Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Lost Bridge of the Week-- December 21st

Walnut Street Bridge I

Spanning the Schuylkill River at Walnut Street between 24th and 33rd Streets

Twas a cool bridge.
                               Here's an old bridge that doesn't look much different from its replacement. This old girl was yet another bridge over the Schuylkill that proved to be a huge pain in the ass to design and build, but the hard work ended up paying off handsomely.
                             In 1888, the demands of Philly's quickly growing population got the best of it. The bridges that existed over the Schuylkill, though built only a few decades before, were already overcrowded. On Christmas Eve of that year, City Council voted a on a new bridge, this time at Walnut Street. The engineering challenge this presented was the least of their worries. 
                            The Schuylkill River is decidedly deep in this particular spot and the bedrock was 48 feet under the muddy bottom. A shitload of train lines already existed on each side of the river and would need to be spanned. This would require the bridge's length to be 3,448 feet, only 369 feet of which went over the river.  On the Center City side, Walnut Street would have to be widened to accommodate the 60-foot-wide bridge deck. Despite all those challenges, construction was slated to begin on July 1, 1889. 
                            Of course, this is Philadelphia and construction did not begin that day. There was a shortage of stone from the quarries and the bridges initial construction steps were delayed. Such delays plagued the project. Some work started on July 16th so that is considered the official construction start time. 

They were still throwing down coffer dams a year and a half after construction started.
"I swear, we'll finish this thing some time!"
                          The design for the primary section of bridge would be wrought iron that extended 2,408 feet over piers 123 feet apart. All this would be covered with a long plate of concrete with beautiful decorative ironwork railings that no bridge built today is capable of having. 
Look at that shit.
                    The bridge opened on July 16th, 1893, precisely four years from the first day of construction. Amazingly, it came in under its $900,000 budget at $751,921.68  For a bridge that was hastily designed and had so many construction delays, it KICKED ASS. It stayed in continuous use with very little maintenance for 7 whole decades. It wasn't until 1974 that the bridge was closed for repairs. 
                      By the 1980's, the bridge was breaking all kinds of Highway Safety Regulations that didn't previously exist. The beautiful railings were a major concern because those things weren't going to hold back a tractor trailer. Shit, by this point, anyone could probably just kick straight through them. 

The iron railings in 1973.
                 In 1988, the destruction of this first Walnut Street Bridge began... except this is a case where you can really say the new bridge is also the old bridge. PennDOT spent $28 million replacing the bridge one lane at a time. This is probably the reason the current bridge is so similar to the old... it uses the same piers. I guess this bridge is not as lost as we thought.
                 The Philly Inquirer article about the reconstruction/demolition/replacement of the bridge from 1988 states that the iron railings from the old bridge would be donated to the Fairmount Park Association and be used for decoration of the Schuylkill River Banks Park. Well 23 years later that park is looking pretty nice but where are the railings? Where did they end up?

1 comment:

  1. The railings ended up rusting in some corner of Fairmount Park, as I recall. There was some article in the Inquirer (with photo) drawing attention to it a couple years later.