Jacob's Creek Bridge (Pennsylvania)

Jacob's Creek Bridge (1801, demolished 1833) was the first iron-chain suspension bridge built in the United States. Designed by James Finley, a local judge and inventor, it spanned Jacob's Creek, just south of Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania. Nothing of the bridge is thought to remain, but an area on the north side of Jacob's Creek – where Route 819 (Mount Pleasant Road) crosses – is still called "Iron Bridge."[2]

Jacob's Creek Bridge
Coordinates40°06′45″N 79°33′11″W / 40.11254°N 79.55309°W / 40.11254; -79.55309 (Jacob's Creek Bridge)
CrossesJacob's Creek
LocaleSouth of Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania
MaterialWrought iron chain
Total length70 feet (21 m)
Width12 feet 6 inches (3.81 m)
DesignerJames Finley
Construction cost$600 (US$10,000 with inflation[1])

History edit

Chain Bridge at Falls of Schuylkill, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1808). Jacob's Creek Bridge was of similar design, but only a single span.

Iron-chain suspension bridges had been built in China, England, and elsewhere in Europe. During the 1790s Finley served as a state senator in Philadelphia (then the state capital), and frequented the American Philosophical Society library. Eda Kranakis, an expert on early American suspension bridges, conjectures that Finley would have had access in Philadelphia to information about European bridges.[3]

Fayette County commissioners proposed the bridge in a March 1801 letter to the Westmoreland County board of commissioners. (Jacob's Creek forms part of the boundary between the counties.) The contract with Finley was signed in April, with each county committing to half of the $600 (US$10,000 with inflation[1]) cost, and specifying that the bridge be completed by December 15.[4] John Fulton and Andrew Oliphant constructed the bridge. Iron was supplied by Isaac Meason,[5] Finley's friend and fellow judge, who owned nearby Union Furnace and Mount Vernon Furnace.[6]

The bridge's two chain cables were made of 1-inch iron bar, wrought into links between 5 and 10 feet long, and anchored to the ground at each end. These stretched over 14-foot pyramid-shaped stone piers built on either side of the creek. Vertical suspenders dropped from the cables to support the wooden joists beneath the decking. Because the iron suspenders were graduated in length, the roadway was almost flat.[7] Finley guaranteed the bridge to last for fifty years (except for the wooden decking). In a June 1810 article, Finley described the bridge as having a 70-foot (21 m) span, and a width of 12 feet 6 inches (3.81 m). He used a similar design for his Chain Bridge at Falls of Schuylkill in 1808, and secured a patent that same year.[8]

Jacob's Creek Bridge was damaged in 1825 and rebuilt. It was replaced by a wooden bridge in 1833.

External links edit

References edit

  • James Finley, "Finley's Chain Bridge," The Port Folio, vol. 3, no. 6, (Philadelphia: Bradford & Inskeep, June 1810), pp. 441–52.[3]
  • Franklin Ellis, History of Fayette County (Philadelphia: L.H. Everts & Co., 1882).
  • Evelyn Abraham, "Isaac Meason, the First Ironmaker West of the Alleghenies," Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine (March 1937).
  • Kranakis, Eda (1997). Constructing a Bridge: An Exploration of Engineering Culture, Design, and Research in Nineteenth-century France and America. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-11217-5. Kranakis provides a multi-chapter history, structural analysis, and survey of Finley's bridges.
  • Cordier, M.J. (1820). Histoire de la navigation intérieure [History of Interior Navigation] (in French). Vol. 2. Paris: Firmin Didot. pp. 178–181.
  • Sayenga, Donald (November 2008). "James Finley" (PDF). Structure. National Council of Structural Engineers Associations. pp. 69–70. ISSN 1536-4283.
  • Griggs, Frank (March 2016). "Schuylkill Falls Chain Suspension Bridge (1809)" (PDF). Structure. National Council of Structural Engineers Associations. pp. 64–66. ISSN 1536-4283.
  1. ^ a b 1634–1699: McCusker, J. J. (1997). How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States: Addenda et Corrigenda (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1700–1799: McCusker, J. J. (1992). How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1800–present: Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Retrieved February 29, 2024.
  2. ^ Iron Bridge, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania from MapQuest.
  3. ^ Kranakis, p. 23.
  4. ^ "April 14, 1801.–The commissioners of Fayette and Westmoreland Counties met and completed contract with James Finley to build a bridge supported with iron at or near Isaac Meason's, over Jacob's Creek, for the sum of six hundred dollars, one-half to be paid out of the treasury of Fayette, and one-half out of the treasury of Westmoreland. The bridge to be "a patent Iron chain suspension" structure of seventy feet span, and to be completed ready for use on or before Dec. 15, 1801. This bridge over Jacob's Creek, on the turnpike road between Connellsville and Mount Pleasant, was the first iron suspension bridge erected in the State of Pennsylvania. The plan on which it was built was invented and patented by Judge James Finley, of Fayette County. Another bridge of this kind was built a few years later over Dunlap's Creek, at Bridgeport. The plan, however, proved defective and the bridges unsafe, the one last named falling under the weight of a team and ordinary wagon-load, after having been in use less than ten years." — History of Fayette County, p. 250.[1]
  5. ^ Kranakis, p. 24.
  6. ^ Meason House from Pennsylvania Museum and Historical Commission.
  7. ^ Robert B. Van Atta, "Bridge across Jacobs Creek was world's first iron suspension bridge," Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pennsylvania), May 19, 2002.[2]
  8. ^ "Finley's Chain Bridge," p. 442.