Roebling Bridge: Historic Delaware River Structure Made of Eastern White Pine

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One of the Northeast’s most curious wooden structures, the Roebling Bridge, represents a fun slice of Eastern White Pine history that still stands today. Engineered by John A. Roebling, who’s most famous for designing the Brooklyn Bridge, it was built in 1847 and has changed form several times since. The bridge now belongs to the National Park Service and is part of the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River.

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In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Delaware River was used to float timber down to shipyards and industries in Trenton, New Jersey and Philadelphia, but the timbers tended to bottleneck at a rope ferry crossing in Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania, causing collisions. Roebling’s design, created in collaboration with Russell F. Lord, substituted two aqueducts for the original rope ferry using three locks, which raised the canal enough to allow the passage of ice floes and river traffic. The wooden elements were all made of Eastern White Pine.

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The canal closed to traffic in 1898, and the aqueduct was drained and converted into a vehicular bridge, first for wagons and later for motor vehicles. The tow paths and wooden trunk walls were sawn off, a pedestrian walkway was created and a toll house was built on the New York end. Poorly maintained, the structure fell into disrepair over time, and the protective icebreakers that once gave the bridge such an iconic look were destroyed.

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ice breaker

When the National Park Service took it over in 1980, they reconstructed the bridge using Roebling’s original plans, drawings, notes and specifications, reusing all of the aqueduct’s original ironwork. New wooden ice breakers, towpaths and aqueduct walls went up in 1995 and today, the bridge looks much like it did back in the 1800s. It’s now a National Historic Landmark.

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