The Delaware River Covered Bridge Network (1814-1945)
The first wooden covered bridges built in Bucks County bore little resemblance to the dozen that exists today. In January 1806, Theodore Burr’s Lower Trenton or Decatur Street opened for business. The wooden bridge extended for more than 1,000 feet between Morrisville (the recent home of Founding Father Robert Morris) and Trenton.
Burr’s bridge was the second-known covered bridge built in the United States, after Timothy Palmer’s Permanent Covered Bridge in Philadelphia. The bridge’s owners collected tolls from anyone who used it - a practice that would go into effect for 10 other privately owned Delaware River bridges in Bucks County built before the Civil War. Lewis Wernwag’s New Hope-Lambertville bridge, completed in 1814 for the New Hope Delaware Bridge Company, rivaled Burr’s bridge is size and complexity; it contained six spans and was 50 feet longer than Burr’s bridge.
Soon, other private companies built long covered bridges that replaced ferry service on the Delaware River and also connected the Delaware River Division of the Pennsylvania Canal. Bridges built during the 1830s and 1840s in Center Bridge, Taylorsville (now Washington’s Crossing), Frenchtown, and Yardleyville also tied into the canal and road systems in Bucks County. At least one bridge, the Center Bridge-Stockton Bridge, used the innovative lattice design invented by architect Ithiel Town, which would later be used for most Bucks County covered bridges.
During their existence, the long wooden bridges over the Delaware River faced threats from historic floods in 1842 and 1862. The Lower Trenton Bridge was the first to be replaced with a metal structure. Two other bridges, in Upper Trenton and Point Pleasant, were lost to fires. The Great Pumpkin Flood, or Freshet, of October 10, 1903, and October 11, 1903, destroyed the great wooden covered bridges at Riegelsville, New Hope, Washington's Crossing, and Yardley.
At that point, Pennsylvania and New Jersey set up a joint bridge commission to regulate the Delaware River bridges, and in 1919, the commission began the process of buying the bridges and converting them into toll-free steel structures. In 1945, government officials declared the Lumberville covered bridge unsafe and closed the bridge, officially ending the Delaware River covered bridge era in Bucks County.