Sunday, July 10, 2011

Paper Mill and Faulkland Road Covered Bridges

Postcard showing the Paper Mill Covered Bridge
 I don't think it would shock anyone if I said that Mill Creek Hundred is chock full of creeks, streams, runs, and all manner of moving water (c'mon, "Creek" is right there in the name). And while these were certainly a blessing for millers and manufacturers, they sometimes got in the way when you were trying to get from one place to another. Very early in our history, there were no bridges on what passed for roads in the area -- you just forded the streams at a shallow spot. Later, bridges did begin to be built, but they were usually small, wooden, and in need of frequent maintenance and repair. In the early part of the 19th Century, a new type of bridge began to appear, one that would last longer and require less maintenance than earlier ones -- the covered bridge. At one time, MCH was dotted with at least a dozen or more covered bridges. Here, we'll look at two of them -- one of the longest, and probably the shortest.

The first bridge we'll look at was one of the last in the county to be intentionally taken out of service, and was to my eyes one of the most beautiful -- the Paper Mill Bridge east of Newark. The history of this bridge, not surprisingly, is closely tied to the nearby Meeteer (later, Curtis) Paper Mill. When the mill began operations in the late 1700's, there was no bridge here -- only a nearby ford, called Tyson's Ford. In 1817, the first bridge carrying what we now call Paper Mill Road over White Clay Creek was built. The cost was $1771.83 for the wooden, non-covered bridge. This bridge sufficed for the next 44 years, until it was replaced in 1861 by a 96 ft. Town lattice truss covered bridge ("Town lattice truss" was the style of bridge, the most common, especially in rural areas, since it could be built without metal fasteners).

It's very possible that construction of the new bridge was prompted by the outbreak of war, and an increase in production at the paper mill due to government contracts. I'm not sure if the rectangular "nameplate" seen in the postcard above was original, but it was definitely in place by about the turn of the century. It may be a bit difficult to see, but it says, "1861 Paper Mill Bridge". The plate is still visible in the first picture below, which was taken in 1921, but by the time of the second picture, which may date to the early 1940's, it was gone. There were apparently plans to replace the aging bridge as early as the early 1930's, but lack of funds and then World War II saved it for almost 20 years. The Paper Mill Covered Bridge was finally replaced by a modern, concrete span in 1949, just in time to handle the increased automobile traffic generated by a growing Newark and burgeoning suburbia.

Before we move on to the second bridge, located on the other side of the hundred, a quick note about covered bridges in general. I could be wrong, but I think many people misunderstand the reason behind building a covered bridge. I remember being told as a child that covered bridges were built so that horses would not get spooked while traversing fast-moving streams. This is not the case. The real reason goes back what was mentioned in the first paragraph -- maintenance. The exposed planks in a regular wooden bridge tend to rot and deteriorate fairly quickly. This necessitates constant repairs, and lots of money. The reason for building a covered bridge is simply to protect the lumber of the decking from the elements.

From a large, exposed, heavily-travelled bridge, we now move to a location where many people may not even know a bridge exists, let alone that there was once a covered bridge. Faulkland Road, as it descends westward from Newport Gap Pike, crosses the Red Clay Creek tributary of Hyde Run before rising again to Duncan Road. For about 60 years, this was the site of one of the odder covered bridges in the area, and one of my favorites. Very little is known about this bridge, and only one photograph is known to exist. It was likely a Town lattice truss bridge, and was probably built in the 1850's or 1860's. *See notes below  The concrete girder bridge that eventually replaced it was only 27 feet long, so the covered bridge was probably smaller than that.

Faulkand Covered Bridge 1921
Like the much larger Paper Mill Bridge, the Faulkand Bridge had solid sides with no windows or vents. Unlike the Paper Mill Bridge, this one looks like someone plopped a shed on top of a creek. At least, that's what it looks like to me. YMMV. By the time of the picture above in 1921, the old bridge was showing its age. The following year, it was torn down and replaced with a concrete bridge, which I believe is still there. Built in the age of horse-drawn travel, both the Paper Mill and Faulkland Covered Bridges eventually succumbed to the Age of the Automobile. Small wooden bridges were no longer sufficient to carry the increased traffic and weight that cars brought. With their demise went one more remnant of MCH's rural past.

Additional Facts and Related Thoughts:
  • In the 1858 "Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Delaware", there is an appropriation of $400 for "building new bridge over Hyde Run, near Brandywine Springs" (near the bottom of page 42). I can't verify for sure that this refers to the construction of the covered bridge in the picture, but the date does fit with what was estimated for it.
  • Prompted by an inquiry from a comment, here is a link to a document (PDF) that talks about several bridges, including the 1922 Faulkland steel bridge.


  1. "Your Mileage May Vary". Just meant not everyone may see it the same as me.

  2. I travel over those those bridges several time a week and never would have imagined they were preceded by covered bridges!

  3. Hi - I'm a specialist bridge preservation carpenter and bridge historian, and got to know your area quite well while helping restore the Gilpin's in Cecil County.

    Trekked into Newark regularly as there's a branch of the bank I do businss with there, and I'm likewise from a no sales tax state.

    Glad I found your post and learned some of local your bridge history!

  4. Thanks for the comment, Will. And thanks for doing what you do. "Bridge carpenter" is one of those things I'm sure is seen somewhat less on resumes today than 150 years ago. I'm glad there are people like you taking care of these beautiful pieces of history.

    To see the bridge Will helped to restore in our area, click here. I might have to go check this out sometime.

  5. I've added a note about the Faulkland road bridge, citing what might indicate a construction date for it of 1858.

  6. Scott, I'm curious how you determined the bridge was on Faulkland Road. I live in Ohio, so my only reference materials are my copy of Marjorie McNinch's book on Covered Bridge of Delaware and anything I can find on the internet. She mentions the bridge was listed as #147 and on Road 270. Is Faulkland Road equivalent to Road 270 ? Thanks.

    1. I know it was there for several reasons. First, I've heard second-hand stories from people who've talked to older residents who remember the bridge being there. But more importantly, there's documentary evidence. Yes, apparently Faulkland Road is also County Route 270. I don't have McNinch's book on hand, but she's incorrect in the bridge number. This covered bridge was (and the replacement still is) is bridge #182. I cropped the picture, but the 1921 shot has the bridge number on the left side. 147 is also on Faulkland Road, but is the larger bridge over Red Clay Creek, near the Fell Spice Mill.

      If I recall, does McNinch say it might have been in or near the amusement park? If so, I can tell you definitively that it wasn't.

      Finally, there is a page (PDF) that has info about the 1922 replacement bridge, which I'll be adding to the post shortly. Thanks for the question, Todd!