-- Historic American Engineering Record
History of the 1895 bridge's design and construction (HAER):
A special meeting of the Board of Chosen Freeholders of Middlesex County was called for the following day to take action on the matter. The meeting involved discussions of insurance claims on the bridge, which was insured for $15,000. It was anticipated that a greater sum would be required to replace the bridge, as the new structure would have to be made of iron or steel and new piers would have to be built (Daily Times 1894a). At a second special meeting of the Board of Chosen Freeholders, held on April 11, 1894, the Landing Bridge committee was authorized to purchase and contract for the construction of an iron or steel highway bridge "to take the place of the one lately burned and to have the same completed in the shortest possible time as the public are greatly inconvenienced without a bridge" (Middlesex County 1892-5: 226). The Landing Bridge Committee then conferred with County Engineer Atkinson to prepare plans and specifications for the building of a new bridge. A plan of the bridge site and specifications were prepared and presented to the board on April 16, 1894. Following approval of the plans, the committee advertised for bids for the construction of the bridge (Middlesex County 1892-5: 228; Daily Times 1894b).
Settlement of the insurance took about two months, and on April 17, 1894, it was reported that the county was awarded $13,900 under the terms of the insurance policy. During Freeholder meetings it was suggested by citizens living near the bridge that the new bridge be constructed of the highest quality materials and design, that the structure be built of a length greater than the former structure and that the causeway from the eastern terminus to the turnpike be built higher so that it would not be submerged during high tide or during freshets. It was also noted that, while the Board was bound to "practice the strictest economy" with regard to expenditure of public funds, erection of a "poor" bridge would inevitably result in "continual patching", and the neighborhood would suffer from having "a structure at once an eye sore and a peril to travel" (Daily Times 1894b).
The Landing Bridge Committee received thirty-three different plans and specifications and bids for the construction of the new bridge, ranging from $6,000 to $34,500. On May 2, 1894, the Committee recommended to the Board that the contract for construction of the bridge be awarded to the Berlin Iron Bridge Company of Berlin, Connecticut (Middlesex County 1892-5:235; Daily Times 1894c). On May 5, 1894, an agreement was drawn up between the Board of Chosen Freeholders and the Berlin Iron Bridge Company for the construction of the superstructure of the bridge at the sum of $29,995. The construction work was to be completed within 10 days of the day of the signing of the contract and the work was to be supervised by an engineer selected by the Board of Chosen Freeholders (Middlesex County 1892-5:238-241).
The Landing Bridge contract was challenged before the New Jersey Supreme Court. On May 25, 1894, the first testimony in the case of James Neilson vs. the Board of Freeholders of Middlesex County was heard by Supreme Court Commissioner James H. VanCleef. Testimony was heard from the members of the old Board of Freeholders. The contract had been awarded by members of the old board and was adopted by the new board (Daily Times 1894d).
On June 1, 1894, testimony was heard from two engineers, Theodore Cooper, a recognized authority in the field, and George H. Blakely, a class of 1884 graduate of Rutgers University and at the time chief engineer for the Passaic Rolling Mills in Paterson. Both engineers felt that the plans drawn up by the County Engineer as the basis for bids were "faulty in not being sufficiently explicit", so that bridges meeting the specifications could be built at costs ranging from $7,000 to $30,000. The two engineers also similarly testified that the price of the contract awarded to the Berlin Iron Bridge Company was excessive for the design proposed (Daily Times 1894e).
On June 7, 1894, James Neilson testified for the prosecution that he had sent a copy of the advertisement for bids to the Union Bridge Company and received an $18,000 cost estimate from that firm. The plan proposed by the Union Bridge Company was similar in design to the one presented by the Berlin Iron Bridge Company. On cross examination, Neilson stated that he was not a stockholder in the Union Bridge Company, but that he was acquainted with one of the partners. He was asked if he thought anything of "buying such a bridge", but replied with a laugh that "there is no telling what I thought" (Daily Times 1894f). Neilson's father was director and treasurer of the Delaware and Raritan Canal Company when it was incorporated in 1830 (Wall 1931:84-6).
On July 11, 1894, the Berlin Bridge Company asked the Board of Chosen Freeholders to rescind the contract for building Landing Bridge. In a communication from the bridge company to the board, the company declared that it was unwilling to retain "a contract that bears the slightest suspicion of being unfairly obtained or that a considerable number of [Middlesex County) taxpayers think is too favorable to us". Earlier in the same article The Daily Times offered the opinion that the county was saved from paying an extortionate price fixed by some of the bridge companies prior to the presenting of the bids (Daily Times 1894g).
The lawsuit was then dropped by the prosecution and the county assumed the cost of the proceedings after the bridge contract was rescinded (Daily Times 1894h).
At the beginning of August, 1894, George Blakely, in a letter to the Board of Chosen Freeholders, offered to prepare plans and specifications for Landing Bridge and to inspect the work when it was completed for a sum of $150. There was some discussion as to whether the Board should hire a local engineer instead, but it was concluded that "bridge engineering is a profession and [the Board didn't] have a bridge engineer in town". Comforted by the fact that Blakely was a Rutgers graduate, and was personally known to several members, the Board resolved to employ Blakely to perform the proposed work, $100 to be paid for the receipt of the plans and $50 to be paid for the proper inspections when the bridge was completed (Daily Times 1894i; Middlesex County 1892-5:288). On February 12, 1895, Blakely made a court appearance to provide testimony concerning the condition of another county bridge, at Albany Street. The local newspaper described him as "a rather tall young man, with a black mustache, a large mouth, round-glassed spectacles, and a marked inability to sound his r's" (Daily Times 1895b; Blakely 1900).
The specifications prepared by George Blakely for the new Landing Bridge required that it carry a live load of 2,800 lbs to the terrace foot with one sidewalk. Estimates were to be provided for cement, asphalt and plank flooring (Middlesex County 1892-5:2889). Blakely presented two plans to the Board on Monday, September 10, 1894. It was decided that builders should bid on both plans and that advertisements should appear in Engineering News and in local papers of the county (Middlesex County 1982-5:295).
At a regular meeting of the Board held on October 3, 1894, the motion for the building of a wood floor for the Landing Bridge was carried in a vote with 14 members voting in the affirmative and 3 members voting nay. The bids were opened for the Landing Bridge contract at 12:00 pm. The bidders submitted estimates for plank floor, asphalt floor, iron per pound, asphalt per square yard and lumber per thousand board feet. Bids were taken from the following companies and entered in the book of minutes in the order opened: King Bridge Co., Penn Bridge Co., Youngstown Bridge Co., W.T.Kirk, Massillon Bridge Co., R.D. Norton, Wrought Iron Bridge Co., Groton Bridge Co., Rochester ·Bridge Co., New Jersey Steel and Iron Co., Boston Bridge Works, Horsehead Bridge Works, Nelson and Buchanan, and Phil [W]eigel (Middlesex County 1892-5:297).
The contract was awarded that afternoon to the lowest bidder, the Penn Bridge Company of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. The company agreed to furnish a bond of $3,000 (Middlesex County 1892-5:298,302).
At a regular meeting of the Board on January 2, 1895, the Penn Bridge Company communicated to the Board that the iron work for the bridge was almost completed and that they would be ready to commence work at putting the bridge in place about the second week of January (Daily Times 1895a) . The structure was presumably completed within a few weeks thereafter.