Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Lost Bridge of the Week-- January 18th

Penrose Ferry Bridge III

Spanning the Schuylkill at Penrose Avenue

Looking awesome with its draw open in 1880. 
                     This right here is a crossing that never gets any damn respect. Penrose Avenue is one of the oldest spots to cross the Schuylkill but no one gives a shit now and no one gave a shit back in the day, either. While every other Schuylkill crossing has been analyzed and painstakingly historically recorded over the centuries, this one barely gets a mention anywhere.
                      This spot became a nameless ferry crossing in the early 18th Century. By the end of the 1700's, the area got officially named "Penrose Ferry" after the ferryman who worked it the most, Samuel Penrose. In the early 1800's, a rope was suspended over the river that helped ferrymen push and pull small skiffs across for a nominal fee. When a ship needed to pass, they just dropped the rope into the water. Everyone forgot about Penrose at this point and just called the spot "Rope Ferry".
                     As the city continued to grow, talks began about building a Rope Ferry Bridge. This would be a railroad crossing for all points south and west of the city. Matthew Newkirk, businessmonger and bridge benefactor, decided that idea sucked and made the train line cross at Gray's Ferry instead. It was not until April 7th, 1853 that the state legislature approved a bridge at Penrose Avenue. The new bridge got mired in legal battles because it was only going to clear the river by 6 feet and multiple shipping interests sued. Once the bridge finally got built, a flood washed it away in less than a year.
                    Penrose Ferry Bridge II opened on June 30th, 1860. It didn't last very long either... on July 7th, 1876, the center deck of the bridge fell right into the river. The great Centennial Exhibition was going on in the city at the time and the incident was a source of massive embarrassment.
                   Finally, in 1878, a bridge that would actually last awhile was built. Penrose Ferry Bridge III was a 416 foot long iron truss bridge with a rotating pivot pier, which allowed the center section to open and create two 183 foot wide passages. The photo at the top of the article shows the bridge when the draw is open... and as you can see, looks pretty fucking awesome.
                  Unfortunately, it didn't look awesome for very long. In 1900, the whole bridge was reconstructed...the iron trusses were replaced with a network of steel. Though technically the same bridge, it  looked very different (and boring).

From 1910. Boooooring.
                       The bridge actually had this shitty look for most of its lasted all the way up until 1949, when the humongous George C. Platt Bridge replaced it. That bridge is currently only 9 years younger than the Penrose Ferry Bridge III was when it was demolished. In 1931, well before the Platt Bridge was thought of, funds were appropriated and plans were drawn for a Penrose Tunnel that would go under the Schuylkill to quickly bring cars to the planned "Municipal Airport" (now Philly International) that was on the drawing boards at the time. The funding and plans for that project were transferred to a different tunnel planned to cross under the Delaware that was never built.
                       This bridge lasted 71 years but no one seems to remember a damn thing about it, other than how much of an uproar occurred when it was closed for reconstruction in 1900. Apparently the construction of the new approaches took forever and was fucking up some farmer's lands on either side. Other than that, there's not much else recorded about what went on with this bridge. What a shame.

Pic of the site of the bridge after it was removed. You can see the construction of the Platt Bridge in the background.


  1. hey GroJ, where was this bottom picture taken? i guess what i really want to know is where did the bridge connect the two sides, if the platt bridge is so far in the background?

  2. The old bridge was quite a ways south of the Platt Bridge. The roads leading up to it on either side are completely gone now.