The Summit Bridge carries US Route 301 and DE Route 896 over the C&D Canal in New Castle County, Delaware.
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
Summit Bridge History
The first bridge at Summit was constructed before the canal was routed through the community. 9 In 1829, the canal was dug underneath the 250-foot-long covered bridge. 7
In 1867, the covered bridge was dismantled and replaced with a draw bridge. 9 Some of the planking of the old bridge became the floor of an implement shed on the farm of former State Senator John R. Butler at Butler’s Corner.
The enlargement and conversion of the canal into a sea-level operation in the 1920s required the construction of new lift bridges. 6 7 A Pratt through vertical lift bridge was constructed at the cost of $460,000 14 and dedicated on August 9, 1926. 13 The new Summit Bridge featured a main span of 175 feet, two approach spans of 100 feet each, and 135-feet of vertical clearance. 8
The lift bridge was closed to all traffic after a landslide on the north bank threatened the stability of the crossing on February 12, 1949. 5 Significant cracks in the base of the north abutment were discovered during a more detailed inspection and it was feared that the superstructure of the bridge could fail. It was decided to repair the structure and the bridge reopened in May. 10
In 1950, Senator Frear introduced a bill calling for the construction of a four-lane, high-level bridge to replace the lift structure, a move that was supported by Governor Elbert N. Carvel and the state highway department. 7 In 1954, the Corps recommended a two-lane crossing but asked that if a four-lane bridge was warranted, that the state pays for the additional cost. The state replied that it was the obligation of the federal government to build a four-lane bridge that would be adequate for present and future traffic, citing the 1801 charter agreement of the canal that the owner of the canal must maintain at its expense “good and sufficient bridges.” Eventually, the Corps agreed to construct a four-lane structure.
The new Summit Bridge was designed by the J.E. Greiner Company of Baltimore. 12 Construction of the substructure began by the McLean Contracting Company of Baltimore in February 1957 and was completed in October 1958. The American Bridge Company began the erection of steel for the superstructure in December. 10
The new $7.5 million high-level Summit Bridge opened to traffic after a dedication ceremony on January 9, 1960. 7 11 Less than two hours after the dedication ceremony, one person was injured in a collision on the span between an automobile and a Delaware Memorial Bridge truck which had been used as a speaker’s platform during the ceremonies. 11
The Summit Bridge was proposed to be an integral part of a proposed expressway between the Delaware Memorial Bridge and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. 11 12 The expressway was never completed.
- State: Delaware
- Route: US Route 301, DE Route 896
- Type: Warren Through Truss
- Status: Active - Automobile
- Total Length: 2,058 feet
- Main Span Length: 600 feet feet
- Deck Width: 64 feet
- Height: 135 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.
- “Summit Bridge Traffic Halted.” Morning News [Wilmington], 15 Feb. 1949, p. 5.
- “Canal Project Will Cost $12,000,000.” News Journal [Wilmington], 12 Jul. 1922, p. 2.
- Frank, William P. “Old Pact Requires U.S., Not State, to Pay for New Canal Span.” Morning News [Wilmington], 7 Jan. 1960, p. 21.
- “Delaware Canal Dredge Dwarfs Egyptians’ Work.” Pittsburgh Press, 3 Sept. 1924, p. 10.
- “New Bridge Is 4th in 134 Years at Summit.” News Journal [Wilmington], 16 Oct. 1959, p. 21.
- “Substructure Half Completed On High-Level Summit Bridge.” News Journal [Wilmington], 3 May 1958, p. 17.
- “New Summit Bridge Formally Dedicated.” News Journal [Wilmington], 9 Jan. 1960, pp. 1-2.
- “Summit Bridge Dedication Set.” Baltimore Sun, 16 Dec. 1959, p. 37.
- “Open Summit Bridge Over C&D Canal.” Morning News [Wilmington], 10 Aug. 1926, p. 7.
- “New Summit Bridge Open About August 10.” Morning News [Wilmington], 21 Jul. 1926, p. 6.