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The Swinging Bridge
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor
2022-08-02

Originally published on August 1, 2002

 

            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,

The original swinging bridge was built in the 1880's and was

primarily constructed to provide a crossing for youngsters

from the east bank of the Perkiomen Creek, to the Schwenk

School that was located on the opposite side.  It was washed

away during the flood of 1935.

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 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 & Knight Road.

           The original span was built in the 1880s and for years was the only one of its kind in Pennsylvania.  During it's more than 50 years of service to the region, the 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 and elements 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 9th, the bridge crumbled into the turbulent stream.

           There was no question that folks felt the bridge needed to be replaced. 

            In those days, there were three main obstacles to face during county bridge replacement projects.  First, you needed to obtain project approval and funding.  Second, the existing structure had to be demolished.  Third, build the replacement.

The Schwenk School was located off of modern day Knight's

Road near Markley Road in Upper Hanover Township.  It too,

was razed during the construction of the Green Lane Reservoir.

  Upper Hanover Township officials had previously appealed to the Montgomery County fathers to replace the bridge.  County engineers inspected the bridge before the flood and reported it unsafe.  They recommended that a new one be constructed at the site.  The county commissioners approved the funding for the project shortly after they reviewed the engineer's report, and the flood of '35 took care of the demolition.  Even so, it still took almost two years for construction to start. 

            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

The 1937 version of the swinging bridge swayed a little but

didn't swing like the original.  I succumbed to the construction

of the Green Lane Reservoir.

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 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 four billion gallons of water contained within the reservoir provide a challenging hiding place for many past treasures of the Perkiomen. 

            A few weeks back I traveled down Broomstick Road to Swinging Bridge Road to try and find the exact whereabouts of the bridge.  I parked the car and walked down the path that once was the continuation of the road.  When I came to the water's edge, I tried to find a hint of an old trail or markings.  Any hope of locating the exact spot of the crossing was lost beneath the expanse of deep water dammed up where the creek once flowed. 

            Looking across the reservoir, it was easy to imagine where the walking path might have linked up with the bridge, and eventually Knight Road.  Traveling back and looking over from Knight Road, near Markley Road, it was just as easy to picture weekend visitors to the bridge picnicking in the grass or cooling off in the Perkiomen. 

 

 


 

 

 

 

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