A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

History: County Bridge to Cross Raritan River at the Amboys (1902)

The 1 May 1902 edition of The Matawan Journal (pg 4) announced that US Senator John Kean had recently presented the War Department with a plan for a bridge to be built across the Raritan River between South Amboy and Perth Amboy in Middlesex County. The bridge was to be built by the county for $150,000. The project required the approval of the War Department, the predecessor of today's Defense Department.

Completed in 1906, the County Bridge was the first vehicular bridge to span the Raritan River at Perth Amboy, according to a report on its replacement, the Victory Bridge (State Bridge No 1223-150).

The National Park Service describes the County Bridge in its Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) No NJ-120 (see below):

The first vehicular bridge across the Raritan River at Perth Amboy was the County Bridge, opened to traffic on June 18, 1906. This bridge consisted of a steel draw span, a steel cantilever span, and a steel fixed span, each resting on concrete abutments. It extended across the river from the foot of Sheridan Street. The draw span, a Parker truss, measured 288 feet 4 inches long. The bridge approaches were laid on 168 timber bents (State Highway Engineer 1928:72).

The opening of the County Bridge was celebrated by a ceremony in which dignitaries boasted that its completion marked the union of North and South Jersey. The blowing of factory whistles and the rush of hundreds of pedestrians and vehicles highlighted its opening day. The bridge's dedication was marred by a slight mishap chronicled in the Perth Amboy Evening News:

"It had been planned to have the mayors of the two Amboys meet in the center of the draw and greet each other, but as the crowd choked the structure, the locks were seen to be working improperly and the throngs were ordered from the draw. ..where they waited within ten minutes of an hour, while those in charge endeavored to mend matters. The sudden heavy weight when the draw first swung to, probably had much to do with throwing the draw off center, it was stated.

"As the draw was finally swung for the second time after the crowds had waited almost an hour to recross, a thick plank on the bottom of the railing on the southerly side where the draw touches, was caught and split its entire length of almost twelve feet. This made those who had crowded out beyond the safety gates run and clamber for safety.

"As they heard the rending of the woodwork those who could not see the source were filled with fears that some of the structure was giving way.... (Anonymous 1906)."

{Ed: The 21 Jun 1906 edition of The Matawan Journal, which referred to it as the Amboy bridge, reported 500 people attended the event. The crowd rushed onto the draw before it had been properly locked, causing an hour's delay in the proceedings, according to The Journal, which also noted that Justice Fort had dismissed an injunction so that the opening of the bridge could take place.}

Almost from the time of its opening, the County Bridge was derided as a "white elephant." In a County Board of Freeholders meeting on April 6, 1916, Freeholder Alfred T. Kerr of South Amboy urged the construction of a new bridge using the existing draw span but with approaches rebuilt in steel. He predicted that the existing bridge would be unfit for traffic within five years. Another freeholder, William S. Dey, also of South Amboy, agreed that the bridge was in need of replacement but suggested that the new bridge be of concrete construction.

In 1919, as a precursor to funding of a new bridge, Senator Thomas Brown of Perth Amboy introduced legislation in the Senate to authorize the state to take over the existing bridge. At a December 1920 meeting of the State Highway Commission it was announced that a definite location for the proposed new bridge had been determined.

This announcement raised opposition from some Perth Amboy residents. Hearings were held concerning the proposed bridge location, the placing of city water mains on the bridge, and provisions for trolley tracks. As a result of these hearings, bridge planners decided that the north bridge approach would extend south from the intersection of Convery Place and Smith Street. Planners also agreed to include trolley tracks on the bridge. The latter decision became moot when the Jersey Central Traction Company, operators of the trolley system in the city, ceased operation (Anonymous 1953). 


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