Thursday, September 23, 2010

Marshallton's Travelling Bridge

The "New Bridge" in Marshallton, c.1905
Editor's Note of Caution: I now have very good reason to believe that much of this post is incorrect. There was a local bridge that was moved as stated, but it was almost certainly not the Marshallton span. In the near future I'll tell the correct story. The truss bridge in Marshallton was replaced with a concrete structure in 1955.

 Most of the posts here involve coming up with an idea for a topic, doing some light research, and then passing along what we've been able to learn. Once in a while, though, something of the "Wow, I didn't know that!" variety will pop up out of the blue, or in the course of other research. When something like this happens, I want to pass it along. And as I'm sure you've figured, something like this did happen to me the other day. While doing some reading, I found out that the 110 year old bridge that spanned the Red Clay Creek in Marshallton is still around -- but not in Marshallton. In fact, it has moved twice!

The bridge in question, just one in a string that have graced the site since the late 1700's, was built across the Red Clay Creek on what is now Newport Road at the base of Duncan Road right about 1900. It is what is known as a pin-connected Pratt pony truss bridge, and in its original configuration had five panels that spanned 57'6''. The postcard above shows the bridge in its Marshallton location, just a few years after it was built. For its time, it was a modern and impressive bridge, one befitting the importance of the road it carried. Although the road now seems fairly small and out of the way, in 1900 it was part of what was known as the Lincoln Highway -- the main east-west route through Mill Creek Hundred, and from Wilmington to Newark and beyond. Kirkwood Highway would not be built for four decades, and even the Marshallton Cut-Off (the section of Old Capitol Trail between Newport Road and Stanton Road that rerouted traffic around "downtown" Marshallton) was not opened until 1931.

The bridge served Marshallton for 25 years, actually the shortest stay in any of its now three locations. In 1925, it was replaced by a concrete and steel bridge and moved to its second home, again spanning Red Clay Creek. This time, though, it did it several miles upstream, on Mt. Cuba Road, west of (the then just being constructed) Hoopes Reservoir. The bridge stayed there for 45 years, until it was purchased by a private owner in 1970.

View of the bridge in 1921, still in Marshallton
What private citizen could have bought a bridge in 1970? If you're a Delawarean, your first guess was probably "a duPont". You'd be right. The particular duPont this time was Lammot duPont Copeland, great-great-grandson of company founder E.I. duPont, and President of the DuPont Company from 1962 to 1967. Copeland was the owner of a large property known as Mt. Cuba, and he wanted a pedestrian bridge so he could safely get to the other side of his estate. (Yes, that's why duPonts cross the road.) So, he purchased the old Marshallton "New Bridge" from the state highway department and had it airlifted to its present location spanning Barley Mill Road. For proper installation into its new location, the bridge was shortened by three and a half feet.

Bridge's current location
Mr. Copeland and his wife Pamela spent years building the landscape and gardens around their estate, and after his death in 1983, Mrs. Copleand founded the Mt. Cuba Center to further the study of plants native to the piedmont region. Upon Mrs. Copeland's passing in 2001, the estate officially became the Mt. Cuba Center, a non-profit horticultural institution "dedicated to the study, conservation, and appreciation of plants native to the Appalachian Piedmont region through garden display, education, and research." It is on the grounds of the Mt. Cuba Center that the 110 year old Marshallton bridge, now in its third location, currently sits.

Additional Facts and Related Thoughts:
  • There's a mention in the 1858 "Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Delaware" that may give tiny clue about the earlier bridge. Listed is an appropriation of $440 for "rebuilding bridge over Red Clay Creek, near Marshall's". I would assume this would have to refer to this same bridge site. It doesn't give any clues as to what type of bridge it was, but it does tell us that an older bridge was replaced in 1858, probably by the one then replaced by the Pratt pony truss around 1900.


  1. Good post Scott. I always wondered where the Pony Truss Bridge was located. You are right, sometimes things come from out of the blue. Now I am wondering what the bridge prior to the Pony looked like. There is a small stone bridge in the on-line State of Del. bridge files showing a Duncan Road bridge, but there is also a Duncan Road in Brandywine Hundred.There has been a bridge at this location for over 200 years. Marshallton was known as Hersey's Bridge before 1836 when Herseys Mill had been in operation since 1760's.

    Enjoy your site

  2. The Duncan Road image I spoke of is #175 on the link below.

    I find it is easier to open an image and push the right arroe button to scroll through.


  3. I've added some information about a possible build date for the earlier bridge in Marshallton. It's not much, but it's another small step forward towards understanding.

  4. Just drove under this bridge tonight out by Mt. Cuba.. Was wondering to myself, what roads could possibly lead to that bridge. Google satellite brought me to the location, saw it was a bridge connected to no roads, causing my interest to spike. A google search of barley mill bridge brought me to many posts regarding the covered bridge down the road by Ashland Nature Center.

    But then I stumbled across this post, which not only identified the bridge, but also gave a fascinating back story to how and why that bridge is there. Great read. Thanks Scott.

    1. Glad I could help solve the mystery. I'll be honest, when I started writing this post, I had no idea that the bridge was still around. I was pretty excited when I realized what and where it was.