You might ride over it daily and not know that Frankford Avenue’s bridge over the Pennypack Creek is of historical significance. It dates to 1697, and is the oldest roadway bridge in continuous use in the United States.
Late last month, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission approved a request for a historical marker. Such markers are familiar to Pennsylvania residents — they’re notable for their blue and gold lettering.
You might think the bridge deserves such a designation by virtue of its age, but there’s more to it than that, according to Karen Galle, coordinator of the commission’s historical-marker program.
A dozen criteria must be met, she said. A key one is that the eligible site must hold more than local interest; it must be of statewide or even national significance too.
Frankford Avenue’s Pennypack Creek Bridge easily fulfills that. Frankford Avenue, or Route 13, was known as Kings Highway during the early days of our nation. Many of the nation’s movers and shakers used it to get around as a key north/south route.
Galle said that Fred Moore, a local historian and president of the Holmesburg Civic Association, nominated the bridge for the historical marker.
Historians from throughout Pennsylvania reviewed the nomination and supporting documents in February. Their recommendations were forwarded to commission members for consideration during an April 23 meeting.
The commonwealth used to pay up to half the cost of the sign, Galle said, but no longer does that. It’s up to the nominator to raise the money. Galle works on the marker text, based on the nominator’s suggestions, and when an agreement is reached she’ll work with a manufacturer who creates just about all of the markers.
They cost about $1,800 each, she said.
Moore said on Monday that the costs will be covered by a $5,000 Vital Neighborhoods grant from the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia. The money will be used for the sign, its installation and an unveiling ceremony on a yet-to-be-determined date. Moore said that whatever money remains will help produce a brochure to detail a walking tour of Holmesburg.
Efforts to get a bridge marker go back years, Moore said, adding that he’d heard it was once denied because of modifications to the old structure.
That shouldn’t be a surprise, he said. The bridge, after all, is more than 300 years old.
It was widened to accommodate trolley traffic in 1893, Moore said, and the road bed has been raised.
The stone structure, which also benefited from the addition of some steel support plates in the late 19th century, was not built with Holmesburg granite, Moore said. There was a quarry nearby, but records show the bridge was erected with “found stone,” he said. It could have been from a quarry, he added, but it also could have been amassed from throughout the area. ••EndFragment