements of the framework connect to make triangular units. By adding triangles, engineers increase strength and load distribution—the goal of a Baltimore Truss.

Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) railroaders tinkered with this design in the 1870s, and American Bridge Company engineers adapted it for use at Milanville in 1901-02.

The diagram above has many triangles large and small: an engineering strategy that spreads a load to large areas. A truss bridge is economical to build because it uses materials efficiently. The diagram below illustrates how the foundational elements interact to give the bridge its intrigrity.

Bridge notes

Owner (1901-1928): The Milanville Bridge Company [is] chartered by Pennsylvania and New York in 1900 to construct a Delaware River toll bridge at Milanville.

Current owner: The New York-Pennsylvania Joint Interstate Bridge Commission formed in the 1920s to purchase 10 private toll bridges on the Upper Delaware River and to operate them toll-free. In 1928, the commission bought the Milanville Bridge for $19,542.22. PennDOT maintains five of the 10 bridges, including Milanville’s.

Construction: Work began in 1901 and was completed in November 1902.

Cost (in 1901 dollars): $14,000.

Builder: The American Bridge Company of NYC, owned by world-famous financier J.P. Morgan. In 1902, American Bridge was acquired by Andrew Carnegie’s United States Steel Corporation.

Design: Steel, with twin Baltimore Truss spans supporting a one-lane road.

Length: 470 feet

National Recognition: The Milanville Bridge is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and on the National Register of Historic Bridges. It is a vital part of the Milanville Historic District.

Why only one lane?: When Milanville sought bridge charters from Pennsylvania and New York legislatures, bridge owners at Narrowsburg (five miles down) and Cochecton (three miles up) foresaw big drops in toll revenues. It’s likely, say historians, that lawyers struck a deal when Milanville agreed to a one-lane bridge.

The historic Milanville Bridge, known today as the Skinner’s Falls Bridge, has been closed since October 2019. It is slated for repair or replacement. PennDOT, the lead agency, is collecting public opinion on what option is most suitable for the historic bridge. The bridge is the connection between Cochecton, NY and Damascus, PA. Visit www.bit.ly/skinnersfallsbridge for more information and to participate in the process.

Comments

4 comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Steven Ircha

Additional Historical Information:

The current deed for the land surrounding the historic Milanville Bridge states very clearly the wishes of the Milton Skinner family.

The Skinners owned the home and land surrounding the bridge they built. When the Skinner family sold the bridge, they presciently inserted into the deed a clause that states that the existing bridge should stand as is and if necessary, repairs to the existing bridge could be made. There is a right of reversion in the deed that states that if the existing bridge is no longer used, the property surrounding the bridge reverts back to the owners of the property. The Skinners did this to retain the beauty of the area. They knew that in the future, a bigger unattractive bridge would simply make the area less beautiful and they knew that the increase in traffic would cause accidents with bicyclists, pedestrians, and those gaining access for swimming and boating. Any proposal to replace the bridge would therefore not be possible unless agreed to by the current owners of the property which is Steven & Jane Ircha. The Ircha family has made it clear that they will not agree to a new bridge as they want the current historical bridge rehabilitated. The Ircha family has made it clear that the safety of residents, pedestrians, bicyclists, swimmers and boaters must be protected by having only a simple one lane bridge. Anything more would cause deaths and injury caused by more traffic and larger vehicles accessing the bridge if it were changed or enlarged. Any arguments that a bigger bridge is need for emergency vehicles is simply not valid as in all the last 30 years or so that the Ircha family has owned this property, they have rarely seen an emergency vehicle on this bridge. However, larger vehicles and more traffic will certainly cause more accidents and deaths to those using roads leading to the bridge.

Wednesday, April 21
Leah Casner

The Milanville Skinners Fall bridge is not the connection between Cochecton and Damascus, that is the Cochecton bridge three miles north, as mentioned in the article.

Wednesday, April 21
Steven Ircha

What is Milanville In For

Let me begin by stating that rehabilitating the current Milanville Bridge ( known to many as the Skinners Falls Bridge ) is a significantly better idea than replacing the bridge for many reasons.

On a practical level, one must do a simple search on Google for Bridge Project Cost Overruns to find out that replacing the Milanville Bridge instead of rehabilitating it will be a much more expensive undertaking than we may be led to believe.

In many instances of new bridge construction around the country, contractors constructing new bridges site 1) huge cost overruns and 2) other unforeseen engineering issues that delay completion of the overdue project and add millions more to the cost. One may find that the cost estimates of new unsightly bridges may actually cost significantly more than an aesthetically pleasing rehabilitation of the existing bridge.

One reads of all too many stories whereby those in the trenches state that their projects turned out to be the “worst managed” and “most bureaucratic bungled” projects they have encountered.

Once construction begins, communities are held hostage to complete these projects that have already started. After sometimes years of delays with the associated bridge closing during this time, communities are stuck trying to get these issues resolved. Where is the extra money going to come from? Many feel that the resources would have been better off placed in new ambulances, firetrucks and health care facilities in the area. The millions should have been left locally. Instead, the contractors and engineers made all the money.

Often times huge delays occur because contractors stop work until they can get paid for the “additional work” that they have encountered. They can claim that the engineers did not adequately take into account soft soil in the river, delays caused by law suits filed by environmental groups, bad weather, interference by recreational users of property near the construction, etc. Contractors then can walk away from the project until the “issues get resolved” Yes, the issues mean more money. Where will that come from. Project delays can take years to resolve.

We’ve all read of projects that have experienced these myriad of problems, including a shortfall of anticipated funds, that then go through new comprehensive reviews to determine ways to rescue the bridge project from sinking. Who suffers? We do. Delays can take years and millions more have to be found. Sometimes the monies are not found. What then?

This all underscores the foolishness of initiating a project without fully understanding what it’s going to really cost and how to pay for it when things inevitably go wrong. We’ve all read of contractors claiming that a bridge construction could drag on for years because of fundamentally flawed” design problems and unreasonable demands for construction methods.

Often times additional funds must be found to improve the roads leading up to the bridge. This leads to more delays and significant disruption to the local community. These additional improvements generally were not included in the cost estimates of the bridge. Afterall, these are not “bridge expenses”, these are “local road expenses” they say.

We’ve also read of arguments between contractors and engineers disputing who is to blame for disputed design problems and cost overruns. Do we want to be involved in all this?

Headlines like those below could be in our future if we allow a new bridge to be constructed instead of simply rehabilitating what we have now. “Despite cost overruns and years of delays, engineering firm states that they have full confidence in our design of the bridge,” . “Despite cost overruns and years of delay, multiple independent reviewers have confirmed the suitability, structural integrity and constructability of the design. “Despite cost overruns and years of delay, minor design clarifications are typical on complex projects”. “Contractors claim that an unusually high number of change orders have occurred during construction of this project causing cost overruns and years of delays”. “Latest grievance involves a change in procedure for removing bridge forms, similar to scaffolding, that is potentially is dangerous for construction workers and could extend the project by as much as six months or more and cost another few million dollars.“ What was supposed to be a 2.5-year project is now in its fifth year,” .

In conclusion, I believe it is best to rehabilitate the beautiful historic bridge that we have. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.

Thursday, April 22
Steven Ircha

Save our Children and Stop Being Elitist!!!

The Skinners Falls bridge should remain a low weight low-density use bridge. From Memorial Day to Labor Day of each year,

tens of thousands of campers camp on the New York upstream side of the Skinners Falls bridge. These campers are families that bring

with them an army of children. These children wander around the campground, buy ice cream in the store, walk across the bridge to the Milanville General Store for snacks and then walk across the road going to the Skinners Falls Bridge to get to the other side of the bridge to swim on the downstream side of the bridge by the big rock or further down by the rapids. Do we really need more traffic and larger trucks to potentially run one of our children over? Of course not.

Anyone who advocates for a higher weight limit bridge bringing in more and heavier and more dangerous vehicles is simply not familiar with all the children who will be at risk crossing the road and walking across the bridge. Some people say we need a higher capacity bridge for emergency vehicles. I think this is nonsense. Pa emergencies are generally handled by emergency service workers on the Pa. side. New York emergencies are generally handled by emergency service workers on the NY side. In the 55 years, I've been in this area, I don't recall ever seeing emergency service vehicles crossing the bridge. However, if you make a higher weight limit higher density use bridge, I can guarantee that there will be injuries and fatalities caused by the new traffic coming in and striking our young children campers. This is not conscionable. It is also elitist. The powers that be would not be suggesting a higher weight limit, high use bridge if this bridge was located near a fancy private golf club or country club. This is simply elitist and a display of privilege. After all, most of the campers are from the newest set of immigrants coming into the country. They can't afford private country clubs or private golf clubs. Let us make a safe place for these immigrant families too. We need to be a little more woke on this issue.

Monday, May 3