This utterly spectacular bridge would stand out as an extremely ornate, beautiful and significant metal truss bridge if it were located even in the most truss-dense region in the country. However, located in a region that has relatively few historic metal truss bridges compared to surrounding regions and counties, this bridge's local rarity and importance cannot be understated. A contributing resource to the Milanville National Register Historic District, this bridge is also individually listed on the National Register of Historic Bridges, as well it should be. The bridge is historically and technologically significant. This bridge is an extremely rare example of a multi-span pin-connected Baltimore truss bridge. It is among the oldest known bridges associated with the American Bridge Company, having been built shortly after the company's formation. The bridge is also ornately decorated, including portal knee bracing decoration, portal cresting, decorative builder plaque. There are also original lattice railings that are 20 inches in height and which feature beautiful decorative flower motifs. This is to say nothing of the geometric beauty of the complex Baltimore truss configuration combined with the complexity of the riveted built-up beams that contain v-lacing and lattice. The complexities and decorations of the bridge are kept in balance by the very lightweight and unconstructive appearance of the bridge's trusses. Some of the largest elements on the bridge are the top chord and end posts, which measure approximately 14 inches wide and 10 inches deep. The current light grey paint color on the bridge compliments and enhances the overall aesthetics of the bridge, with the light color furthering the airy qualities of the bridge.
Although the bridge has received repairs and rehabilitations over its life, many of the alterations are sensitive to the original design of the bridge, and they do not affect the overall visual quality of the bridge. Alterations include minor welded repairs and replacements (most executed in a reasonably tasteful manner) and replacement of rivets with bolts on some areas of the bridge. Armco guardrails were added to the bridge, although the original lattice railings remain.
Although a considerable distance apart from each other, one cannot help but think of the historic Pond Eddy Bridge when looking at this bridge. Both Upper Delaware River bridges are rare examples of a subdivided Pratt truss design, both are pin-connected, both are two-span, and both are stunningly beautiful. Both of these bridges deserve a complete and full commitment to preservation on the part of PennDOT, the owner agency.
This webpage as well as this page describes the history of the bridge as well as the 1986 rehabilitation of the bridge as well as other restoration work which took place at that time. This resource also cites an out of print resource, Crossing the Delaware Via Toll Bridges (Narrowsburg: Delaware Valley Press, 1970, p. 15) as a good source for information. Much of the history of this bridge is derived from that publication.
The Skinners Falls Bridge was originally built to serve the needs of lumbering efforts in the area. There was a mill near the site built by Timothy Skinner and Simeon Calkins. Milton Skinner had operated a ferry in the area but decided a bridge would be better and he formed the Milanville Bridge Company and got a charter to build a bridge from New York State.
This bridge was built by the American Bridge Company of New York, New York, with construction apparently beginning in 1901, the date listed on the plaque. The bridge was completed in November 1902. The cost was $14,000. Because the American Bridge Company was formed in 1900, this makes the Skinners Falls Bridge one of the oldest remaining American Bridge Company bridges in existence. It also is one of the only bridges remaining built by the company before it became a subsidiary of US Steel in 1902.
This bridge had a rough start to its history, since in Spring 1904, icy floods picked up the New York span and carried it to near the location of Skinners Falls. According to Crossing the Delaware Via Toll Bridges, either Oswego Bridge Company or Horseheads Bridge Company who for $7000 "used the girders from the damaged section to make the repairs." The exact meaning of this statement is unclear: whether this was more of a repair or a replacement project. The $7000 cost is half the cost of the total construction two years earlier, so it suggests a substantial effort of some type. Either way, today, the two spans appear identical and no evidence of severe flood damage is notable on the trusses. Further, the bridge was apparently reopened fairly quickly, by Fall of 1904. The bridge's construction was initiated by the Milanville Bridge Company, who operated the bridge until 1922 when the Interstate Bridge Commission bought the bridge, with PennDOT, then the Pennsylvania Department of Highways, taking jurisdiction of the bridge. In 1936, the bridge became the full property of PennDOT.
Apparently, the bridge's plaque was taken or fell off of the bridge long ago and remained separated for the bridge for many years. Sometime, between 1972 and 1975 the plaque was discovered buried under several inches of dirt on a downstream property located about 500 feet from the bridge. It is not known how the plaque ended up there. Some people have suggested that when one of the spans was washed off the substructure that it might have broken off at that time. Whether true or not, this claim is not substantiated by any facts. Either way, the happy ending to the story is that in 1992 the bridge plaque was mounted back upon the bridge, after decades of bridge having no plaque at all. This effort was led by local residents as well as the Upper Delaware Heritage Alliance.
The bridge was extensively rehabilitated in 1986-1987, which appears to be the most recent major project. Details of the 1986/1987 rehabilitation are presented here. The intent of the rehabilitation was not to raise the nine ton weight limit present at the time, but to allow for this weight limit to be maintained.
Work included replacing some pins, strengthening of floor beams and stringers, replacement of guard rails. The wooden deck was replaced in kind and the bridge was also repainted. The project was completed during a single construction season. The rehabilitation was completed without any serious adverse effects to the historic bridge, meaning no drastic alterations were done.
By 2010, 23 years after the bridge was last painted or rehabilitated, the condition of the bridge had deteriorated. As such, PennDOT initiated "emergency repairs." The scope of work was as follows:
Proposed Scope of Work: The proposed scope of emergency repairs addresses severe deterioration and loss of material in the area of connection between the lower chord (eye bars) and the diagonal end post on the upstream Pennsylvania side of the truss. A concrete patch was applied to the area in the early 1970s to prevent further buckling of the member. Some of this concrete will be removed to fully access the failing portion of the member. An approximately 6" long section of the lower chord at the point of connection with the diagonal end post is deteriorated past a critical point. A 1/2" thick steel plate shaped to match the eye bar (lower chord) will be added to the inside face of the existing eye bars. The plate will either be welded or bolted to the existing eye bars. Any intact plates removed during repairs will be reset when the project is completed.
Given PennDOT's striking lack of historic bridge preservation elsewhere in Pennsylvania, it is wonderful to see PennDOT working to repair and maintain this historic bridge so it can continue to be functional and safe, while also maintaining the shear beauty and history of this bridge. HistoricBridges.org is happy to see this, and hopes that PennDOT will continue to support the continued preservation of this important resource. It is also worth noting that PennDOT designed the repairs to be respectful of the historic integrity of the bridge, such that the repairs do not have an adverse effect on the historic structure.
The 2010 project was described as "emergency repairs," which means that while the project has been beneficial in maintaining the function and safety of this historic bridge, it is still prudent to consider what the long-term future of this historic bridge is. HistoricBridges.org strongly hopes that PennDOT will continue to recognize the value of this bridge, as well as the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of preserving this bridge for the foreseeable future. Many engineers are often unaware that preserving historic bridges is more cost-effective than replacement. The key is to hire firms who know how to work with historic bridges, and also for the owner agency to commit to low-cost routine maintenance of the bridge following rehabilitation. PennDOT has already demonstrated an interest in ending its old habit of deferring maintenance and letting bridges deteriorate. While this interest has initially presented itself in PennDOT's wish to build new bridges with a 100 year bridge life, a similar attention to routine maintenance and repairs when applied to a newly rehabilitated historic bridge, would yield a similarly impressive post-rehabilitation service for the historic bridge.
Indeed, it is likely that the bridge would benefit from a rehabilitation sometime during the next decade. The bridge could be rehabilitated in a manner similar to what was done in 1986, which one might predict would yield perhaps another similar 25 years of faithful service, and perhaps longer with a more aggressive attention to maintenance. Alternatively, a full comprehensive rehabilitation/restoration project with the intention of returning the bridge to the quality and condition it was when first built early in the 20th Century, could offer 50-100+ years of service life. The work would be more extensive, perhaps requiring the careful dismantling of the bridge's parts to be restored in a shop setting. There, parts could be cleaned, repaired, and even replicated when needed. Shop work would include pad welding for section loss, riveting, hammering pack rust out, and heat straightening. These techniques might sound complicated and difficult, but are actually quite straightforward and very cost effective. Learn more about them here.
With the right attention and commitment, the Skinners Falls Bridge has a very bright and long future ahead of it.
Original / Full Size Photos
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Original / Full Size Photos
|A collection of detail photos that document the parts, construction, and condition of the bridge. This gallery offers photos in the highest available resolution and file size in a touch-friendly popup viewer. Alternatively, Browse Without Using Viewer|
Mobile Optimized Photos
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Mobile Optimized Photos
|A collection of detail photos that document the parts, construction, and condition of the bridge. This gallery features data-friendly, fast-loading photos in a touch-friendly popup viewer. Alternatively, Browse Without Using Viewer|
Crossing The Bridge From New York To Pennsylvania
Full Motion Video
|Streaming video of the bridge. Also includes a higher quality downloadable video for greater clarity or offline viewing.|
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