EASTON, PA – Five digitized reels of silent black-and-white film footage depicting various stages of Depression-era construction on the Bushkill Street Bridge — known today as the Easton-Phillipsburg (Route 22) Toll Bridge — is scheduled to premiere Sunday, Nov. 5, on the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission’s YouTube channel.
The Commission’s release of historic footage is occurring as part of the lead up to the anticipated November 9 rededication of the nearby Northampton Street Toll-Supported Bridge (colloquially referred to as the Easton-Phillipsburg “free bridge”) after a two-year rehabilitation project. The Northampton Street Bridge was the sole vehicular connection between the two riverfront municipalities until the Bushkill Street Bridge opened on January 14, 1938. Toll collections at the new bridge began the following day.
The Bushkill Street Bridge construction project was initiated in summer 1936 for the purpose of relieving the daily crushing traffic jams at the smaller, older, and now-weight-restricted Northampton Street Bridge which was constructed in 1895-96.
The five film reels of Bushkill Street Bridge construction had been filed away in a storage area at the Commission’s former administration building in Morrisville, PA. for decades. The reels were discovered in 2022 as the Commission vacated its former Morrisville quarters to complete a shift of executive office and back-office operations to new quarters near the Scudder Falls Bridge in Lower Makefield, PA.
The film footage has been digitized and is scheduled to premiere for public viewing on the Commission’s YouTube channel in the following order of links:
- Reel 1: https://youtu.be/s8dqsSQkhYg
- Reel 2: https://youtu.be/7eBY53UF6nk
- Reel 3: https://youtu.be/GJdeqB4dfDc
- Reel 4: https://youtu.be/Mb-JV9j20Z0
- Reel 5: https://youtu.be/TSwFZKpSbwk
Much of the film footage is heavily oriented toward individuals interested in construction or engineering. However, there are periods of footage among the five reels that would be of interest to local historical enthusiasts and area residents.
The scope of work shown in the film reels suggests the footage was taken by an engineer at the bridge agency’s northern office, which apparently had filming equipment. The Commission’s northern office was immediately upstream of the Northampton Street Bridge along the Easton riverbank. That office building previously housed the former Easton Delaware Bridge Company that owned and operated the Northampton Street Bridge as a tolled crossing until August 3, 1921, when it was jointly purchased by Pennsylvania and New Jersey. (Note: The states conveyed ownership to the DRJTBC effective July 1, 1987.)
Starting Sunday, some of the Bushkill Street Bridge project’s film segments that can be viewed include:
- Construction of steel-reinforced concrete abutments to support the bridge’s single steel truss span (reels 1, 2, and 3);
- Glimpses of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Belvidere Division trackage (reel 1);
- Depression-era motorized belt-driven equipment (reel 1);
- Views of an expansive temporary concrete mixing and conveyance system in Phillipsburg, including a system of elevated cables for transporting buckets of wet concrete across the river from Phillipsburg to the work site in Easton (reel 2);
- Excavation by Bean, Inc. Contractors, a firm still in business today in Easton (reel 4);
- Cleared space for a former toll plaza and administration in Phillipsburg (reel 4);
- Closeups of the structure’s “orthotropic” bridge deck (reel 5);
- Installation of the bridge’s original asphalt-block driving surface (reel 5).
The Commission in October 2022 released a prior reel of film footage documenting the severe traffic congestion that plagued the Northampton Street Bridge prior to the toll bridge’s construction. To date, that reel of digitized footage has generated 9,943 views on YouTube. The final segments of that 23-minute-long reel included the groundbreaking ceremony, early land clearing, and initial construction for the toll bridge project depicted in the five film reels set to premiere on Sunday.
Additional background information:
Land clearing for the Bushkill Street Bridge was initiated on August 19, 1936. The date is significant because it enabled the DRJTBC to comply with a U.S. War Department permit that imposed an August 30 deadline for commencement of field work on the bridge. The subsequent bridge project involved construction from the end of Bushkill Street in Easton to the former Meadow Avenue in Phillipsburg. The project also entailed construction of an elevated approach viaduct over the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Belvidere Division tracks and Broad Street in Phillipsburg. The bridge construction contract was with the Bethlehem Steel Company’s bridge building division, formerly the McClintic-Marshall Co. of Bethlehem, PA. The supporting substructures were constructed under a contract with the John F. Casey, Co. of Pittsburgh, PA. The approaches to the bridge in Easton and Phillipsburg were constructed under a contract with the Korp & Korp Co. of Phillipsburg, N.J. The toll booths and accompanying administration building at the end of Memorial Drive in Phillipsburg were constructed by the Fowler-Thorne Company of Trenton, N.J. A tunnel connecting the toll booths and administration was installed by Korp & Korp.
The large public works project was a welcome sight in the depths of the Great Depression, providing a measure of employment for hundreds of area workers.
High-volume “superhighway” approaches to the bridge were constructed on the Easton side in the 1950s. Owing to this new alignment away from Bushkill Street, the bridge was renamed the Easton-Phillipsburg Toll Bridge. (The Commission’s longstanding policy is to name bridges for their locations.) The bridge’s New Jersey approach subsequently was realigned with a new direct highway toll plaza in the early 1960s. The bridge and its approaches were fully rehabilitated between 2013 and 2015. It ranked fifth in traffic volume among the Commission’s eight toll bridges in 2022, with an average annual daily traffic count of 34,700 vehicles.