The Chesapeake City Bridge carries MD Route 213 over the C&D Canal in Chesapeake City, Maryland.
Chesapeake & Delaware Canal History
A survey of possible water routes across the Delmarva Peninsula was conducted in 1764 as a way to shorten the shipping distance by nearly 300 miles between Baltimore and Philadelphia. Such a canal would include 14 locks to connect the Elk River at Welch Point, Maryland and the Christina River in Delaware. Construction was halted in 1806 over a lack of funds. 3 4
The canal company was reorganized in 1822 and new surveys determined that more than $2 million in funding would be required to resume construction. 3 4 The states of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware purchased $175,000 in stock, while the federal government invested $450,000. The remainder was subscribed by the public.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provided two senior officers to help determine a canal route, advising a route with four locks extending from the Back Creek Branch of the Elk River in Maryland to Newbold’s Landing Harbor (today’s Delaware City) in Delaware. Canal construction resumed in April 1824 and the new Chesapeake & Delaware Canal opened to marine traffic in 1829 at the cost of $3.5 million. 2 3 4 The new 14-mile waterway featured a uniform depth of 10 feet and a width of 66 feet. Crossings of the canal included a covered bridge at Summit and three wooden swing bridges.
The advent of larger and deeper-draft vessels could not pass through the restricting locks by the turn of the 20th century. 3 4 Coupled with the advent of the New Castle & Frenchtown Railroad, traffic along the canal began to decline which brought a downward trend in profits for the canal operators who gave little thought to enlarging and deepening the canal until President Theodore Roosevelt appointed a commission in 1906 to report on the feasibility of converting the canal into a larger—and free waterway.
The Chesapeake & Delaware Canal was acquired by the federal government for $2.5 million, which included six bridges plus a railroad crossing owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad. 3 Responsibility for operating and maintaining the canal was assigned to the Corps Wilmington District.
Work to convert the canal into a sea-level operation began in the mid-1920s with a projected cost of $10 million. 3 4 It included relocating the eastern entrance of the canal to Reedy Point, Delaware, adding two stone jetties at Reedy Point, removing all of the locks, deepening and enlarging the canal, and replacing all of the bridges with five vertical lift spans. The new canal, with a uniform depth of 12 feet and a width of 90 feet, opened in May 1927.
Even after the new sea-level canal opened, plans were already underway for further expansion as the sizes of ships that flowed through continued to increase. The Philadelphia District took over operation of the canal in 1933, and between 1935 and 1938, the canal was enlarged to a uniform depth of 27 feet and a width of 250 feet at the cost of $13 million. 3 4 The project also included expanding the federal navigation channel in the Upper Chesapeake Bay for 26 miles from the Elk River to Pooles Island to a depth of 27 feet and a width of 400 feet.
The dramatic growth in traffic along the C&D Canal soon outpaced capacity, with accidents and one-way traffic restrictions further straining the canal’s capabilities. 3 Between 1938 and 1950, eight ships had collided with bridges causing catastrophic failures and fatalities. In 1954, the United States Congress authorized an expansion of the canal channel to a uniform depth of 35 feet and a width of 450 feet, with the improvements taking place between 1962 and 1968. 1 4
Chesapeake City Bridge History
Historically, two bridges connected the two halves of Chesapeake City across Back Creek. After the canal was completed, one of the bridges was converted into a swing operation.
The enlargement and conversion of the canal into a sea-level operation in the 1920s required the construction of new lift bridges. A Pratt through truss was constructed in 1924-26 5 by the Phoenix Bridge Company, which featured a main span of 240 feet, 221-feet of horizontal clearance, and 135-feet of vertical clearance for vessels. 6 The new Chesapeake City Bridge opened to traffic on July 16, 1926. 11
At 11:30 AM on July 29, 1942, the Frank Klassen, an empty oil tanker being escorted by three tug boats, struck the south pier of the lift bridge causing the south tower to crash down across her bow. 4 6 The remainder of the bridge fell into the canal. The incident was blamed on the difference in tide fluctuations between the Chesapeake Bay and Delaware River which set up treacherous currents through the canal. 7
Ferry service between the two halves of Chesapeake City was put into place which cost the Corps $350,000 per year to operate. 9 Preliminary studies began on the bridge’s replacement and a high-level crossing, similar to St. Georges Bridge, was preferred. 7 It was proposed that the new bridge be the first link in a proposed four-lane Eastern Shore Highway between Elkton and Maryland. 8
Work on the new bridge began in 1947 and substructure construction of the new bridge was completed by the Fehlhaber Pile Company. 10 In January 1948, the American Bridge Company submitted the low bid of $1,861,000 for the construction of the superstructure, and the contract was awarded in February.
Governor William Preston Lane Jr. presiding over the dedication ceremonies of the new high-level Chesapeake City Bridge on September 21, 1949. 9 The new $4 million crossing featured a main span of 585-feet and a vertical clearance of 135-feet for vessels. 8 9 10
- State: Maryland
- Route: MD Route 213
- Type: Steel Arch
- Status: Active - Automobile
- Total Length: 3,955 feet
- Main Span Length: 540 feet
- Deck Width: 29 feet
- Roadway Width: 25 feet
- Above Vertical Clearance: 18.5 feet
- “Chesapeake and Delaware Canal: Navigating the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.” BlueSeas, 2015.
- Appletons’ annual cyclopedia and register of important events of the year: 1862. New York: D. Appleton & Company. 1863. p. 378.
- “The Chesapeake & Delaware Canal.” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
- “C&D Canal Just a Dream 307 Years Ago.” Evening Journal [Wilmington], 30 Nov. 1961, p. 33.
- “Canal Environment Changes in 30 Years.” News Journal [Wilmington], 8 Oct. 1949, p. 6.
- “Ship Wrecks Bridge, Blocking Off Canal at Chesapeake City.” Morning News [Wilmington], 29 Jul. 1942, p. 1-11.
- “High Level Span Studied to Replace Canal Bridge.” Morning News [Wilmington], 30 Jul. 1942, p. 1-19.
- “Army To Award Canal Bridge Contract.” Midland Journal [Rising Sun], 19 Apr. 1946, p. 1.
- “New Bridge ‘Joins’ Town in Maryland.” Times Dispatch [Richmond], 22 Sept. 1949, p. 25.
- “American Bridge Co. Submits Low Bid for New Canal Span.” News Journal [Wilmington], 21 Jan. 1948, p. 1.
- “Start Final Canal Work Within Week.” Evening Journal [Wilmington], 16 Jul. 1926, pp. 1-20.