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Falls Bridge

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Bicycling Over Bridges 3-01

Photo taken by Patrick S. O'Donnell in August 2013

License: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA)

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Description 

This incredible historic bridge was constructed as a double-deck bridge which was designed to carry vehicular traffic on the lower deck and streetcars on the upper deck. However, a streetcar line that was anticipated when this bridge was constructed was never actually built. The double-deck design is why the bridge has the uncommon vertical end posts. The double-deck design of the bridge also resulted in this bridge having very massive members for its age, a factor that has likely allowed this bridge to remain a very strong and functional bridge into the 21st Century, alongside good maintenance and preservation on the part of the city of Philadelphia. Given the bridge was built to carry loads it never actually had to carry, this may also be why the bridge retains excellent historic integrity of materials and design, with no major alterations noted, again this integrity also the result of maintenance and preservation efforts of Philadelphia.

The bridge is an ornate structure, with decorative knees on the sway and portal bracing, as well as very decorative railings with a Tree of Life design to them and ornate cast posts at the ends of the railing system, which extends beyond the bridge onto the abutments. The complex (and uncommon) pin-connected Baltimore truss configuration on the bridge serves a utilitarian purpose, but also adds to the complexity and the geometric beauty of this bridge. The experience of crossing this bridge is very dramatic with a strong "tunnel effect" experience.

As mentioned, the historic integrity of this bridge is good. However there is one exception, that while minor to the overall bridge's integrity, is still worth noting. The bridge originally had a unique patented roller bearing nests that were patented by George S. Morison of Chicago, IL. These have been replaced. Also, the plaques on the bridge are not original and apparently date to 1975. Several panels of the railing on the bridge have been replaced, but these were replaced in-kind.

The bridge was originally painted in a multi-color paint scheme. Historic American Engineering Record mentions this was a common tradition in the 19th Century, and was done to distinguish the different structural functions by a different color. The Falls Bridge's colors were white, buff, brown and red. Color schemes with multiple colors can really bring out the beauty in a historic bridge, but unfortunately the use of multi-color paint schemes on bridges is virtually unheard of in North America, although it remains more common in some European locations particularly England. A discussion of this is presented on the Hammersmith Bridge page. For much of the 20th Century, the bridge was painted light green. It is today painted a white color. While the current white color of the bridge is very beautiful and really brings out the details in the bridge, it would be an interesting future preservation project to repaint the bridge in the original multi-color scheme.

The south end (sometimes referred to as the west end) of each span on this bridge is 2 feet 8 inches higher than the other end because the bridge is built with a 1.5% grade.

This is the sixth bridge at this location. The first wire suspension bridge in the country was erected here.

This bridge might be thought of as an older and more ornate version of the Foxburg Bridge.

CREDIT: http://www.historicbridges.org/bridges/browser/index.php?bri...

Facts 

Overview
Through truss bridge over Schuylkill River in Philadelphia
Location
Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania
Status
Open to traffic
History
Built 1895; rehabilitated 1986
Builders
- Edge Moor Bridge Works of Wilmington, Delaware (Fabricators)
- Filbert, Porter & Co. (Erectors)
- George S. Webster (Designer)
Design
Baltimore through truss
Dimensions
Length of largest span: 191.9 ft.
Total length: 566.0 ft.
Deck width: 25.9 ft.
Vertical clearance above deck: 17.2 ft.
Recognition
Eligible for the National Register of Historic Places
Approximate latitude, longitude
+40.00833, -75.19833   (decimal degrees)
40°00'30" N, 75°11'54" W   (degrees°minutes'seconds")
Approximate UTM coordinates
18/483072/4428700 (zone/easting/northing)
Quadrangle map:
Germantown
Inventory numbers
PA 67 7301 0040 0004 (Pennsylvania Bridge Management System number)
PANBI 39140 (Pennsylvania BRKEY bridge number on the 2011 NBI)
BH 31515 (Bridgehunter.com ID)
Inspection (as of 07/2009)
Deck condition rating: Satisfactory (6 out of 9)
Superstructure condition rating: Satisfactory (6 out of 9)
Substructure condition rating: Fair (5 out of 9)
Appraisal: Functionally obsolete
Sufficiency rating: 48.3 (out of 100)
Average daily traffic (as of 1981)
13,000

Update Log 

  • August 2, 2014: Updated by Luke: Adde builders from HAER
  • August 2, 2014: HAER photos posted by James Baughn
  • August 2, 2014: New photos from Patrick S. O'Donnell
  • December 27, 2010: Updated by Jodi Christman: Added description
  • July 23, 2010: New photos from D. Thomsen
  • May 12, 2010: New Street View added by Nathan Holth
  • March 14, 2010: New photos from Raymond Klein

Sources 

  • Raymond Klein - Bookshelfthe [at] msn [dot] com
  • Nathan Holth
  • D. Thomsen - dcthomsen [at] comcast [dot] net
  • Jodi Christman - masterofchaos [at] outlook [dot] com
  • Wikipedia
  • Patrick S. O'Donnell - 1 [dot] 991km [at] comcast [dot] net
  • HAER PA-35 - Falls Bridge, Spanning Schuylkill River, connecting East & West River Drives, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, PA
  • Luke

Comments 

Falls Bridge
Posted August 2, 2014, by James Baughn (webmaster [at] bridgehunter [dot] com)

Patrick: Yeah, I realized as soon as I posted the HAER photos that I was stepping on your toes. I've rearranged all the photos though so everything should be in the right order.

Falls Bridge
Posted August 2, 2014, by Patrick S. O'Donnell (1 [dot] 991km [at] comcast [dot] net)

Hmmm, interesting. Posting photos (9 at a time) and my final batch of three batches got separated from the first two due to James Baughn posting the HAER photos at the same time. Not in the least miffed, but find it all very interesting due to the timing since there hasn't been a new photo posted in over four years and here on the same day at the same exact time new images are being posted from two sources. How cool is that!

Falls Bridge
Posted October 9, 2008, by Bill Flis (flis [at] detk [dot] com)