Tag Archive | "Ralph Modjeski"

Secrets of the Delaware River Bridge

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Like the designers of the Egyptian Pyramids who added secret compartments within their walls that stored the wealth and possessions of their Pharaoh inhabitants as preparation for their journeys and lives in the next realm, more modern architects have hidden treasures within their structures.  Hundreds of thousands of riders travel over the Benjamin Franklin Bridge between Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Camden, New Jersey daily.  Few have any inkling of the treasures stored within it.


The idea of building a bridge across the Delaware River was discussed in the early 1800’s.  Employing the best practices of 19th Century engineering, they planned a low structure with a complex array of openings to accommodate both the sailing ships and the horse-drawn vehicles of the day.   Like many such large-scale public programs, it takes years to bring initial plans to fruition, and the bridge spanning the Delaware was no exception.  In fact, it took a century.


With the dawn of the motorized era of transportation, the need for a bridge became more pressing.  In 1913, the city of Philadelphia formed the Penn Memorial Bridge Committee to study a possible Delaware River crossing.  At about the same time, interest in such a bridge also peaked among New Jersey farmers who wished to transport their produce to Pennsylvania markets.


Between 1908 and 1911, the state of New Jersey passed laws stipulating that three or more counties could join to initiate a bridge study if all three counties were contiguous, and at least one bordered the river to be crossed.  Influenced by the agricultural interests, Gloucester, Camden and Burlington counties eventually came up with the funds to study the proposed Delaware River Bridge.


In 1916, New Jersey Governor James F. Fielder appointed the Delaware River and Tunnel Commission and Philadelphia agreed to jointly study the issues.  In 1919, the legislatures of the state of Pennsylvania and New Jersey approved creation of the Delaware River Bridge Joint Commission.  In 1920, the Commission chose Ralph Modjeski as bridge engineer and Leon S. Moisseiff as design engineer.  The original plan was to build a bridge for pedestrians, motorized vehicles, a trolley line, and heavy rail connecting Philadelphia to the City of Camden, the New Jersey Turnpike, and Southern New Jersey.  The trolley service was to have passenger terminals housed in dual concrete anchorages supporting the suspension bridge structure, but the service was never initiated.


It is in these unused concrete trolley stations, long hidden from the eyes of the public, that an artistic treasure lies.  Like the rooms in the pyramids containing a wealth of Egyptian culture, these alcoves contain beautiful mosaic artwork that has never been seen by the general public because of security reasons.


On its dedication day in 1926, 100,000 people walked from Philadelphia to Camden including a Confederate soldier in full uniform.  The next day, President Calvin Coolidge dedicated it as The Delaware River Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in the world.  In years to come, the bridge would be renamed to honor Benjamin Franklin and the heavy rail lanes would become part of the Port Authority Transit Company (PATCO) high-speed rail system.  But, the tiled passenger terminals and mosaics celebrating milestones in the history of transportation would remain largely unseen.


Fortunately, the treasures of the Ben Franklin Bridge can be viewed on Write On New Jersey.  And another hidden piece of history has been revealed.




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