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Bridge to Open on August 1
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor
2017-07-26

            That was the big news in the Town and Country newspaper on July 9, 1937.  With all of the recent and ongoing bridge construction in our area I thought be a good time to take a trip back 80 years ago, to 1937, when a bridge of different style and purpose was rebuilt and reopened to the public.

            The great flood of 1935 wreaked plenty of havoc on the Upper Perkiomen region.  The heavy rains caused one upper end dam to break, causing the next one downstream to breach, then the next, and the next.  As each dam gave way, the torrent of water increased and the damage brought about grew worse.  Farms, homes, businesses, and even local tourist sites were washed away.  One of the unique structures to perish in the flood was a cable suspension bridge in Upper Hanover Township known as the swinging bridge.  Built a half-century earlier to accommodate pedestrian traffic, it was primarily constructed to provide a crossing for youngsters from the east bank of the creek, to the Schwenk School that was located on the opposite side near the area of what we know today as Markley and Knight Roads. 

During it's more than 50 years of service to the region, the original bridge was in constant use.  In addition to the students, farmers enjoyed the convenience of the bridge and Red Hill Boy Scouts used it regularly to reach their cabin.  The bridge was a landmark too.  Folks traveled to the span just to picnic in the area and enjoy a trek across the wobbly, but sturdy expanse.

After a half century of service, the bridge became somewhat dilapidated and in disrepair.  Though still in use in 1935, the years had taken a toll and the local monument became weak.  The disastrous flood of that year tore apart buildings along the Perkiomen Creek.  The raging waters carried the debris downstream, stacking the load against the tired and worn span until the cables tore and the supports cracked.  At 9:30 on the morning of July 9, the bridge crumbled into the raging creek below it.

Work on the new bridge began on June 24, 1937.  Montgomery County Superintendent of Bridges C. O. Cooke headed up the project.  By August 13, less than two months later, the new suspension bridge was opened.  The design of the new bridge was strikingly similar to the old one.  The new structure was reported to be "unique in that it is the only suspension bridge of its kind in this section with the additional singularity of seeming old and outmoded while still thoroughly modern and practical."

The new 150-foot span was four feet wide, a shade more than the original.  It was suspended on either side of the stream between two steel towers anchored in concrete.  The old structure was held by four beams – with two on each side of the Perkiomen.  Both structures hovered about 15 feet above the low-water mark.  Nine steps took you from the platform to the walkway made of specially treated yellow pine.  The bridge was painted white and reflected beautifully in the water below.  The one-inch and seven-eighth inch steel cables, each containing 37 strands, that held the structure together were stronger than the original and didn't allow much of a swing, just a gentle sway. 

A comparison of the physical appearance of the two reinforces the fact that Montgomery County engineers relied on the design of the old bridge when laying out the new one.  The near replica was somewhat of a tribute to the early designers.  The span may have lost its swing, but it never lost the swinging bridge label.

            The remains of the bridge were buried when the Green Lane Dam was built in the mid-1950s.  The 4-billion gallons of water contained within the reservoir provide a challenging hiding place for many past treasures along the Perkiomen Creek.


 

 

 

 

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