Humans Versus Nature, Yet Again

There are four very large rivers in the northeastern U.S. that flow basically north south: the Connecticut, which that makes up the boundary between Vermont and New Hampshire before cutting Massachusetts and Connecticut in two and entering the Long Island Sound at New Haven; the Hudson which runs south near the east edge of New York State before joining the Atlantic at New York Bay; the Delaware, which runs from the Catskill mountains in New York, serves as the border between New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and enters the Atlantic at Delaware Bay between New Jersey and Delaware; and the Susquehanna, which has a branch start in central New York and a branch start in central Pennsylvania and then runs south to Chesapeake Bay. That’s all great, except that one of the primary directions of human traffic has always been east-west, which meant that people have spent more time crossing these rivers more than traveling on them.

I was in Baltimore yesterday and took the picture above from my train as it crossed the Susquehanna between Havre de Grace and Perryville, both in Maryland. I’ve taken trains on that route (mostly the old Pennsylvania Railroad line from New York to Washington) many times and I’ve seen those abandoned piers in the river. It seemed like a good time to find out what they are. The Susquehanna is quite wide at Havre de Grace as it becomes Chesapeake Bay – the bridge that is in use now, that my train was traveling on, is 4150 feet in total length, or more than 3/4 of a mile long. The current bridge was built in 1904-1906 by the Pennsylvania Railroad to provide heavier capacity and two tracks; it was built immediately adjacent to the existing bridge so that there would be no service interruption. The older bridge, which used those abandoned piers, was built as a series of wood Burr Trusses, combinations of trusses and arches:

That 1866 bridge is notable for eliminating the ferries that had carried passengers, freight, and sometimes entire train cars across the river, but it was short-lived. In 1874, the wood trusses were replaced with wrought iron, reusing the old piers:

Thirty years is better than twelve, but this second version is the one that was replaced by the current bridge. I assume that the piers were left because they were far enough apart to not interfere with navigation and because it would be so much annoying work to remove them properly.

The catenaries were installed when the Pennsylvania electrified the entire line between New York and Washington in the 1930s. I particularly like the ways the cables get higher at the center swing span over the main channel.

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