Thursday, August 23, 2012

Two Abandoned Bridges in the Woods

Bridge over Turkey Run
This might not be the most exciting little post, but I wanted to write it anyway. There was something I had found a little while ago and shared with someone, but I realized I never posted it for everyone to see. Now I've come across another similar situation, so I figured I'd bundle them together in one post. At issue are two small bridges -- one repurposed and one abandoned -- in the woods near ruins I've been shown recently. These bridges were never very large or heavily trafficked even when in use, and are certainly not much to look at today. What this story is, I think, more than anything, is a neat way to use a reference source I haven't touched on in a while -- the 1921 State Highway Department Bridge Survey. Well, at least I thought it was neat. Your mileage may vary.

The first bridge in question goes back to the post about the Walter Craig House, which if you'll recall is located southwest of Corner Ketch, and just north of Thompson Station Road. In the post, I mentioned that the ruins are also near an old, abandoned road, visible on the old maps, that now serves as part of one of the trails through White Clay Creek Preserve. After having walked down this old road/new trail to get to the Craig House, and before going to the ruins themselves, my guide and suburbosylvan explorer (any chance that term'll catch on?) Roger Suro showed me the bridge that carries the trail over Turkey Run. The decking and upper portion of the bridge are new, presumably put in place by the state when the trail was created. However, if you look underneath the newer footbridge's decking and railings, you'll see a much older support system.

The wooden footbridge is actually sitting on the stone abutments and steel supports of the old bridge, as seen in the photo above. Once Roger pointed this out to me, I knew I had to try and find it in the 1921 survey. Not to get too far into the weeds (metaphorically speaking, not literally, which I did in checking out the bridges), but figuring out exactly where each bridge is in the survey can get a bit tricky. Since only major roads seemed to have official names then, most pictures are labeled not as being on a certain road, but as being near someplace. Luckily, (A) each bridge has a number identifying it and (B) I was able to find a current DelDOT bridge map with numbers, too. For the most part, where bridges are in the same location, the numbers are the same now as they were in 1921. In situations like these two, the numbers are usually not on the new map, but sometimes were reused for a nearby bridge. Also luckily, the numbers are more or less consecutive. In other words, bridge #215 is near #213, #214, #216, etc. With a little patience, you can figure out where an old bridge was, even if it's not on the new map. And speaking of Bridge #215, here it is below.

Bridge #M215, Near Thompson's Station
I'm not sure why they wrote what I assume was meant to be "Obsolete", since to me it doesn't look half as bad as many of the other bridges pictured. Maybe there was something about it in particular, or maybe the road itself was already being phased out by that time. Either way, I'm pretty confident that it's the same bridge. Even today, there are the remains of a gate to the right of the bridge, as seen in the lower picture. It looks like there is wooden decking leading to it, but I'm not sure of its purpose. If anyone has any ideas, feel free to comment.

Stone abutment of bridge near Plumgrove Farm

The second old bridge I found (or more accurately, bridge location) is back in the woods near Plumgrove Farm, east of Limestone Road and south of Stoney Batter Road. Whereas the last bridge still had the old substructure in place, this bridge is completely gone except for a stone abutment on one side. This bridge was situated on the road that formerly led south from Stoney Batter Road near the John Walker Farm, along the west side of Mill Creek, and coming out to Limestone Road near present Concord Drive (between Arundel Dr. and the McKennan-Klair House). Only the very northern part of it survives, as a long private drive to another old house (unless possibly Concord Drive is the southern tip). The road went past Plumgrove Farm and was completely abandoned sometime last century.

Just below where the road once passed in front the Plumgrove farmhouse, it crosses a small stream that nearby empties into Mill Creek (the stream probably has a name, but I don't know what it is). All traces of the bridge itself are long gone, but its former location was uncovered by that area's suburbosylvan explorer (see -- I'm not gonna give up), Dave Olsen. He found one of the stone abutments that once held the bridge, specifically the one on the north side of the stream. There are some stones on the opposite side, but erosion has destroyed any semblance of a structure there.

"Bridge #M188, Near Mermaid"
I believe that the photo above is of this bridge. As you can (sort of) see, it looks to have been a very simple wooden bridge. Frankly, from the looks of it, I think I would have been nervous going over it even with an empty wagon. Incidentally, the bridge number in this case, #188, was reused and given to a small bridge that crosses another Mill Creek tributary just to the south, in Arundel. The 1921 picture, in this case, doesn't really show much, but judging by location and number, I'm fairly certain this is it.

As you can see, neither of these bridges was very remarkable, even in their prime. Most people who go anywhere near them now probably don't even realize that they were once actual bridges on actual roads, such as they were at the time. I just think it's neat to use the 1921 Bridge Survey once in a while to locate some of these minor bridges, instead of the larger, flashier ones. While there were larger, fancier bridges around -- like the covered ones -- most 19th Century bridges were more like the ones here. Some on roads that survived were ultimately replaced by more modern structures (I have a feeling this was one of the reasons the 1921 survey was done, to identify what would need to be upgraded into the emerging Automobile Age), while others disappeared. Here were two bridges that had the misfortune of being on roads deemed unnecessary for the modern world, leaving only traces of their former "glory".


  1. Scott, Did you look at Cooch's chapter titled "Abandonded Roads" for this very interesting post?

    1. No, I didn't, but I did look at it now. As best as I can tell, he doesn't mention the road near the Craig house. He does, however, make a brief note about the road along Mill creek that goes by Plumgrove Farm. He writes (in about 1932), "If you value your car do not try to traverse the road up the Mill Creek from beyond the Boys Camp to Stoney Batter, though you may pass through there on foot or on horseback and yet William P. Naudain used to travel it often in years gone by."

      As you know, the whole article/chapter is very interesting and challenging. I can find most of the roads he mentions on the maps and figure out where he is, but there are a few that confuse me. If I ever find a copy of it online, maybe I'll post it.