This incredible historic bridge was constructed as a double-deck bridge which was designed to carry vehicular traffic on the lower deck and streetcars on the upper deck. However, a streetcar line that was anticipated when this bridge was constructed was never actually built. The double-deck design is why the bridge has the uncommon vertical end posts. The double-deck design of the bridge also resulted in this bridge having very massive members for its age, a factor that has likely allowed this bridge to remain a very strong and functional bridge into the 21st Century, alongside good maintenance and preservation on the part of the city of Philadelphia. Given the bridge was built to carry loads it never actually had to carry, this may also be why the bridge retains excellent historic integrity of materials and design, with no major alterations noted, again this integrity also the result of maintenance and preservation efforts of Philadelphia.
The bridge is an ornate structure, with decorative knees on the sway and portal bracing, as well as very decorative railings with a Tree of Life design to them and ornate cast posts at the ends of the railing system, which extends beyond the bridge onto the abutments. The complex (and uncommon) pin-connected Baltimore truss configuration on the bridge serves a utilitarian purpose, but also adds to the complexity and the geometric beauty of this bridge. The experience of crossing this bridge is very dramatic with a strong "tunnel effect" experience.
As mentioned, the historic integrity of this bridge is good. However there is one exception, that while minor to the overall bridge's integrity, is still worth noting. The bridge originally had a unique patented roller bearing nests that were patented by George S. Morison of Chicago, IL. These have been replaced. Also, the plaques on the bridge are not original and apparently date to 1975. Several panels of the railing on the bridge have been replaced, but these were replaced in-kind.
The bridge was originally painted in a multi-color paint scheme. Historic American Engineering Record mentions this was a common tradition in the 19th Century, and was done to distinguish the different structural functions by a different color. The Falls Bridge's colors were white, buff, brown and red. Color schemes with multiple colors can really bring out the beauty in a historic bridge, but unfortunately the use of multi-color paint schemes on bridges is virtually unheard of in North America, although it remains more common in some European locations particularly England. A discussion of this is presented on the Hammersmith Bridge page. For much of the 20th Century, the bridge was painted light green. It is today painted a white color. While the current white color of the bridge is very beautiful and really brings out the details in the bridge, it would be an interesting future preservation project to repaint the bridge in the original multi-color scheme.
The south end (sometimes referred to as the west end) of each span on this bridge is 2 feet 8 inches higher than the other end because the bridge is built with a 1.5% grade.
This is the sixth bridge at this location. The first wire suspension bridge in the country was erected here.
This bridge might be thought of as an older and more ornate version of the Foxburg Bridge.
Information and Findings From Pennsylvania's Historic Bridge Inventory
Discussion of Bridge
The 3 span, 566'-long, pin-connected, Baltimore thru truss bridge supported on stone piers and abutments was fabricated in 1895 as a 2-level deck truss bridge. It was to carry streetcars on one level and other conveyances on the other. The streetcar line was never developed, but the closely spaced, built-up floorbeams reflect the load-carrying capacity the bridge was intended to provide. The bridge is a unique example of the type and design. It is historically and technologically significant.
Discussion of Surrounding Area
The bridge carries a 2 lane road and sidewalks over the Schuylkill River in Fairmount Park, a National Register listed district. This section of the district is limited to the river. The bridge is not addressed in the 1972 nomination.
Bridge Considered Historic By Survey: Yes
This bridge is tagged with the following special condition(s): Double-Deck
Coordinates (Latitude, Longitude):
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