|The Stanton "Covered" Bridge|
My guide on this journey was Will Truax, a bridgewright from New England (here's his blog) who repairs, restores, and rebuilds covered bridges for a living. His expertise was crucial in figuring out just what it was I was looking at in the picture above, sent to me by Ken Copeland. At first, I thought it might be the railroad bridge mentioned in the Stanton Station post (also spurred by a photo from Ken), but Will assured me that this was definitely not a railroad bridge. Instead, this was a type of bridge that was not uncommon at one time in the 19th Century, but because of its lack of durability, is almost unknown today. This bridge was what is known as a Boxed Pony Truss, and this one specifically was a Queen Post type. It spanned White Clay Creek southwest of Stanton, where the concrete arched bridge is now. In fact, I believe the picture of the Boxed Pony bridge was taken from that spot of land between Mill Creek (to the right in the picture below) and White Clay Creek -- just about where today's Route 7 passes overhead.
This type of bridge, the boxed pony truss, is what I'd describe as a semi-covered bridge. As noted in a previous post, the purpose behind covering a bridge is to protect the timbers of its wooden frame from the elements, thereby greatly extending its lifespan. Usually, in a classical covered bridge, this is done by covering the entire bridge with siding and a roof across the entire span. However, doing that was rather expensive. Another option was to only cover, or box, the trusses (the support structures on either side). This was done by cladding them in siding, and placing a small roof-ette over top. In the top picture, if you look closely at the left side of the "V" in the middle, you can see a bit of the roof-ette of the far truss. This method could be used on pony truss bridges which, unlike through trusses, have no overhead connecting structures between the two sides.
The queen post designation refers to the truss design, which gives the bridge what I call an "up-across-down" look. The Stanton bridge in particular was a two span structure, which was apparently not very common. As stated, the main reason for building a boxed pony as opposed to a "true" covered bridge was financial. Although fully covering the bridge would extend the life of the support timbers beneath the road deck, it was significantly more costly to do so. Even in a "true" covered bridge, the flooring itself would occasionally have to be replaced, but the support timbers below would require less frequent inspection and replacement. It really seems to be a decision about upfront construction costs as compared to longterm maintenance costs. Those longterm costs appear to eventually have caught up with most of the 19th Century boxed pony bridges -- there are only a relative handful of them in existence today.
Records indicate that the end came for the Stanton boxed pony bridge in 1904, when it was replaced with a 102' long steel truss bridge, shown above. This bridge stood for 38 years, until it was replaced by the concrete rainbow arch bridge we see today. This link here has more information about the concrete bridge, including the fact that it was the first, and maybe only, one of its type in the state. Now, of course, it is used only for pedestrian traffic, having been bypassed by the new, elevated section of Route 7 in the late 1980's.
While researching and thinking about the Stanton bridge, I happened to recall another picture of a bridge that I had seen, but couldn't make complete sense out of. It came from the same place as the picture of the Stanton steel truss bridge -- a 1921 inventory of New Castle County bridges conducted by the State Highway Department. The only information attached to the shot was that it was "Near St. James Church". In looking at it, I had always thought that it kind of looked like a very short, oddly shaped covered bridge. After learning about boxed pony bridges, and after consulting again with Will Truax, the Official Bridge Consultant of the Mill Creek Hundred History Blog (now there's something for his resume), I now know I was mostly right.
This bridge, which I believe spanned Mill Creek on Old Capitol Trail (near where Telegraph Road merges with it) is also a boxed pony truss bridge. It's a different style of truss, but still a boxed pony. This page has pictures of a similar bridge in Pennsylvania, to give you a better idea of what it might have looked like. The only clue to its construction date is this mention in the "Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Delaware" which shows an appropriation in 1858 of $375 for "Rebuilding bridge over Mill Creek above Stanton". It's very possible that this refers to this bridge. I don't know when this bridge was replaced, but it seems that at one time, the Stanton area was a relative hotbed for this almost-vanished type of bridge, the boxed pony truss.
Additional Facts and Related Thoughts:
- Here is a link to the DELDOT page that contains the 1921 bridge inventory mentioned in the post. There are also some old annual reports that have some interesting pictures, too. A lot of cool stuff, if you have the time to go through it.