Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Lost Bridge of the Week-- December 7th

Girard Avenue Bridge I

Spanning the Schuylkill at Girard Avenue

That's one hell of a bridge.
                      Sometimes a bridge can be really nice looking but turn out to be completely useless. This is one of those bridges. It was one of the most important arteries over the Schuylkill in its time, but managed to be so fucked up that it was demolished in less than 20 years. Talk about a shitty bridge.
                    In 1852, City Council argued about the need for free bridges over the Schuylkill. The current bridges were crowded as fuck and became more of a burden than a benefit. On March 27th, 1852, the Council passed "An Act to Authorize the Erection of Free Bridges over the Schuylkill", initiating the creation of both a Girard Avenue and Chestnut Street Bridge. The cost was not to exceed $175,000 for each one.
                    For the design, the city went with the German-educated Philly resident engineer Rudolph Hering. He designed a triple-spanned bridge that obviously went further for style points than functionality. The builder was Aldophus Bonanzo, and he took his goddamn time. Construction began in early 1853 and was taking forever. In the middle of 1854, Council complained about how the bridge was taking too long to build and how the Chestnut Bridge hadn't even started yet.
                     They shouldn't have been so surprised. Other Schuylkill River bridges that had been authorized in earlier decades (especially one that was planned at Arch Street numerous times) never materialized. The bridge finished construction in 1855 and that Chestnut Bridge didn't even start until 1857. The Girard Avenue Bridge came in waaay overbudget at $267,000.

Painting of the bridge by Thomas Eakins. It's the one behind that railroad bridge.
                       As the bridge came into use, people figured out pretty quickly that it sucked. It was too thin and way more people were using it at any given time than it was designed for. Trolleys started running over it in 1859, the same trolley line that exists as the Route 15 Trolley today. By 1871, the bridge was literally falling apart. It was in desperate need of repair but interests that used the river didn't want it blocked for the construction, namely the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Company. They sued the city in that year for not stopping the repair and lost.
                      Despite the repairs in 1871, the bridge was all fucked up again a year later. With the Centennial coming up, the city just said "fuck it" and destroyed the bridge in 1872. The bridge that would be built to replace it was the widest in the world and lasted nearly a century.
                     Even though he was a shitty-ass engineer, Hering went on to become very well-known later in life due to his involvement with the reversing of the Chicago River. There's awards and metals and shit named after him now. Not bad for a fuck-up.

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