Milford, NJ – The Upper Black Eddy-Milford Toll-Supported Bridge’s three-span steel-truss superstructure is approaching its 90th anniversary, the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission (DRJTBC) announced today.
The bridge unceremoniously opened to traffic during a driving rain at noon on Saturday, January 13, 1934. The bridge was constructed by the McClintic-Marshall Co. of Bethlehem, PA. under an $89,970 low-bid contract approved in March 1933 by the former Joint Commission for Elimination of Toll Bridges – Pennsylvania-New Jersey (“the Joint Commission”). Construction began roughly 3-1/2 years after the October 1929 stock market crash that triggered the Great Depression.
The bridge crossing at that time was owned jointly by New Jersey and Pennsylvania, with the Joint Commission – the predecessor agency to today’s DRJTBC – operating and maintaining the structure on behalf of the two states. The states covered the Joint Commission’s operating costs by annually subsidizing it with equal shares of tax proceeds. The bridge’s 1933-34 construction project was similarly funded 50-50 by the two states.
The bridge construction was carried out over a 222-day period between June 1933 and January 1934. The result: the three-span steel Warren through-truss with polygonal top chords superstructure that remains in service to this day. The structure, which also had a concrete-filled-steel-grid road surface, was constructed atop the recapped stone piers and abutments that previously supported a wooden covered bridge originally built in the mid-19th century.
The riveted steel-truss replacement bridge was designed by Joint Commission engineer Edwin W. Denzler, a World War I veteran who later became the Bridge Commission’s chief engineer. It is one of five Denzler-designed river bridges. The others are at Centre Bridge-Stockton (1927), Lower Trenton (1928-29), Uhlerstown-Frenchtown (1931), and Easton-Phillipsburg (1938).
Two unfortunate incidents occurred during the bridge’s erection:
On August 25, 1933, continuous drenching rains throughout the Delaware River watershed caused the river to rise to its highest level since the destructive “Pumpkin Flood” of 1903. The 1933 flooding carried away false works that had been installed for constructing the new Upper Black Eddy-Milford bridge’s center span. The flooding set back the project schedule by a month.
On Sept. 21, 1933, a construction worker drowned. Joint Commission meeting minutes state the worker “either slipped, was blown off, or possibly knocked off the steel work and fell into the river.” The body of the worker, Alphonse “Little Frenchy” Bucher of Cohoes, N.Y., was found floating downstream five days later by John A. Stocker, a Frenchtown fisherman.
The construction of the current-day Upper Black Eddy-Milford bridge was the last major project to be carried out by the former Joint Commission. The bridge’s travel configuration upon completion in 1934 was the same as it is today: single travel lanes in each direction and a walkway on the upstream side.
Timeline of DRJTBC Control of Steel Bridge
The former Joint Commission for Elimination of Toll Bridges was disbanded in late 1934 and replaced by a newly constituted Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission (“DRJTBC”). The DRJTBC immediately assumed the old Joint Commission’s role of operating and maintaining the bridge with annual equal shares of tax funds from New Jersey and Pennsylvania. This service arrangement continued for more than 52 years.
On July 1, 1987, the two states conveyed the bridge’s ownership outright to the DRJTBC. The DRJTBC has since operated and maintained the bridge with a share of the proceeds annually collected at the agency’s toll bridges. This is the reason why the Commission now officially refers to this river crossing as the Upper Black Eddy-Milford Toll-Supported Bridge.
Outside of minor damage to bridge railings, approach sidewalks and a section of the New Jersey abutment’s wingwall, the bridge fared well in the historic 1955 river flood. The bridge was closed only three days – from August 19 to 22 of that year. The river crested at a point slightly below the bridge’s roadway surface on August 20, 1955 – the highest recorded river level at the bridge to this day.
The bridge’s original concrete-filled steel-grid roadway lasted 77 years. It was replaced during a comprehensive 2011 rehabilitation project involving a four-month-long shutdown of the bridge to vehicular and pedestrian traffic. The rehabilitation also involved installations of new steel beams and stringers, a new pedestrian walkway and railings, substructure repairs, new roadway and walkway lighting, removal of lead-based paint, and the application of cold-cured epoxy paint.
The bridge now ranks as the ninth oldest structure in the Bridge Commission’s 20-bridge system. The bridge carried 313,342 vehicles in its first full year of operation in 1935. The traffic total for the most recent available year – 2022 – was 1,252,495 vehicles. The bridge remains one of the strongest truss structures in the Commission’s system; it does not have a posted weight restriction.
Wooden Bridge Preceded the Steel Bridge
Prior to the1933-34 construction of the current steel bridge, a wooden covered bridge spanned the river between Upper Black Eddy and Milford for roughly 91 years.
In June 1932, Joint Commission engineers determined the venerable wooden bridge’s condition was deteriorating to such a degree that it should be replaced by a steel structure. The two states subsequently provided funds to the Joint Commission to replace the bridge. The aging wooden structure was taken out of service on June 5, 1933, allowing for it to be dismantled and the steel bridge to be constructed in its place.
Only two other wooden-covered bridges remained in operation along the river at that time. One was upriver between Portland, PA. and the Columbia section of Knowlton Twp., N.J. The other was downstream between the Lumberville section of Solebury Twp., PA. and the Raven Rock section of Delaware Twp., N.J. (Note: the bridge at Lumberville-Raven Rock had a single steel-truss span that was installed after one of the bridge’s wooden spans was destroyed in the 1903 Pumpkin Flood.)
Wooden Bridge’s History
The prior wooden covered bridge at Upper Black Eddy-Milford had been constructed for the former Milford Delaware Bridge Company, a local shareholder-owned concern chartered under legislation enacted by New Jersey on March 8, 1836 and by Pennsylvania on June 24, 1839.
The state laws creating the bridge company named 20 individuals – 10 from each state – to sell stock shares and empanel a president and managers to build a bridge and operate it. Among the most prominent men the states appointed to create the company was a Bucks County, PA. miller named Henry S. Stover. This was the first of three 19th century bridge companies in which Stover was legislatively named as a founding stock-selling official.
Stover also figured in the 1841 creation of the Alexandria Delaware Bridge Company, which constructed a wooden covered toll bridge that opened between what’s now Uhlerstown, PA. and Frenchtown, N.J. in 1844. Stover later played a role in the 1853 establishment of the Point Pleasant Delaware Bridge Company, which constructed a wooden covered toll bridge that opened between the Point Pleasant section of Tinicum Township, PA. and the Byram section of Kingwood Twp., N.J. in 1855.
The Milford Delaware Bridge Company completed and opened its three-span covered wooden Burr-arch bridge as a privately tolled crossing on January 29, 1842. The wooden bridge had separated cartways in each direction, giving the structure a double-barreled-shotgun appearance. It did not have a walkway.
Tolls were charged for crossings in either direction and were applied to everything that moved, including animal-powered carts and buggies, pedestrians, and livestock. The state laws establishing the bridge company provided toll exemptions for “all persons going to or from meeting or church, and children going to or returning from school.”
The span on the bridge’s New Jersey side was destroyed during the Pumpkin Flood of October 1903. The Milford Delaware Bridge Co. replaced the missing span using timbers salvaged from the former wooden Riegelsville Bridge, which was destroyed by the 1903 flood.
The post-flood-repaired wooden Milford Bridge remained in service as a private toll bridge until June 28, 1929, when New Jersey and Pennsylvania jointly acquired the crossing in a purchase arranged by the former Joint Commission, which immediately freed the bridge of tolls.
Levi Headman Incident
On August 24, 1931, a Joint Commission bridge guard named Levi Headman was on duty at the wooden bridge when he was run over and crushed in a hit-and-run incident. Headman, who resided in Upper Black Eddy, worked as a barber in nearby Frenchtown during the day and as a bridge guard during the night. He was 60 years old.
An August 26 article in the Morning Call of Allentown, PA. stated Headman was walking across the bridge around 8 p.m. when he observed a truck crossing the bridge and failing to comply with posted regulations. Headman apparently attempted to stop the truck, but the driver failed to heed Headman’s warnings and drove the vehicle over the length of Headman’s body. The truck struck a section of the bridge’s structural timbers, prompting the driver to dislodge the vehicle by backing up.
According to Joint Commission meeting minutes, Headman’s injuries were so serious that he died the same night. Headman was declared dead at an Easton hospital. The Morning Call said Headman “was crushed from head to foot. His face was battered, his collar bone and shoulder blade were fractured, 10 ribs on the right side were fractured, his left arm was broken, and he was a mass of cuts and bruises.”
A Milford man witnessed the incident and relayed the truck’s license plate to police. Within a few hours, police tracked down the truck’s owner, who said he had loaned the vehicle to Alvin McEntee, a Bridgeton Township lumberjack. Police proceeded to McEntee’s home – a shack in a swampy section of Erwinna – where he reportedly attempted to evade capture before being arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter and failure to stop and render assistance.
The Morning Call reported that the State Police were able to determine that McEntee had consumed alcohol that evening, but they couldn’t firmly establish if he were intoxicated when driving the truck. Police later revealed that McEntee had been charged in May 1931 with driving while intoxicated and involuntary manslaughter after McEntee drove a vehicle into a utility pole near Pipersville, PA., killing a passenger.
In late September 1931, a Bucks County jury convicted McEntee of manslaughter for causing Headman’s death. Levi Headman’s final resting place is Upper Tinicum Cemetery in Bucks County; an obituary could not be found.
Headman was the second Joint Commission bridge guard to be killed in the line of duty at a bridge. The first was William Masten of Lambertville, N.J., who died after being struck by a passing car while directing traffic at the New Hope-Lambertville Bridge in August 1921.