Ancient bridge marks its place in history

Pennypack Creek (aka Frank­ford Ave) Bridge, April, 2012 (Cour­tesy Fred Moore)


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. ••


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