Third oldest structure in the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission’s system.
Pennsylvania Abutment — Riegelsville Borough, Bucks County, PA.
New Jersey Abutment — Riegelsville section of Pohatcong Township, Warren County, N.J.
The first bridge at this location was a three-span covered wooden structure. It was constructed by Solon Chapin, an Easton contractor who erected several covered bridges along the Delaware River in the middle part of the 19th century. James Madison Porter, an Easton businessman and politician who was among the founders of Lafayette College in 1832, reportedly had some involvement in the bridge’s construction, but it’s unclear what his role may have been.
The bridge was conceived, financed and operated by the Riegelsville Delaware Bridge Company, a shareholder-owned concern established in 1836. New Jersey enacted the bridge company’s enabling legislation on December 19, 1835. Pennsylvania enacted its companion legislation on March 22, 1836.
A central figure in the company’s creation appears to be Benjamin Riegel, a miller and enterprising businessman. In 1806, Riegel acquired the ferry concession (Shanks Ferry) near the eventual site of the bridge. Both sides of the river soon became known as Riegelsville owing to his ferry operation. (Note: Riegelsville, PA. was part of Durham Township throughout the 19th Century. Riegelsville Borough, was not incorporated as a distinct Pennsylvania municipal entity until 1916.)
It’s likely that Riegel was the leading proponent of the envisioned bridge. He was founding officer of the Riegelsville Delaware Bridge Company, when it was chartered in 1936. New Jersey’s bridge company legislation listed Riegel among the individuals authorized to subscribe shareholders in that state. Pennsylvania’s corresponding legislation authorized Riegel’s son, Jesse, to subscribe bridge company shareholders in that state. Benjamin Riegel also served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives at the time of the bridge company’s formation. (Note: Both the New Jersey and Pennsylvania legislative measures spelled Riegel as “Reigle” and “Rieglesville” and were enacted with error uncorrected.”
Construction of the first bridge was completed and opened as a tolled private enterprise on December 15, 1837. Tolls would have been charged for livestock, carts, carriages, pedestrians and — later — bicyclists and motorized vehicles. The first bridge cost $18,900 to construct and was a Burr-truss-arch design with dual cartways and walkways, according to a historical account by B.F. Fackenthal, the bridge’s last president in 1923.
The span on the New Jersey side was destroyed in the “Bridges Freshet” of January 8, 1841. Fackenthal’s historical account says the reconstruction of the lost span cost $9,000 and the work was again done by Chapin. (It’s unclear when the reconstructed bridge reopened.)
The bridge remained in service until the “Pumpkin Flood” of October 10, 1903, when the center span and the adjoining span on the New Jersey side were washed away. The span on the Pennsylvania side also sustained damage and later collapsed. (Ironically, portions of the bridge that washed downstream were later used to reconstruct a portion of the bridge at Milford, N.J. that also was partially destroyed in the 1903 flood.)
The Riegelsville Delaware Bridge Company acted quickly to replace its decimated bridge. It hired the John A. Roebling’s Sons Company to erect a multi-catenary steel wire rope suspension superstructure on the masonry abutments and piers that had been constructed for the former wooden bridge in 1836 and 1837. The costs of construction — including repairs to and raising the heights of the bridge’s piers — was $29,072.25, according to Fackenthal. The new bridge opened April 18, 1904. It is the third oldest bridge in the Commission’s network; only the Calhoun Street Bridge between Trenton, N.J. and Morrisville, PA. and the Northampton Street Bridge between Easton, PA. and Phillipsburg, N.J. are older.
Like it’s wooden predecessor, the Riegelsville Delaware Bridge Co. operated its new steel suspension bridge as a tolled crossing. The company stopped charging tolls on January 1, 1923 in anticipation of the bridge’s sale to states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. This joint transaction took place on January 4, 1923, a purchase facilitated by the former Joint Commission for Elimination of Toll Bridges – Pennsylvania-New Jersey, the predecessor agency to the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission (DRJTBC), which was created in 1934. The states provided annual equal tax subsidies to the old Joint Commission and, later, the reconstituted DRJTBC to operate and maintain the bridge on behalf of the two states.
The bridge’s pier nearest the Pennsylvania approach was almost completely demolished during a flood in 1936; it was rebuilt using reinforced concrete. The bridge sustained some damage during the historic flood of August 19, 1955, but only to a slight degree.
The bridge holds the distinction of being the last bridge in the Commission’s system to have a timber-plank floor. The bridge was outfitted with a steel open-grid roadway deck in 1984.
Only July 1, 1987, Pennsylvania and New Jersey conveyed ownership of the bridge outright to the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission. Under a new Compact approved by the U.S. Congress earlier that year, the states directed the Bridge Commission to use a share of the proceeds collected at its toll bridges to cover the costs of operating and maintaining the Riegelsville Bridge. That arrangement continues to this day.
The structure’s total length is 580 feet 10 inches. The bridge’s span lengths vary. The clear roadway width is 15 feet, 11 inches between steel rubrails. The two travel lanes are each 7 feet, 11-1/2 inches wide. The bridge has a three-ton weight limit.
Composite plank sidewalks flank the roadway deck on the bridge’s upstream and downstream sides. The bridge is the Delaware River crossing point for the envisioned Highlands Trail, a long-distance trail that would extend from the New York-Connecticut border to the Pennsylvania Highlands Trail Network. (The trail currently covers 180 miles between the Hudson and Delaware rivers.) Pennsylvania’s Delaware Canal towpath is also a short distance away from the Riegelsville Bridge.
The bridge was last rehabilitated in 2010 when its national bridge standard rating was upgraded from structurally deficient to functionally obsolete.
The bridge’s speed limit is 15 MPH. Bicycles are prohibited from crossing on the bridge’s vehicular roadway deck. Bicycle riders must dismount and walk across one of the bridge’s walkways.
The Commission posts bridge monitors at the bridge on a 24/7 basis to prevent crossings of overweight/oversized vehicles on the unique weight-restricted bridge.