Of the 20 bridges in the DRJTBC system, the Calhoun Street Toll-Supported Bridge is the only one made of wrought iron. A Phoenix Pratt truss with a total length of 1,274 feet, it also holds the distinction as the Commission’s longest through-truss bridge and the Commission’s only seven-span truss bridge. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as the corresponding state lists for New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
The bridge connects Calhoun Street in Trenton, New Jersey with Trenton Avenue in Morrisville, Pennsylvania. It is located approximately one mile north of the Lower Trenton (“Trenton Makes”) Bridge. The bridge is a major job commuter route for Pennsylvania residents who work in state government and other businesses in Trenton. The span carried a daily average of 18,400 vehicles in 2008. The Calhoun Street Bridge is posted for a three-ton weight limit, eight-foot vertical clearance, and a 15-mph speed limit. Commission bridge officers are continuously stationed at each end of the bridge to enforce the bridge’s weight limits.
The current structure is the second bridge to be put into service at this location, which is near the site of an old ferry known as Beatty’s Ferry and the Kirkbride-Rutherford Ferry.
The first span at the site was called the City Bridge, a wooden structure constructed and operated by a private company — the Trenton City Bridge Company. It opened to traffic on July 1, 1861 and consisted of seven spans supported on stone masonry piers and abutments, all of which today support the current iron bridge. The superstructure carried two roadways and two sidewalks and was a covered structure.
The City Bridge was actually the second river crossing constructed between Trenton and Morrisville, being pre-dated by a 1,008-foot covered wooden bridge – the first bridge constructed across the Delaware River — located at the site of the current Lower Trenton (“Trenton Makes”) Toll-Supported Bridge. The original Lower Trenton Bridge, located below the Trenton Falls, was opened to traffic on January 30, 1806 before being torn down in 1875.
The wooden City Bridge continued in service as toll bridge for 23 years until the evening of June 25, 1884, when the bridge was destroyed in a “spectacular fire” believed to have been caused by a careless cigar smoker. The Trenton City Bridge Company decided to replace the bridge soon after its destruction, opting to replace it with an iron truss structure built upon the exiting piers and abutments of the old bridge. The new bridge was constructed by 83 workmen in a short period of just 60 days under the guidance of the Phoenix Bridge Company of Phoenixville, Pa. (The Phoenix Bridge Company was a subsidiary of the iron works that produced the internal iron used in the construction of the Washington Monument in our nation’s capital.)
The new iron bridge officially opened to traffic — again as a privately owned toll bridge — on October 20, 1884 with 16 horse vehicles, 7 one horse vehicles, and 175 pedestrians crossing the bridge that day, according to the Daily State Gasette.
The Web site LivingPlaces.Com says the following about the bridge: “The Phoenix Column bridges were among the last constructions of wrought iron, long the prime variety of iron used where great tensile strength and resistance to stress was required. By the 1880s, open-hearth steel had come to replace wrought iron for most of these uses, and bridges from that time were constructed primarily of steel girders.”
The structure has undergone numerous repairs and rehabilitations over the past century.
“The Calhoun Street Bridge is the oldest roadway structure in continuous use between Pennsylvania and New Jersey and it played a significant role in the history of Trenton, Morrisville, and the surrounding region,” Frank G. McCartney, executive director of the Commission, said on the bridge’s 125th anniversary. “The bridge has performed exceptionally over the years, although it does require regular repairs and a comprehensive rehabilitation.”
One such rehabilitation project for the bridge is scheduled to commence in 2010. The work is expected to include replacement of the superstructure’s floor system, repairs of the iron truss, painting of the superstructure, repairs to the substructure and approach roadways, and improvements to the bridge rail and sidewalk safety features.
The bridge was part of the original 3,389 mile-long Lincoln Highway – America’s first transcontinental roadway, which connected New York City with San Francisco. Conceived in 1912 and formally dedicated October 31, 1913, the Lincoln Highway holds the distinction as the first national memorial to President Abraham Lincoln, predating the 1922 dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. The bridge was included in the highway until 1920, when the route was changed to a non-toll bridge.
The bridge still has a sign referencing its Lincoln Highway past on its downstream side near the Pennsylvania abutment. The blue and yellow sign – believed to be made of iron – has the Lincoln Highway emblem and arrows pointing to New Jersey and Pennsylvania and New York and San Francisco.
The Calhoun Street Bridge is the second oldest vehicular bridge in continuous operation across the Delaware. The oldest bridge is John Roebling’s Lackawaxen Aqueduct between New York and Pennsylvania.
The bridge was purchased by the Commission’s predecessor agency — the Joint Commission for the Acquisition of Toll Bridges over the Delaware River between the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the State of New Jersey (also known as the Joint Commission for Eliminating Toll Bridges) — on November 14, 1928, at which point tolls on the bridge were eliminated. The purchase price of the bridge was $250,000, roughly $3.1 million in 2008 dollars as adjusted for inflation. At the time of the purchase, a trolley line was operated over it by the Pennsylvania and New Jersey Traction Company. The line was eventually abandoned and the tracks removed as part of a reflooring rehabilitation in 1940.
The Calhoun Street Bridge is a seven-span wrought iron pin connected truss bridge containing 730 tons of iron and steel. A timber-plank pedestrian sidewalk is supported by the upriver truss on steel cantilever brackets.
“The bridge is well-appreciated by local residents for its beauty and historic significance,” the Web site LivingPlaces.com says. “The significance of the Calhoun Street Bridge is that it is one of the few surviving long bridges of its type. While it is shorter and slightly less impressive than the Walnut Street Bridge in Harrisburg, Pa., which it predates by six years, it is probably the longest Phoenix Bridge and is still open to traffic.”