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Iron Bridge Lane Bridge

Iron Bridge Lane Bridge

Primary Photographer(s): Nathan Holth

Bridge Documented: August 1, 2010

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Facility Carried / Feature Intersected
Iron Bridge Lane Over Bull Creek
Rural: Allegheny County, Pennsylvania: United States
Construction Date and Builder / Engineer
1878 By Builder/Contractor: Morse Bridge Company of Youngstown, Ohio
Rehabilitation Date
Not Available or Not Applicable
Main Span Length
54.0 Feet (16.5 Meters)
Structure Length
54.0 Feet (16.5 Meters)
Roadway Width
13.5 Feet (4.11 Meters)
1 Main Span(s)
Inventory Number
Not Applicable

Historic Significance Rating (HSR)
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Bridge Documentation

This six panel truss bridge has a plaque on it saying that it was built in 1878 by the Morse Bridge Company. Normally plaques are to be believed, but stylistically, this bridge does not look like it was built in 1878, it looks more like a bridge from the late 1880s or the 1890s. It is traditionally composed. The verticals are composed of two pairs of angles with lattice, the top chord and end post is back-to-back channels with cover plate and battens. The diagonal members and bottom chord are perhaps the only unusual detail because the up-set eyebars have eyes that are more oval-shaped than circular, which is unusual. In 1878 most companies were still experimenting a lot and so bridges usually had some off details that would not be found in later bridges. Further, the Morse Bridge Company was a company that was anything but normal. They seem to have had a nearly infinite variety of aesthetic treatments which could be incorporated into their bridges; they never stuck with one particular design. This pony truss however does not have any decorations.

Assuming the plaque is correct however, this bridge should be considered extremely significant since it would represent an extremely early example of a bridge that follows the general standardized design that became the norm by the 1890s. This bridge thus would would be very ahead of its time. The bridge would also be extremely significant as not only one of the earliest remaining Morse Bridge Company Bridges, but it also would have been built in the very first year of the company's operation.

History of Morse Bridge Company From Historic American Engineering Record

The Speicher Bridge brought Berks County in contact with Henry G. Morse (1850-1903), an important late l9th-century businessman. Morse and his brother, C. J. Morse, formed their firm in January 1878. Thus the firm was in business only a few weeks before receiving the Berks County contract.

The company employed 100 workers to fabricate "all classes of iron bridges, roofs, and boilers." A contemporary noted large derricks by which "the heaviest bridge girders" were loaded for shipment on one of the two railroads serving the plant "by which they ship direct by every railroad" entering Youngstown.

This description placed Morse Bridge Company in the company of typical mid-19th-century metal bridge building firms formed to build the first generation of metal bridges. The virtue such firms possessed for customers such as the Berks County Commissioners was that they were "equipped to execute a complete construction job." The county could expect Morse to produce "a finished bridge ready for traffic."

In 1878, 28-year-old Henry G. Morse was in the early years of an important career. He had graduated from Rensselaer Institute of Technology in 1871 as a Civil Engineer. From that time until 1873 he worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad. For the next four years he was an engineer for the Wrought Iron Bridge Company, Canton, Ohio. This training placed him in the company of experienced engineers who rapidly mastered or improved metal bridge design between 1850 and 1880.

Nine years later, in 1887, Morse left his Youngstown firm to become president of Wilmington, Delaware's Edgemoor Bridge Works. In 1896 he began a brief two-year tenure as president of the Harlan and Hollingsworth shipbuilding firm in Wilmington Perhaps his most important activities occurred between 1896 and his premature 1903 desth in J. P. Morgan's office. Contemporaries believed he left Rarlan sud Hollingsworth despite "reorganizing it and placing it on a successful basis" because of "a difficulty" over his stock demands. He resolved to form his own company to build "the most modern shipbuilding plant in the world."

Morse succeeded. He built in Camden, New Jersey, s shipyard the author of his obituary termed "the finest shipbuilding plant in existence." That claim is difficult to evaluate, but the firm was important enough to be "a thorn in the flesh of the new shipping combine." Morse's aggressiveness and quality workmanship were graphically illustrated shortly before his death. He successfully lobbied with the White House and Navy Department to give him a contract for two cruisers originally awarded to William Cramp and Sons Ship and Engine Company. Morse persuaded President Roosevelt his bids were lower, "all things considered."

Apparently he planned to build a completely integrated shipbuilding plant similar to the type of installation Ford later created at the Rouge plant. He hoped to become "entirely independent" of outside suppliers. His contemporaries feared the facility Morse planned; the "shipbuilders" pool offered him $50,000 to refuse to bid on a job. Morse's fatal stroke occurred in Morgan's office because the financier was in 1903 seeking an "alliance" between Morse and other shipbuilding firms.

Morse's early death probably robbed him of a major role in early 20th-century business history. As it was, his career reflected themes prominent in late l9th-century American business history. He deserves more study than he has received.

For Berks County, Pennsylvania, Morse's importance was that he provided its citizens an "ordinary iron highway bridge." The Speicher Bridge incorporated most of the advances metal bridge technology experienced during the mid-19th century. This product of the young engineer's shop served residents for almost a century.

View the Historic American Engineering Page From Which This Excerpt Was Taken


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Maps and Links: Iron Bridge Lane Bridge

This bridge is privately owned but is right next to a public road and so can be easilly seen by the public.

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