Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lost Bridge of the Week-- October 26th

Chestnut Street Bridge I

Crossing Dock Creek at Chestnut Street near Hudson's Alley

VERY lost bridge of the week. This engraving is somewhat inaccurate, but the house in the picture was the main focus of the original drawing, which was done by William Strickland 119 years after the bridge was built.
                           Now it's time to talk about Old Philadelphia, like village-sized primordial Philadelphia from the early early days. Dock Creek, that once ran through what is now Old City, was spanned by many little crappy bridges all around Penn's Green Country Towne of old. This was one of them. This bridge is so ancient that when it was installed, Chestnut beyond third street was the fucking edge of town.
                            It started in an unknown year in the late 1600's. Chestnut Street had a dip in it that would get filled with the water from Dock Creek for some parts of the year and be an impassable muddy hole the rest of the year. A rudimentary wooden bridge was built that did not last very long. In 1699, the city (village) of Philadelphia commissioned a stone arch bridge that would span the trench.
                            Money ran out before the protective sides of the stone bridge could be built, so the span was just a stone arch with a flat top that proved to be extremely dangerous. A man named John Reynalls lost his daughter to drowning after falling off the span. The Governor of Barbados, who rented the house in that engraving, wouldn't even use the bridge.
                          The first written account of the ancient Chestnut Street Bridge was from February 7th, 1719 and is all about how it was precarious as fuck to cross and how it needed to be repaired. Folks who lived nearby would build makeshift wooden railings for the bridge, but these would often end up falling down. Later in 1719, another account talks about how it had partially collapsed.
                         The bridge went through repair after repair until 1750. In that year, the Chestnut Street Bridge had deteriorated to the point of impassibility. The arch had completely collapsed at this point and the creek would overrun the bridge/pile of rocks in certain parts of the year. Only seven years later, the creek was filled and the bridge was forgotten.
                         Very forgotten. By the early 1800's, the existence of this bridge was completely unknown, save the ravings of the few people that managed to live long enough to remember it. A 75-year-old man named Arthur Howell told tales in 1822 about how his father told him that the family home was built over the site of the old Dock Creek that was next to the old Chestnut Street Bridge. It wasn't until one year later, when the first water pipes were being laid under Chestnut Street, that the oak pilings of the old bridge were discovered to the surprise of the entire city. It was like finding Bigfoot!
                         This bridge seems so simple to us now.. a pile of rocks in the form of an arch spanning only a small gap... but in 1699 protoamerica, this was THE SHIT. No matter how many crossings that would later be called the Chestnut Street Bridge, this was the first.

You can see the Chestnut Street Bridge in the upper middle of this conjectural engraving.

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