Chesapeake & Delaware Canal Railroad Bridge

Chesapeake & Delaware Canal Railroad Bridge

The Chesapeake & Delaware Canal Railroad Bridge features a Warren through truss lift span over the C&D Canal in Delaware.


History

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

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

Railroad Bridge History

The Delaware Railroad was conceived in 1836 to serve the Delmarva Peninsula, although the economic depression of 1837-39 prevented investment in the line until 1848 when the charter was renewed. 4 Sufficient financings allowed a line to be built from the New Castle & Frenchtown Railroad in Porter to Dover by 1855, which included the erection of a swing iron girder bridge over the canal in 1852. 6

The swing bridge was augmented with a vertical lift bridge during the enlargement and conversion of the canal into a sea-level operation in the 1920s. 6 The old swing span was left in place but rendered inoperable.

A new bridge over the canal was required when a sharp curve was removed during its widening in the 1960s and 1970s. A vertical lift structure, designed by constructed by Howard, Needles, Tammen & Bergendoff of Philadelphia, was built by the Ingalls Iron Works of Birmingham, Alabama in 1963-66 5 7 at the cost of $3.8 million. 10 The c. 1852 swing bridge and the c. 1920s lift bridge were then removed. 6 8 When it opened in September 1966, 11 the new lift bridge was the third largest of its type in the world 8 with a length of 950 feet, a center span of 548 feet, and a vertical clearance of 135 feet for vessels. 11

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) presented its “most beautiful bridge” award to the Pennsylvania Railroad (the successor to the Delaware Railroad) at a dinner-meeting in March 1967. 7 The crossing was noted as the “cleanest kind of movable span bridge” with a counterbalance that was not objectionable with an almost “sculpture-like quality.” The ASCE previously awarded similar awards to other canal crossings at Chesapeake City, Maryland in 1949 and at Summit in 1960.

Today, the vertical lift bridge continues to see daily train traffic by the Delmarva Central Railroad.


Gallery


Information

  • State: Delaware
  • Route: Delmarva Central Railroad
  • Type: Vertical Lift, Warren Through Truss
  • Status: Active - Railroad
  • Total Length: 950 feet
  • Main Span Length: 548 feet

Sources

  1. Chesapeake and Delaware Canal: Navigating the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.” BlueSeas, 2015.
  2. Appletons’ annual cyclopedia and register of important events of the year: 1862. New York: D. Appleton & Company. 1863. p. 378.
  3. “The Chesapeake & Delaware Canal.” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
  4. Caoace, Nancy. “Delaware Railroad.” The Encyclopedia of Delaware, Somerset Publishers, 2001.
  5. Weeks III, John A. “Conrail Bridge.” John A. Weeks III, 2016.
  6. “Preserve Old Piers, Ex-General Pleads.” News Journal [Wilmington], 24 Jan. 1967, p. 25.
  7. “Pennsy’s Canal Bridge Gets Prize.” News Journal [Wilmington], 14 Mar. 1967, p. 49.
  8. Wilson, W. Emerson. “Span nears end of road.” Morning News [Wilmington], 24 Jan. 1967, p. 1.
  9. “C&D Canal Just a Dream 307 Years Ago.” Evening Journal [Wilmington], 30 Nov. 1961, p. 33.
  10. “Canal Job Low Bid is $2,915,620.” Morning News [Wilmington], 25 Oct. 1963, p. 27.
  11. Frank, William P. “Construction booms for transportation.” Morning News [Wilmington], 16 Jun. 1965, p.13.

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