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Farnsworth Avenue Bridge

Photos 

Farnsworth Avenue Bridge

Photo published by nj.com

View this photo at nj.com

BH Photo #493813

Map 

Description 

The Farnsworth Avenue bridge is the oldest carriage bridge constructed over modern railroad tracks made of rolled iron and inverted T-rails, wrote local train enthusiast Pierre Lacombe in a letter to the Department of Transportation.

It dates back to the Camden & Amboy Railroad, the state’s first permanent railroad and one of the first in the country. The bridge and tunnel is the largest manmade structure along the entirety of the C&A corridor.

Its original keystone marker, still intact, is dated 1831, and the original stone sleepers are still present around the tracks. Graffiti that goes back to the 1800s — likely the initials of the men who built the structure — can be found on the tunnel walls.

Prior Description:

1911 construction allegedly incorporated stone arch of 1831 overpass, which would make this possibly the oldest railroad overpass in the Western Hemisphere.

https://www.nj.com/news/2021/03/residents-rally-to-save-one-...

Facts 

Overview
Stone arch bridge over NS RR Robinsville Secondary on Farnsworth Avenue in Bordentown
Location
Bordentown, Burlington County, New Jersey
Status
Open to traffic
History
Keystone says 1831 - stone arch. Reworked in 1911
Builders
- Camden & Amboy Railroad
- NJDOT
Railroads
- Conrail (CR)
- Norfolk Southern Railway (NS)
- Penn Central Railroad (PC)
- Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR)
Design
Stone arch, topped by later construction
Dimensions
Span length: 22.0 ft.
Total length: 22.0 ft.
Deck width: 38.1 ft.
Vertical clearance above deck: 99.9 ft.
Recognition
Listed as a contributing resource to the Bordentown Historic District
Approximate latitude, longitude
+40.14778, -74.71278   (decimal degrees)
40°08'52" N, 74°42'46" W   (degrees°minutes'seconds")
Approximate UTM coordinates
18/524582/4444168 (zone/easting/northing)
Quadrangle map:
Trenton East
Average daily traffic (as of 2017)
4,133
Inventory numbers
NJ 0350162 (New Jersey bridge number)
BH 25102 (Bridgehunter.com ID)
Inspection report (as of October 2017)
Overall condition: Poor
Superstructure condition rating: Poor (4 out of 9)
Substructure condition rating: Poor (4 out of 9)
Sufficiency rating: 58.8 (out of 100)
View more at BridgeReports.com

Update Log 

  • April 21, 2021: Updated by Art Suckewer: Added pics build date, added to the description and other details
  • March 29, 2021: New photo from Alexander D. Mitchell IV

Sources 

  • Alexander D. Mitchell IV
  • Art Suckewer - Asuckewer [at] knite [dot] com

Comments 

Farnsworth Avenue Bridge
Posted April 22, 2021, by Art S. (Asuckewer [at] knite [dot] com)

https://princetoninfo.com/historic-train-bridge-steams-up-tr...

Historic Train Bridge Steams Up Trouble

By Samantha Sciarrotta - April 21, 2021

The conservation of one of Bordentown City’s most prominent historic sites — the Joseph Bonaparte estate [Napoleon's brother's estate - Art S.] — has made headlines from the Philadelphia Inquirer to the New York Times (and U.S. 1, too). But some local preservationists have their sights set on another landmark in the city.

Under the city, too.

The Farnsworth Avenue Stone Arch Carriage Bridge and Tunnel was slated to be replaced based on a plan proposed by the New Jersey Department of Transportation. The state cites shortcomings, including missing stones, water leakage, cracked and bulging walls, voids, and scaling. The tunnel’s inadequate vertical clearance, the state said, renders it functionally obsolete.

But residents and historians argue that the site, which dates back to the 1830s, should instead be preserved and restored.

“The state says it’s falling apart, but others say it’s not,” said Doug Kiovsky, vice president of the Bordentown Historical Society. “If anything, it should be rehabilitated, not destroyed. Once you do that, that’s history. That’s it.”

The Farnsworth Avenue bridge is the oldest carriage bridge constructed over modern railroad tracks made of rolled iron and inverted T-rails, wrote local train enthusiast Pierre Lacombe in a letter to the Department of Transportation.

It dates back to the Camden & Amboy Railroad, the state’s first permanent railroad and one of the first in the country. The bridge and tunnel is the largest manmade structure along the entirety of the C&A corridor.

“It’s a significant bridge,” Kiovsky said. “It’s kind of like a bookend. The John Bull locomotive went right under that tunnel. This was the first tunnel that the John Bull ever went under. Where’s the John Bull now? In the Smithsonian.”

The state proposed tearing down the existing structure and replacing it with a prefabricated archway in 2019. The plans also affect the veterans memorial that sits on top of the bridge, at the corner of Farnsworth and Railroad avenues.

Under the state’s proposal, the memorial would be removed, stored and replaced with a new structure, said Stephanie Corbo-Pecht, a longtime Bordentown resident and member of the Bordentown City Veterans Memorial Committee.

“The artist’s rendering of the new design was representative of something you’d find in Bucks County, loaded with fieldstone as if it was built in 1700,” she said. “It was definitely not representative of the brick façade of the rest of Bordentown City. The possibility also existed that, because it would be the last stage of the project, the memorial would wind up not being replaced because of time or budgetary restraints.”

“That is the first bridge on Earth to have modern rail put underneath it,” Lacombe said.

And the reason the tracks go under the bridge instead of on top of it — like many historical finds in town — can be traced back to Joseph Bonaparte.

Robert Stevens, the president of the C&A Railroad, envisioned the line traveling over Black Creek, curving along the shoreline of Crosswicks Creek, snaking up Thornton Creek, then ending up behind what used to be the Ocean Spray plant.

“It would have been so much easier to cut a notch on the flanks of Crosswicks Creek and a notch going up Thornton Creek rather than digging that huge tunnel,” said Lacombe, a Florence resident and former geologist.

But that would have ended up on the far side of the pond located on the Bonaparte estate. Bonaparte objected to the plans. A trained lawyer with plenty of resources, he ended up suing the Camden & Amboy Railroad over its use of eminent domain. The agreement wasn’t for property being used by the state for the state, but a private entity for a private entity.

“He fought them by saying it was all just for profit,” Lacombe said. “[C&A] realized they were going to lose in court, so they settled. The settlement was — bingo. ‘Dig a trench through the center of Bordentown, and I’ll let you go across my property at Thornton Creek.”

After Lacombe learned about the DOT’s plans two years ago, he prepared a 68-page report outlining the historical significance of the site.

“I’m not a bridge engineer more than I’m anything else, but after reading engineering reports for so long, after a while, it was not really correct,” he said. “If I put together a critique of it, they’re not going to listen. However, if I lay out the scientific reasons why I think the facility should be considered a historical site, they can’t say, ‘Nobody told us. We didn’t know.’ They can’t use that as an excuse.”

Its original keystone marker, still intact, is dated 1831, and the original stone sleepers are still present around the tracks. Graffiti that goes back to the 1800s — likely the initials of the men who built the structure — can be found on the tunnel walls.

Another stone sleeper, he said, was used by a group of government officials, academics, and shipping industry professionals to determine the depth of the Delaware River after the Civil War — “all those issues that are important for navigation and transportation,” Lacombe said. They got together at the Navy base at Sandy Hook in 1883 and monitored sea levels consistently over five years.

“The benchmark down on the monument states that this place is 38.96 feet above the mean sea level at Sandy Hook,” Lacombe said. “Only one other was found, in Phillipsburg. It’s pretty neat.”

But these artifacts — and the structure itself — are just a slice of the whole C&A pie.

“The whole Camden & Amboy corridor is a historical site,” Lacombe said. “It’s accepted as being the first major railroad in New Jersey.”

And Kiovsky thinks that could be a big draw to Bordentown in the future — the 200th anniversary of railroading in New Jersey is 10 years down the line. He’d like to see the bridge become part of a rail trail or steam ride, similar to the locomotive in New Hope.

“To have something significant like the railroad bridge nominated and saved would help us out from a railroaders standpoint,” he said. “We’re not an Altoona. We’re not a Scranton. But we have some significance in that we have this old bridge that Scranton or Altoona may not have. You’d be very hard-pressed to find any railroad bridge in the United States that says 1831 or older.”

He also added that he has found items like original 1830s railroad spikes while out and working on something unrelated to the bridge. Visitors can compare the original rails to modern ones. There are scrape marks on the tunnel from old rail cars that outgrew the space.

The historical significance is there, he said. The state just needs to recognize it.

“It’s the largest manmade structure along the Camden & Amboy Railroad,” Kiovsky said. “I hope it’s still up in 10 years.”

Farnsworth Avenue Bridge
Posted April 21, 2021, by Art S. (Asuckewer [at] knite [dot] com)

Interesting preservation effort:

https://www.nj.com/news/2021/03/residents-rally-to-save-one-...

Residents rally to save one of N.J.’s oldest railroad bridges

Updated Mar 29, 2021; Posted Mar 29, 2021

City rallies to save historic railroad bridge.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021 - The Bordentown City Veterans Memorial on Farnsworth Avenue sits on a bridge over what was the Camden and Amboy RR. The NJDOT is studying whether to replace the bridge which would involve moving the memorial. City officials and historians said it can be repaired instead.

By Larry Higgs | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

The unassuming bridge that carries Farnsworth Avenue in Bordentown over the first railroad in the state and is home to the city’s veteran’s memorial might become a battleground.

The bridge is a candidate for either replacement or rehabilitation, and officials and historians said this last remaining intact bridge over the Camden & Amboy railroad is in good enough condition to be repaired instead of replaced.

A decision will based on the outcome of concept design work to be done by the state Department of Transportation.

“Although the preferred alternative identified in Concept Development is to replace the bridge, it has not been determined if the bridge will be rehabilitated or replaced,” said Stephen Schapiro, a DOT spokesman. “Given that this project is still in Concept Development, we are still determining whether the bridge will be reconstructed or rehabilitated.”

But locals are standing by their span.

“The City of Bordentown would prefer a rehabilitation effort as opposed to replacement for many reasons, none more important than its historic value to the city,” said Mayor James Lynch. “We are a 1682 historic town that over the years has lost a significant amount of our historic structures to fire and neglect.”

Lynch doesn’t want to see the bridge added to that list.

The modest stone arch bridge was built in 1831 over the single track Camden and Amboy Railroad, which was famous for running the John Bull, the first steam locomotive used in America. The Camden and Amboy railroad was the first railroad chartered in New Jersey in 1830 and was the third in the country.

A small park is on the bridge where a station used to be. It’s home to to Bordentown’s veterans’ memorial and a monument to the “John Bull” which is the oldest operable locomotive in the western hemisphere.

The bridge is one of 502 spans in the state rated structurally deficient after a 2015 inspection, Schapiro said. However the weight limit that the bridge can carry hasn’t been reduced from the current 36 tons, he said. Lowering the weight limit is usually an interim step until replacement or rehabilitation.

But a lengthy analysis and 68-page report by Pierre Lacombe, a geologist and hydrogeologist who worked with the US Geological Survey for 37 years, said the bridge can be saved and rehabilitated.

That report was sent to the DOT and the state Historic Preservation Office in April 2020. The report, done on behalf of the Bordentown Historical Society, analyzed an earlier DOT concept development. It included a detailed inspection of the bridge condition by Lacombe and recommendations how it could be repaired.

“I believe this exceptionally historic stone arch bridge should be refurbished and saved. Engineers and the public agree the bridge needs maintenance,” he wrote. “I believe that there is much less agreement or desire to replace this historic bridge.”

He concluded that the bridge has a solid substructure and superstructure that needs repair or rehabilitation. Lacombe’s experience is in the geology of the stone, rock, mortar and gravel and sand the bridge was constructed from. His report made specific recommendations on how to repair the stone arch bridge.

“The engineering and safety deficiencies that are showcased in the (DOT) Conceptual Development Report are real, but they constitute much less than 1% of the structure,” he said.

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Another concern is how a bridge replacement project would affect the Farnsworth Avenue business district, if that street has to be closed, Lynch said.

“The second problem is the disruption of our vibrant Business District which we worked so hard over the years to rebuild and invest in,” he said. “Coming out of COVID that’s the last thing we need right now.”

Whether Farnsworth Avenue will have to be entirely closed won’t be known until after concept development and preliminary engineering is completed, Schapiro said.

“At the appropriate time NJDOT will work with local businesses and residents on construction staging to ensure that it is done in the most efficient and cost-effective manner, with the goal of limiting construction time and minimizing disruptions for the community,” he said.

In addition to businesses, replacing the bridge could disrupt other downtown activities, such as walking tours offered by Mark Neurohr-Pierpaoli.

“I’m sure construction will be disruptive to my walking tours, he said. “Not only will it break up my route, but I’m concerned about how it will affect foot traffic, parking, and the number of visitors to the town.”

DOT officials said they are aware of concerns and offered reassurances.

The veterans memorial on the bridge would have to be disassembled and removed. It would be stored and reassembled at the DOT’s expense, Schapiro said.

The DOT has had experience with historic bridges and won awards in 2018 for its four-month rehabilitation of the Route 206 Bridge over Stony Brook in Princeton after a piece of it collapsed in 2016.

“This (Stoney Brook) is the oldest bridge in New Jersey carrying a State Road. It was originally built in 1792,” Schapiro said. “The project won several awards included the 2018 New Jersey Historic Preservation Award from the Department of Environmental Protection, Historic Preservation Office.

Lynch said he has been in touch with Transportation Commissioner Diane Guttierrez-Scaccetti about the bridge

“She has been wonderful to work with and personally has high hopes for a path forward,” Lynch said. “I look at this project as an investment in our historic value and for future generations to come. Sometimes we have to look at not just the money but our fabric of who we are.”

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Larry Higgs may be reached at lhiggs@njadvancemedia.com.