Walnut Lane Bridge

Walnut Lane Bridge

bridge_name= Walnut Lane Bridge

crosses= Wissahickon Creek
locale= Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
maint= City of Philadelphia
design= concrete
mainspan= 233 feet
length= 585 feet
height= 147 feet
width= 48 feet
open= October 14, 1908
cost= $260,000 ($5 Million Today)
lat= 40.0334
long= -75.19703

map_text=Germantown with Roxborough
Roxborough to the west of Fairmount Park and Germantown to the East.
map_width= 225px
The Walnut Lane Bridge is a concrete arch bridge located in Northwest Philadelphia that connects the Germantown and Roxborough neighborhoods across the Wissahickon Creek in Fairmount Park. [ [http://search.cityguide.aol.com/philadelphia/entertainment/fairmount-park/v-66660 Fairmont Park at AOL Local Life] ] While drivers may cross the bridge too quickly to notice, the view from underneath the bridge has inspired many artists and writers, such as Christopher Morley. [Morley, from "Up the Wissahickon," in Christopher Morley's Philadelphia (New York: Fordham Press, 1990) 217-218.]


Construction began on July 5, 1906 and was completed on October 14, 1908. Over 40,000 tons of rubble concrete (containing a great amount of large stones, for greater shear strength) were poured into the falsework, which had been built from 20-ft-high steel bents and an estimated 370,000 board-feet of timber, weighing about 900 tons. ["Moving the Centering of the Walnut Lane Arch at Philadelphia", "Engineering News", Vol. 58, no. 7, p. 169, 15 August 1907.] The bridge consists of six spans that total 585 ft in length. Very little use was made of reinforcing steel, which was scarce at the time. The roadway is 40 ft wide, flanked by 10-ft reinforced-concrete sidewalks and pre-cast concrete balustrades. [George S. Webster and Henry H. Quimby, "Walnut Lane Bridge, Philadelphia", "Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers", Vol. 65, no. 1128, p. 430, 1909.]

The chief engineer was George S. Webster, assisted by Henry Quimby, both of the Philadelphia Department of Public Works. At the time of its construction, the bridge was the longest and highest concrete arch bridge in the world. [City of Philadelphia. Annual Report of the Director of the Department of Public Works. (1908).] While $240,000 was originally committed to the project, the figure rose to nearly $260,000 by completion (equivalent to nearly $6 million in 2008).

City Beautiful Movement

The bridge was a direct product of the City Beautiful Movement in Philadelphia in the early years of the 20th century. Seeking to provide community harmony and cooperation through improved public spaces, the bridge was viewed as an achievement that could unite the communities and cultures of Roxborough and Germantown in addition to inspiring a greater civic engagement. It was also believed that more beautiful construction techniques could help to reform a corrupt political system within the city. The Philadelphia community members rallied around the construction of the bridge and the opening was highly anticipated by all ages alike.


The bridge was opened on October 14, 1908 and was formally dedicated on December 16 of the same year. Students from nearby schools participated in the dedication ceremony by marching toward the middle of the bridge and singing "Hail Philadelphia." ["Bridge's Marvels Extolled: Opening Exercises on New Walnut Lane Structure Which Has Largest Concrete Arch in Existence," "Germantown Independent-Gazette", December 18, 1908.] The ceremony ended with a reception at a local inn with the traditional Wissahickon meal of catfish and waffles.

Other bridges confused with the Walnut Lane Bridge

The Walnut Lane Bridge is often confused with other bridges in Philadelphia that are similar in name and construction. The Walnut "Street" Bridge, crosses the Schuylkill River and connects University City, Philadelphia and Center City, Philadelphia. The nearby Henry Avenue Bridge, which connects the East Falls and Roxborough neighborhoods of Philadelphia, is also often mistaken for the Walnut Lane Bridge. But the bridge most often confused with the Walnut Lane Bridge is the Walnut Lane "Memorial" Bridge, which replaced a cast-iron bridge over the Monoshone Creek and Lincoln Drive in Philadelphia in 1950 and is world-famous as a pre-stressed, post-tension concrete bridge. ["A Balancing of Forces and Moments: The Walnut Lane Bridge", "Discovery, Innovation, and Risk: Cade Studies in Science and Technology" M.I.T. Press, 1993. 202-214.]

A confusion easily explained is the one with Pont Adolphe in Luxembourg: The Walnut Lane Bridge is in fact a copy of the former.

Tragedy at the Walnut Lane Bridge

The Walnut Lane Bridge has a history of tragedies and deaths since construction began in 1906. In December 1907, the falsework (used to support the forms for pouring concrete) collapsed and sent about 20 workers plunging 150 feet into the Wissahickon Creek. Martin Simpson was listed as the only worker to die during the tragedy while Bernard Mers lost an arm and James Lawson had both of his hands crushed. The crash drew neighbors out of their homes, as the sound could be heard throughout the valley. Throughout the rest of the 20th century, stories of car crashes and suicides abound for the Walnut Lane Bridge. It was a common occurrence to see pictures of the bridge in the newspapers with a dotted line showing the path of a person's fall. ["Banking Official Plunges to Death from High Span," "Philadelphia Inquirer", 11 June 1911, p. 1.] ["Quiet Observer," "Beehive", 23, no. 4 (August 1933), p. 22.]

Centennial celebration

, is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the completion of the bridge. Only a few blocks from the Walnut Lane Bridge, Cliveden is hosting an exhibition and educational program on the construction of the bridge, featuring a collection of rare lantern slides. The exhibit runs from May through October. [ [http://www.walnutlanebridge.org Walnut Lane Bridge website] ]


External links

* [http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.pa3675 Listing and photographs] at the Historic American Buildings Survey
* [http://bridgehunter.com/pa/philadelphia/674013002018590/ Listing] at Historic Bridges of the United States
* [http://www.digitalsportsman.com/1929/new/old_walnut_lane.htm Photograph]

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