A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

History: Matawan Creek Bridge (1915)

Profile and cross section of the proposed new Strauss Bascule Drawbridge over Matawan Creek.

On the occasion of the construction of a new bridge over Matawan Creek by the Monmouth County freeholders, the 22 Apr 1915 edition of The Matawan Journal discussed the history of transit over Matawan Creek between Matawan Point and Keyport and provided details about the then-current bridge project.


The location over Matawan Creek, at which point the new bridge to be constructed by the Board of Chosen Freeholders of Monmouth County is to be placed, has been used as a crossing point for a very long time. It is understood that the Indians which inhabited this section of our county, were the first to use it in order to reach their brethren at Chingarora Point from Matawan Point.

Long after the Indians had been driven out a raft was used to transport persons from one side to the other. Along about the year 1854, the late John K. Kuhns, Cliffwood, started a ferry by which he could transport wagons and persons across the stream. This mode of transfer was in effect for a number of years, as the owners of the vessels sailing in and out of Matawan on Middletown Point Creek were successful in fighting off the efforts of the people of Keyport in having a charter granted for a pay drawbridge.

Keyport-Cliffwood Direct

The boatmen were aided in their efforts to hold up the charter by the merchants of then Middletown Point, now Matawan, as all wagon traffic was compelled to make the long drive around Matawan to Keyport via what is known as the P. V. Heyer farm at the upper end of Matawan Creek, at which place was the only bridge at that time.

At first when the question of a bridge was agitated, the owners of the sailing vessels, aided by the merchants of Middletown Point, were powerful enough to defeat legislation which would permit the construction of the bridge for a number of years. About the year 1858 the late Joseph Rose, who had moved from New York to the farm known as the Rose farm and who frequently went to New York City by boat from Keyport, became interested in the proposition and created such a sentiment for the building of the bridge that the "bridge party" were successful in electing members to the Senate and House from this county, who had a law enacted empowering the company to build a bridge and charge toll. This was in 1857.

Charged Tolls Then

The bridge, as a toll bridge, was maintained for a number of years and up until the county purchased it from the company and made it a free or county bridge.

The first bridge built was constructed of wood, and lasted until the year 1888 when it was replaced by the present iron bridge at a cost of about $19,000. At the time the trolley road was extended to South Amboy, an enlargement was made by the county, whereby the trolley company was permitted to use the bridge in connection with the county. As the iron bridge, when built, was not meant to carry the traffic to which it was then subjected, it soon began to show the strain which it was compelled to carry, and it has been necessary to do considerable work on the bridge to keep it in condition for use. For the use of the bridge the trolley company pays one-half the operating expenses, repairs and the cost of any new structures which the Board of Freeholders felt it necessary to erect.

Trolley Shared It

Several months ago the Board decided to replace tho present bridge with a new and modern structure, and the designers of what is known as Bascule, or "Jack Knife" bridge were requested to submit plans, specifications, and approximate prices for a new bridge.

Among the proposals submitted was one from the Strauss Bascule Trunnion Bridge Company, of Chicago, Ill. After the Board of Freeholders and the representatives of the Jersey Central Traction Company had gone over the various plans of bridges submitted by the competitors, it was the unanimous conclusion of the Board and the trolley company that the Strauss Bascule Trunnion Bridge was superior to any other style or type submitted, and a contract was made with this company to furnish the plans and specifications for same.

The preliminary drawings were completed and the specifications outlined, when it became necessary for the County Engineer to go to Chicago to go over same in conjunction with the Chief Engineer of the Strauss Bridge Company. The work of checking up the plans and specifications was done last week by the County Engineer, and we have been able to obtain the following facts in connection therewith.

Shift Location

The new bridge will be located directly along the present structure on.the southwest side of same. It will have a thirty foot roadway with a street car track in the center and will be built for traffic and in the most substantial manner. The trunnion pin will be 10 1/4 inches in diameter. The bridge will consist of three stationary spans, each about seventy feet long, and in addition a double leaf bascule span of the Strauss type, which will give a clear unobstructed channel for navigation of fifty feet. This type of "Jack-knife" or "bascule" bridge is recognized throughout the country as the best form of movable bridge and it is remarkable for its speed of operation, because it affords the best possible conditions for shipping and because the bridge itself acts as the most efficient safety gates for the roadway traffic, the leaves of the bascule span, closing up the roadways entirely when the bridge is partly or fully open. There are a1ready twelve of these bridges built for neighboring counties within the State of New Jersey.

Bascule Or Jack-knife

The characteristic feature of this particular type of lift bridge is the counterweights which balance the two leaves in the same manner as the ordinary railroad crossing rate is balanced. These counterweights are of concrete, are suspended as a pendulum from a rear extension of the carrying girder but, of course, these counterweights will not be seen, since they are below the bridge floor and confined entirely between the girders of the adjacent approach spans.

Altogether the appearance of the lift span will be very much the same as of a small plate girder arch, and it will be noted from the appended cut that the appearance of the structure will be very pleasng. That the structure is no small affair will be understood from the fact that each of the above mentioned counterweights will have a weight of more than 100,000 pounds.

The bridge will be operated by electricity by an operator stationed in the operator's cabin on one side of the bridge and all the latest safety devices will be employed in the electrical and machinery equipment of the bridge.

The bridge is being designed by The Strauss Basou1e Bridge Company of Chicago, which are specialists in this class of work, and tenders will probably be asked within a month or so.

The Quantities as estimated by the engineer are as follows:

Structural Steel, Gullace and Anchorage
Bascule span           100,500
Fixed span               235,800 lb

Cast shoes                   1,000
Trunnion and pins        3,000
Trunnion bearings,
   sleeves, etc               4,000
Operating and lock
    machinery              12,000
Counterweight, 50 cu. yds.
    concrete               200,000
Reinforcing basis         800
Electrical equipment:
    2714 hp. operating motors
Plant flooring about   33,000 ft
Operator's house, machinery,
     enclosures, navigation
     signals, etc               5,000
Trolley poles, wires
     and pins                  14,300
Substructure Excavation   150 cu. yds
Cofferdams, as needed
     concrete                       100 cu. yds
Reinforcing steel               1,000 1bs
Piling from 65 to 90 ft.         112 pts
Fender piles                           45 pcs
Timber in fenders,
    about                             6,000 ft

The whole machinery will be operated from the operator house, which shows in the cut.

The hand or guard rail will be 2 1/2 inch galvanized iron with globe fittings, and will give the structure a neat appearance.

Cost To Be $40,000

Because of the slight change in the location of the bridge about 10 feet south of the present structure, it will be necessary to straighten the road on both sides of the bridge, and the procuring of the necessary land, and permissions are now under way. It will take all the summer to put in the sub-structure, and the draw will probably be placed next winter when the creek is frozen, and navigation closed as it will be impossible to swing the present draw when the new one is being erected. It is estimated that the total cost of the structure will be about $40,000. When the lift is up it is a positive barrier to any vehicle which might, with the old style bridge, force its way into the creek as did the automobile on the Passaic Bridge recently, in which accident four persons were drowned.


Bids to provide all labor, tools and materials for the construction of the bridge were to be submitted to the freeholders by 8 Sep 1915, according to a notice in the 2 Sep 1915 edition of The Matawan Journal (pg 3 col 5).

The bids appeared in the 9 Sep 1915 edition of The Matawan Journal (pg 1 col 5). A decision was postponed until 16 Sep 1915.

The 9 Sep 1915 article named the road where the bridge would be built as the Keyport-South Amboy road. It would be part of Route 4 when the latter was established by the Egan Bill in 1916, and in 1927 would become part of today's Route 35, established by Chapter 319 of New Jersey public law. (See Wikipedia's History of state highways in New Jersey before 1927 and 1927 New Jersey state highway renumbering.)

The bridge could have been part of a statewide plan to improve the roads system in New Jersey and certainly made a longer highway possible, whatever the intentions. Turnpikes between Middletown and Keyport, founded in the 1850s, would have stopped at Keyport because of the inadequate crossing at Matawan creek. The wooden bridge would have been inadequate, and the iron bridge, built in 1888 and replaced in 1916, was not built to sustain turnpike traffic.

The 16 Sep 1915 edition of The Matawan Journal (pg 1 col 5) reported that the bridge over Matawan Creek failed on 12 Sep 1915 and was closed to both automobiles and trolley traffic. There was some debate whether the bridge would be closed until the new bridge could be built or if some temporary solution could be found. This article identified the bridge as a drawbridge between Cliffwood and Keyport.


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