Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lost Bridge of the Week-- February 29th

Chestnut Street Bridge

Spanning the Schuylkill River at Chestnut Street

Could have called it Spiderman Bridge
                         And now... time to present a Wonder of the Motherfucking World, the Chestnut Street Bridge. This cast iron motherfucker was a point of pride for Philadelphians, Pennsylvanians, Americans... actually it was a point of pride for all humans. This Triumphant Truss of Terror was one of Phillly's greatest treasures that we'll NEVER get back.
                         This beast was so cool-looking that it gave reason for people to walk down the Schuylkill Banks before they ever had a trail or a highway running along them. The motherfucker took nine years of preparation and five years to build.
                         It all started in 1852. The only bridges across the Schuykill that were any damn good were at Market Street and Spring Garden Street. Every other one was either a shitbag pontoon bridge or some crappy covered bridge that would get washed away in any bad storm. The two real bridges were getting to be over-run with traffic. On March 27th of that year, and act passed stating that there should be bridges built at Callowhill and Chestnut Streets, the streets next to the current bridges, to alleviate some of that shitty traffic.
                        Enter all-around badass Strickland Kneass, the city's chief engineer. He came up with an idea for a bridge at Chestnut Street that would blow the fucking socks off any other in the WORLD. While people once loved the high-tech offerings of the Wire Bridge at Fairmount, its day was over. A new bridge would be needed to impress engineering ninjas everywhere. Once Kneass presented his plan in 1857 (after at least two more Acts demanding it were passed), people went apeshit over everything about it.. except for the cost. Half a million bones.
                         In the 1850's, half a million dollars was like saying a billion bajillion dollars today. After three years, some money was thrown in by local railroad interests so the thing could just get built already. Construction began in 1860.
                         Then, right as preparations for the construction began, the city's Master Warden, Charles S. Wayne, said "Fuck you, Kneass! This is my river!! You're not putting coffer dams in the middle of it, you dirty bastard!!", and sued the fuck out of the city. His case was dismissed the day it went to trial. Ends up that the Master Warden's jurisdiction ends at the shoreline. The dumbass Chief Warden almost stopped this project from ever happening. After five long years of construction, the bridge finally opened on June 23rd, 1866... and it wasn't even really done yet.

                    The huge arch-shaped ribs spanning halfway across the bridge came in sets of eight and were 185 feet long each. It was figured that the heaviest load that could ever cross the bridge would only have 1/28th the weight to break an individual rib. The cast iron flexed a whole 2 and 5/16th inches. You could roll a fucking tank over this thing! Also, this beautiful bridge (briefly) had a deck of square granite blocks that must have looked pretty fucking cool.
                    Once open, this became THE way across the Schuylkill.  Philadelphia's newest bridge became the envy of the world and was referred to as a great specimen of design and engineering. As the decades passed, the bridge stayed in continuous use with very little maintenance. In 1911, the approaches to be bridge were widened to support the shitload of people that were all about crossing this bridge, despite the fact that newer alternate bridges had been built up and down the river by this point.
                    In 1956, ninety years after the bridge opened, a proposal to take it down and replace it with a  FUCKING HIGHWAY OVERPASS-looking piece of dogshit was floated around. Ends up the western abutment was standing in the way of progress.

From this...

to THIS. What a travesty.
                 Kneass' beautiful Chestnut Street Bridge got its ass destroyed in 1958, replaced with the piece of shit that's still crumbling there today. The next time you cross the Chestnut Street Bridge and notice how boring it is and how shitty the condition its in, just remember that the same piers once held up a magnificent crossing that was hailed by the motherfucking world.

Look at that shit... and you can see this week's Mystery Building on the left!
Here's the bridge at age 89. Just a reminder of when shit looked good.
                      On another note, I must announce that this will be the last Lost Bridge article. Get set to see a new category coming to every other Wednesday here on Philaphilia! 

                                                          -GroJLart, King of Philadelphia and France


  1. That is a true shame. I assume the "progress" was I-76. I guess we can all be thankful that the Market Street and PRR bridges did not suffer the same fate.

  2. Yo Philaphila do something on
    600 South University Avenue
    used to be a hotel looking over the Sukillyhill river
    now PSDC bought it and its a prison or something
    crazi shit

  3. "In 1956, fifty years after the bridge opened,...." i think you meant 90 years. this is an awesome bridge, its hard to comprehend what those blowhards of the middle of last century were thinking to demolish soo much stuff that we would kill to still have around today.

  4. are we out of bridges already??!!??

  5. ianni-- thanks, fixed the mistake.

    We're not necessarily out of bridges, supposedly there's a total of 60-some lost bridges in the city. Just trying something new week after next.

  6. I have to say, I love this blog, but at the same time I hate it for bringing me down all the time with the stories of all these lost treasures. The desecration of once beautiful public spaces, the lost art of architecture, craftsmanship, and civic responsibility. Somebody shoot me.

  7. I'm with George. I've learned so much from your blog and I enjoy the hell out of it but every time you do one of these "lost bridge/building" entries I want to fall over and cry.

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  9. Every time I walk over that bridge muttering obscenities and damning the thing to hell, I take a moment to appreciate the sad remaining eastern abutment, still adorned with the original decorative iron railings nearly 150 years after it was built. I've also noticed that portions of the lost Callowhill bridge were reused in the building of the equally damnable Spring Garden overpass.

  10. I loved all the lost bridge articles. Keep up the good work -- can't wait to read what is coming next!