The first bridge at this site was designed by Lewis Wernwag, a pioneering American bridge-building pioneer of his age. Wernwag’s bridge was completed on September 12, 1814 – slightly more than eight years after the opening of the first bridge across the Delaware River between Trenton and Morrisville, Pa. on January 30, 1806. The bridge was owned by the New Hope Delaware Bridge Company, which operated it as a tolled crossing.
Half of Wernwag’s six-span covered bridge — the three spans on the river’s New Jersey side — was destroyed by the “bridges freshet” of January 8, 1841. Three replacement spans were constructed later in 1841 by a contractor identified in a news article as “Mr. Emmat.” That bridge — half constructed in 1814 and half constructed in 1841 — lasted for 62 years.
The bridge crossing had a unique history. It was the only one of the 16 covered river bridges between New Jersey and Pennsylvania to ever have been owned by a single individual — Samuel Grant of Philadelphia. It also had a one-armed toll taker — Hiram Scarborough of New Hope — from 1852 to 1887.
The aging covered bridge was completely destroyed in the infamous “Pumpkin Flood” of October 10 and 11, 1903.
A second incarnation of the New Hope Delaware Bridge Company contracted the erection of a six-span steel, pin-connected Pratt-truss replacement bridge that opened to traffic July 22, 1904. That bridge became a publicly owned non-tolled crossing in early 1920. That bridge remains in service to this day.
The current bridge operated as a toll span for roughly its first 15 years. The states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey jointly purchased the bridge in a December 31, 1919 transaction facilitated by the form Joint Commission for Elimination of Toll Bridge — Pennsylvania-New Jersey. Tolls were removed a few days later.
The bridge sustained considerable damage during the historic river flood of August 19, 1955, forcing its closure to all but emergency vehicles on August 20. The bridge was repaired within five weeks and reopened to traffic on September 22, 1955. The alignment of the second span on the Pennsylvania side remains affected to this day.
The Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission (DRJTBC), which was created in late 1934, was given the responsibility of operating and maintaining the bridge on behalf of the two states. The states annually provided equal shares of tax proceeds to the DRJTBC to control the bridge. On July 1, 1987, the states transferred ownership of the bridge outright to the DRJTBC. The states further directed the DRJTBC to use a share of its toll proceeds to henceforth operate and maintain the bridge.
Today, the bridge’s official name is the New Hope-Lambertville Toll-Supported Bridge. The term “toll-supported” refers to the fact that the Commission pays for its operating, maintenance and security costs using revenues generated by the agency’s eight toll bridges that cross the Delaware between Pennsylvania and New Jersey from Trenton/Morrisville to the New Jersey/New York state line.
The bridge has several unique characteristics.
- It is the only steel Pratt truss bridge owned and operated by the DRJTBC. The Commission’s Calhoun Street Toll-Supported Bridge between Trenton, N.J. and Morrisville, Pa., also is a Pratt-style bridge, but it is made of iron.
- Finally, more pedestrians use the bridge than any other span along the entire length of the Delaware River. The bridge’s walkway — which was widened in 2004 — can be especially crowded on pleasant summer evenings, with tourists, restaurant goers, antique hunters, and local residents crossing between the two riverside communities. The Commission has recorded as many as 14,000 pedestrian crossings on the bridge on a single weekend day. No other bridge in the DRJTBC system — or elsewhere along the Delaware River, for that matter — comes close to handling such foot-traffic volumes.
- The walkway is cantilevered off the bridge’s downstream side. It consists of fiberglass panels, the only walkway of its type in the DRJTBC system. The walkway also was widened from six feet to eight feet as part of the bridge’s 2004 rehabilitation project.
- The bridge has a sewer line attached to its upstream side. The forced sewer main is owned by the Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority and carries sewage from New Hope across the river to Lambertville and the treatment plant operated by the Lambertville Municipal Utilities Authority. The pumps for the sewer main are housed in the basement of the brick building immediately adjacent to the bridge’s Pennsylvania abutment.
The bridge was the subject of a two-page feature in INC. magazine’s December 2009/January 2010 edition. The feautre may be accessed online at the following link: http://www.inc.com/magazine/20091201/the-business-of-the-bridge.html..
Area residents will remember that the bridge underwent an extensive rehabilitation in 2004. The work included replacement of the flooring systems, sidewalk and handrails; miscellaneous steel repairs; cleaning and painting; and various safety and lighting improvements. The total program cost was $7.7 million, an amount that included preliminary design, public involvement, final design, construction, oversight and a free shuttle service that operated on days when the bridge was closed to traffic.
The Commission’s rehabilitation of the bridge was named the “2004 Project of the Year” by the Delaware Valley Section of the American Society of Highway Engineers. This award, in large part, was a recognition of the many steps taken by the Commission to minimize the impact of the renovation on the local communities of New Hope and Lambertville, popular tourist destinations.
During the rehabilitation period, the bridge was reopened on weekends to minimize the economic impact of the bridge work. The Commission also provided complimentary shuttle bus service to the public on weekdays, supplying free transportation to individuals between the New Hope and Lambertville sides of the Delaware River.
An innovative incentive/disincentive program rewarded or penalized the contractor for the early or late completion of the project. As a result, the bridge re-opened a week ahead of schedule.
The Commission’s Deputy Executive Director of Communications, Joe Donnelly, has endeavoed to compile a full history of the river crossing between New Hope, PA. and Lambertville, N.J. This effort began in the 200th anniversary year (2014) of the inaugural wooden bridge to be constructed at this location. Over the years, Donnelly has updated and expanded the research, culminating with a 90-minute-long presentation for the Lambertville Historical Society in November 2022. That presentation was further edited, expanded, and converted into a 202-slide PDF file that may be viewed here free of charge. The presentation includes numerous corrections of erroneous information in prior presentations and publications, including the Commission’s own bridge manual. Allow three hours to view the images and accompanying presentation notes: