The Columbia- Wrightsville Bridge is nothing less than one of the most historically significant concrete bridges in the United States. The bridge was the longest multi-span concrete arch bridge in the world when built, and even today it at the very least remains among the longest examples. In addition to its jaw-dropping 28 arch spans each spanning an impressive 185 feet, an additional 20 approach spans (mostly curved t-beams) complete the bridge which is over a mile long in total length. Also, with a 48 foot wide out-to-out deck width containing a 38 foot roadway, this is also a fairly wide bridge for its age as well. The length of the bridge coupled with its width results in a bridge with a footprint of about eight acres! Aside from its size, the bridge is significant in other areas. Innovative methods were developed to construct this extraordinarily long bridge in both a short period of time and in a financially reasonable way. The bridge is located at a historic crossing and is the fifth crossing at the location. A sixth generation crossing carries US-30 traffic just north of the historic bridge, with the historic bridge continuing to carry a significant volume of local traffic between Columbia and Wrightsville. The historic Columbia - Wrightsville Bridge is also noteworthy for its very ornate design. The arches of the bridge have numerous decorative shapes and details incorporated into them, as do the railings on the bridge. There are also decorative light fixtures and even and electrical access panels for the lighting on the bridge are decoratively designed and appear to be made of bronze. The attention to detail is impressive There are even attractive curved benches that are concrete and are built right into the railing at the end of the bridge. The bridge demonstrates a great attention made to producing a bridge that is truly beautiful and architecturally sensible, a stark contrast to modern bridges built today. Indeed the simple and unadorned US-30 bridge visible just to the north of the historic bridge provides a good comparison.
The bridge's historic significance appears to have been recognized. The historic integrity of the bridge is excellent with surprisingly few alterations noted despite the size of the bridge and the volume of traffic it carries today, and likely has also carried in the past. The bridge appears to be well-maintained, enough so that it could be said that there appears to be a long-term preservation commitment to this bridge on the part of PennDOT, which is excellent to see. The bridge has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the east end of the bridge ends up in the Columbia National Historic District. The bridge has also been honored with the rare National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark award, which is given by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Very few historic bridges are able to achieve this recognition. As of 2022, this bridge is slated for a major rehabilitation.
Above: Photo of bridge in January 16, 2021 showing historical lighting replicas restored to bridge. Photo Credit: A. Elizabeth Watson, FAICP, Heritage Strategies, LLC
Information and Findings From Pennsylvania's Historic Bridge Inventory
Discussion of Bridge
The 48-span, open spandrel arched bridge is listed in the National Register. There has been no significant change in the bridge's status since the previous survey.
Discussion of Surrounding Area
The east end of the bridge is in the Columbia Historic District.
National Register Nomination Text
The Old Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge is an important, extremely long, open-spandrel arch bridge. When completed, this 48-span bridge, designed by James B. Long, was the longest multiple arch concrete bridge in the world. It consists of 28 arches across the river and 20 girder spans supporting the land approach. The river piers of unreinforced concrete carry 28 three-ribbed open spandrel reinforced concrete arches, each spanning 185 feet. The surface of the concrete segmental arches is scored to imitate voussoirs. The solid, incised parapet supports ornate light posts. Due to the length of this bridge a unique system was devised by the bridge engineers for its construction. It included reusable steel forms and a parallel construction railway. It was dedicated on Armistice Day, 1930, in memory of Lancaster and York County citizens who had served their nation in war. This concrete bridge is the fifth bridge located at this historic river crossing. Its predecessors included 3 covered bridges and a metal truss bridge. The site was served by its first covered bridge from 1812 to 1833, following years as a significant ferry crossing. Acreage of Nominated Property: Eight acres.
Bridge Considered Historic By Survey: Yes
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