You’ve probably heard of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge, both famous bridges residing in the US. While America has many renowned bridges, it’s also home to the nation’s oldest bridges that hardly get any recognition. Some of them have stood the test of time, still standing since before the US was even a country.
Unfortunately, a few of these bridges have crumbled with old age, but they still have a story to tell. They are a piece of history; a single thread in America’s colorful tapestry. Even if they have faded they are still significant and worthy of remembrance.
These are the oldest bridges in the US, and the stepping stones for the nation’s glorious bridges that stand today.
8. Northampton Street Bridge
Northampton Street Bridge connected Easton, Pennsylvania with Philipsburg, New Jersey before it was hit with a flood in 1895. The site began as a ferry crossing kept by David Martin. The construction started in the 1790’s, but due to unfortunate technical and financial difficulties it wasn’t finished until 1806.
Timothy Palmer was the architect for the first bridge, which was nearly 160 feet long. It survived many of the common Delaware River floods. It’s last one in 1895 proved too much for the wooden bridge, when it was swept away and broken into pieces.
It was rebuilt as a cantilever-style bridge in 1896. This version of the Northampton Street Bridge was designed by James Madison Porter III, a professor of engineering at Lafayette College. This time it was constructed with steel, intending for it to last through many floods. The new Northampton Street Bridge is recognized locally as the “Free Bridge”, mainly because it’s the only toll-free bridge in the area.
Related: The oldest parks in the US you should visit today.
7. Union Bridge
Before it went up in flames in 1909, Union Bridge had been standing over the lower portion of the Hudson River since 1804. It connected the cities of Waterford, New York and Lansingburgh, New York. Theodore Burr used his original arch-truss pattern to create Union Bridge, which was the first of it’s kind and Burr later patented the design in 1806. Union bridge was also the first bridge to cross the Hudson River.
In 1889, Engineering News wrote, “At the time the [Union] Bridge was built, therefore, it was the greatest existing wooden span in the world, and the first glance at the design shows that it was not only of a strictly original type but was a much more scientifically designed structure than any which any had preceded it. For aught we know, it may be the greatest wooden span which is standing today, so many the short list of greater wooden spans having been burned or replaced by iron.”
After Union Bridge was no more, a steel bridge was constructed on the original piers and is now called Waterford Bridge. Both bridges have connected Waterford and Lansington for 217 years.
6. Kingston Bridge
Although the architect is unknown, the Kingston Bridge in Kingston, New Jersey is still standing 223 years later. There was a wooden bridge before Kingston Bridge was built, but it was strategically destroyed by the Continental Army to keep the British at bay during the Revolutionary War. The old bridge was replaced after the war with a stone arch bridge in 1798.
The bridge is on the King’s Highway, a crucial colonial roadway in the 18th and early 19th centuries. It’s also a site on the Kingston Mill Historic District, which also includes four nearby houses, the Greenland-Brinson-Gulick Farm, and a gristmill that’s powered by the Millstone River. Kingston Bridge is continually being used today with it’s originally measured roadway grade.
5. Skippack Bridge
The Skippack Bridge was built in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania way back in 1792. The Pennsylvania state government wanted a way to unite the western and eastern halves of the county, and hired three architects to design the project.
Stephen Lane, John Alman, and John Burke all decided on a reliable stone arch bridge, which would survive until 1935. Due to the instability of the aging bridge, Montgomery County decided to replace it altogether. The new structure is still called Skippack Bridge, and continues to serve its original purpose.
4. Choate Bridge
The Ipswich River in Massachusetts always had wooden bridges over it, but they all failed soon after being built and had to be made again hundreds of times. Colonel John Choate, the bridge’s namesake, decided that it was long since time to upgrade to a more permanent structure.
That was what led to the nation’s first two-span masonry arch bridge being built in 1764. It’s still open to traffic today, with an average of 26,250 vehicles using it daily.
Choate Bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places on August 21, 1972.
3. Sewall’s Bridge
This is a very historical bridge, and is named after Major Samuel Sewall Jr. who was the architect. The American Society of Civil Engineers has said that the bridge is, “the earliest pile-trestle bridge for which an authentic structure record exists, and the oldest for which the builder’s drawings survive”. It was finished in 1761.
Sewall’s Bridge had been standing in York, Maine for 173 years, but in 1934 was considered unsafe and was to be rebuilt. The state of Maine wanted it to be remade with concrete, but the townsfolk fought back and won. It was rebuilt using wood and looks nearly identical to the original one.
The bridge was dedicated as a historic civil engineering landmark on July 24, 1986.
2. Old Stone Arch Bridge
In 1730, the Old Stone Arch Bridge was built in Bound Brook, New Jersey. Nowadays, the remains of the bridge are semi-buried underground but believed to still be intact. A part of the south side parapet is all that can be seen of it.
It was once part of the Riparian Road, an important colonial roadway in the mid 1700’s. The Old Stone Arch Bridge was also the site of the Battle of Bound Brook in the American Revolutionary War on April 13, 1777.
The bridge was added to the US National Register of Historic Places on June 27, 2008, and there are plans to excavate it for archeological purposes.
1. Frankford Avenue Bridge
As the oldest surviving bridge in the United States, Frankford Avenue Bridge has a long history. Erected in 1697, this bridge has been carrying people over Pennypack Creek since before the US was even a country. It’s had many repairs throughout its lifetime, with the most prevalent occurring in 1893 and 2018.
Frankford Avenue Bridge was actually the first stone arch bridge built in the country. It was originally constructed by the residents of the Lower Dublin Township of the then-new city Holmesburg, Pennsylvania.
The purpose for the project was because William Penn wanted a path from his mansion to the town. King Charles II granted the land to him, and in turn William Penn dedicated it to the townsfolk to create the bridge for him. It was actually a part of one of the first highways in America, the King’s Road, spanning from Philadelphia to New York.
The bridge actually has four other names associated with it: Pennypack Bridge, Pennypack Creek Bridge, Holmesburg Bridge, and King’s Highway Bridge. It’s still open to traffic today, even though starting out the bridge was only 18 feet wide. It was stretched in 1893 to accommodate more traffic, and now stands at 37.1 feet across.