The Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge carries US Route 40 over the Susquehanna River between Havre de Grace and Perryville, Maryland.
In 1665, the Susquehanna Lower Ferry was established across the Susquehanna River in the vicinity of Harmer’s Town (later becoming Havre de Grace in 1782). 3 The ferry was a key transportation link for George Washington’s troops during the Revolutionary War and for Union troops during the Civil War.
The first bridge for horse-and-buggies and automobiles opened in 1910 from a converted c. 1873 railroad crossing. 6 It was operated by a group of private citizens as a tolled facility until the State Roads Commission (SRC) acquired the bridge for $585,000 in 1923. The bridge was narrow with a roadway only 13 feet wide which caused numerous side-swiping accidents and very low traffic speeds. To alleviate the problem, the SRC hired the Neeld Construction Company to construct a second deck over the old bridge at the cost of $237,730 in 1926-27, converting each level into dedicated eastbound or westbound lanes. But after the crossing reopened to traffic on November 29, 1927, the “Double Decker Bridge” caused new issues: the lower deck had a vertical clearance of 12½-feet, barely sufficient to accommodate commercial vehicles.
Tolls were eliminated on the river crossing in 1928 which was a cause of celebration by local residents who symbolically burned down the historic tollhouse. 6
The Maryland General Assembly authorized the SRC to formulate a comprehensive plan for the construction of bridges and tunnels across major bodies of water in the state which would be financed and operated through toll funding. A proposal for a four-lane, twin through-arch crossing over the Susquehanna River, adjacent to the double-decked bridge, was approved by the War Department on September 19, 1938. 2 Designed by the J.E. Greiner Company, 4 it called 320-foot main span rising 87 feet above mean high water over the west channel that would cost $4 million.
Construction of the bridge began in February 1939 and it was completed at the cost of $4.5 million. The new Susquehanna River Toll Bridge opened to traffic on August 28, 1940. The old “Double Decker Bridge” was kept open for pedestrians and bicyclists until it was demolished for scrap steel for the World War II effort in 1942-43. 6 The steel that was salvaged equated to the construction of 60 tanks for the military.
Exact change lanes, a novelty at the time, were installed at the bridge in 1958 which were supplemented with the introduction of Automatic Vehicle Identification decals in 1976. The Susquehanna River Toll Bridge was renamed after Thomas J. Haten died in 1985 with an official ceremony taking place in May 1986. 5 Tolls for westbound travelers were removed in 1991 in lieu of doubling the toll rate for eastbound travelers. In October 2019, cashless tolling via E-ZPass was implemented.
- State: Maryland
- Route: US Route 40
- Type: Steel Arch, Wichert Through Truss
- Status: Active - Automobile
- Total Length: 7,749 feet
- Main Span Length: 456 feet
- Deck Width: 48 feet
- Above Vertical Clearance: 16 feet
- Navigational Clearance:
- “New Susquehanna Bridge Dooms Old.” Daily Mail [Hagerstown], 26 Feb. 1940, p. 12.
- “Susquehanna Span Approved by Woodring.” Baltimore Sun, 20 Sept. 1938, p. 24.
- O’Connell, Marita. “Brief History of Havre de Grace.” Historic Havre de Grace Street by Street, 2021.
- Legler, Dixie, and Carol Highsmith. Historic Bridges of Maryland. Maryland Historic Trust, 2002, p. 44.
- Dresser, Michael. “Who is Thomas J. Hatem of bridge fame?” Baltimore Sun, 5 Oct. 2009.
- Sturgill, Erika Quesenbery. “The story of the Susquehanna’s famed Double-Decker crossing.” Cecil Whig, 30 Nov. 2013.