Point Bridge I and Point Bridge II

The two Point Bridges in 1927.
The two Point Bridges side-by-side in 1927. The old suspension bridge would soon be dismantled.
The two Point Bridges served Pittsburgh for over eighty years, from 1877 to 1959.

In the history of the City of Pittsburgh, there have been three bridges built at the Point that spanned the Monongahela River. The first, a suspension bridge opened in 1877, was called the Point Bridge. It was replaced, in 1927, by a cantilever arch-truss span, often refered to as Point Bridge II. After thirty-two years, the second Point Bridge was replaced, in 1959, by the modern Fort Pitt Bridge.

Jones Ferry

The bridges replaced the long-established Jones Ferry, which had operated for nearly 100 years, since the 1700s, and had been a very profitable enterprise. Originally, the ferry, which only operated during daylight hours from near Saw Mill Run on the West End to a platform at Ferry Street, was propelled by poles and oars. There were skiffs for passengers and flat boats for horses and wagons. Commuters who missed the last run could spend the evening at Jones nearby hotel.

A typical river ferry in the 1850s.
A typical 1850s river ferry such as the steam boats employed by the Jones Ferry.

In 1835, the flat boats were replaced with horse boats, powered by blind horses tramping on a horizontal wheel. A decade later steam-powered boats were introduced. At the time of the bridge building, the company operated two steam boats and a ferry ride cost five cents for an individual, as opposed to the two cent toll planned for the Point Bridge. The ferry relocated upriver in 1877 to better serve its mill freight and coal customers, but soon was out of business.

Point Bridge I

In 1874, during construction of the Union Bridge over the Allegheny River, a proposal was put forth for a sister bridge to provide access from the Point to the communities on the southern shore of the Monongahela River. The Point Bridge Company was formed on November 2, 1874, to design and construct the span. Charles Davis was selected as bridge engineer.

The first Point Bridge.

In May of 1875 the American Bridge Company was awarded the construction contract and work began on August 1. The Point Bridge, a stiffened chain suspension span, consisted of four wrought-iron towers, two on each bank, with chains suspended there-from to support the bridge deck. The total length of the span was 1,090 feet, with one middle span 800 feet between the towers, and one independent-trussed side span of 145 feet at each shore.

The bridge was thirty-four feet wide, with a roadway twenty-one feet wide and two sidewalks of five feet each. The two bridge piers were built of Baden sandstone laid in cement mortar, founded upon timber platforms sunk to a gravel bed below the riverbed.

The first Point Bridge.

The quantities of materials used during construction included: Timber in foundations - 1,442,000 feet (board measure); Masonry in anchor walls - 10,868 cubic yards; Masonry in piers - 7,507 cubic yards; Iron in foundations - 12 tons; wrought iron in superstructure - 2,084 tons; cast iron in superstructure - 52 tons; steel in superstructure - 32 tons; Timber in superstructure - 810,000 feet (board measure); number of links in the suspension chains - 1832.

The bridge approach on the north side was nearly 1,000 feet long, extending along the wharf outside of Water Street to Penn Avenue, then ascending to the bridge. A second short approach connected across the narrow point to the Union Bridge.

The first Point Bridge in 1900.
The original Point Bridge in 1900.

The total cost of the bridge project was $525,000, of which $478,091 went to American Bridge. This was almost $80,000 over budget. Much of the reason for this was the amount of landfill necessary to extend the bridge approach from Carson Street. Seasonal rains and flooding kept washing away the fill. In an attempt to recover costs, tolls would be charged to cross, a policy that remained in effect for nearly twenty years.

The Point Bridge, opened to traffic on March 31, 1877, seven months behind schedule. The bridge was considered an early technological masterpiece, with the four quasi-Egyptian towers as anchor piers, between which the traffic moved.

The north entrance to Point Bridge in 1916.
The northern (downtown) entrance to the Point Bridge in 1916.

During the formal ceremony, Mr. Jacob Painter, one of the oldest citizens and one of the largest stockholders, along with distinguished guests J.N. McCullough, B.F. Jones, John Chalfant, Campbell Herron, Mark Watson, David Stewart, Alex Byers, Alex Nimick and Max Moorhead, all passed over the structure in carriages.

Following the carriages were nearly fifty teams of horses passed across, two abreast. The total weight upon the bridge was 475 tons, equal to the weight of twelve locomotives, or a crowd of 7000 people. Altogether there were on the main span at the same time forty-eight teams with 176 horses or mules and about 900 people. Oscilation tests proved satisfactory and the bridge was deemed ready for traffic.

Postcard showing the Point Bridge in 1908.
A postcard image of the Point Bridge in 1908.

Along with the nearby Duquesne Inclined Plane and the emerging streetcar railway network, the Point Bridge was an instant transportation and economic success. It opened up the possibilities of expansion to the southern municipalities and new growth potential for the City of Pittsburgh.

Unfortunately, the Point Bridge Company did practically nothing over the next two decades to maintain the bridge. Tool revenues never met expectations and stockholders never received a dividend, therefore little attention was given to bridge maintenance. Light rail traffic was soon added to the bridge, and along with the increasing amount of vehicular traffic carrying heavier loads, it was not long before the bridge was deemed inadequate and in danger of collapse.

Considering the tolls, a July 1, 1895 Daily Post feature reported that the tolls charged on the Point Bridge were as follows: All men, women and children, two cents every day of the week; Single horse and wagon, 5 cents; Double horse team and wagon, 10 to 15 cents; Man on horseback, 5 cents; bicyclists, one cent. Tickets were sold to foot passengers at a rate of 25 tickets/$1 and yearly toll-rates were available for horse and wagon customers. Large haul customers normally paid a yearly fee, as well as Traction companies, who paid either annually or on a single car basis.

The first Point Bridge in 1912.
Surveyors along the Mon Wharf with the Point Bridge in the background in 1912.

The Point Bridge was purchased by the City of Pittsburgh on June 26, 1896 at a cost of $400,000. By 1904 the bridge had been completely overhauled and strengthened. Despite these modifications, due to it's light construction, engineers conceded that the bridge was still too fragile to handle the increasing weight of modern traffic and needed to be replaced.

Despite these warnings, the Point Bridge continued to serve the transportation needs of Pittsburghers for another two decades without incident while plans for a newer, stronger span were completed. In the early-1920s, ownership of the bridge passed from the City of Pittsburgh to Allegheny County. Weight restrictions were soon imposed, forcing most heavy vehicles onto the Smithfield Street Bridge. This caused wide-spread problems with traffic congestion leading into and out of the downtown area.

Traffic on the Point Bridge - 1919.
Traffic on the Point Bridge in May 1919.

Point Bridge II

On April 22, 1924, as a result of public outcry over the restrictions on the existing Point Bridge, a Peoples bond issue was approved in the amount of $2,325,000 to erect a replacement bridge. The bridge architect was Stanley L. Rousch, who along with Vernon R. Covell, Chief Engineer of the Bureau of Bridges, George S. Richardson, T.J. Wilkerson and A.D. Nutter, put forth their plan and won the approval of the City Art Commission in the spring of 1925.

Design drawing of the Point Bridge in 1925.
Artists depiction of the new Point Bridge along with an inset of Chief Designer Vernon R. Covell.

The Art Commission played a large part in determining the type of bridge designed. The conditions they imposed on Covell and his team were as follows: (1) the silhouette be convex; (2) the structure be an entity from end to end; (3) the view from the roadway be unobstructed. These conditions were influenced to a large extent by the appearance of the Manchester Bridge, which crossed the Allegheny River from the point. They wanted both spans to appear as companion bridges when viewed from the Ohio River.

Governed by these restrictions and a War Department mandate that all bridges have a seventy-foot clearance above water level, the engineering team came up with a through-cantilever design. It would be something of an engineering hybrid, with a cantilever arch-truss and a suspended central span, and would be built parallel to the existing bridge.

The Point Bridges, old and new, stand together in 1927.
The two Point Bridges, old and new, stand together in 1927. The old suspension bridge is being dismantled.
The War Department gave the city ninety days to remove the old bridge after opening the new span.

The Point Bridges, old and new, stand together in 1927.
The camera catches the last two cables of the old Point Bridge as one of them splashes
into the river after being cut be a man swinging from the derrick.

The total length of the new Point Bridge was to be 1330 feet, including the approachways. The span would support a thirty-eight foot roadway, allowing four lanes of traffic, and two twelve foot sidewalks. The floor system of the bridge was designed for a live load equivalent of three 18-ton trucks for each lane of traffic, along with two 60-ton trolley cars for each of the tracks, together with a sidewalk load of 100 pounds per square foot.

The second Point Bridge

Work on the bridge began in April, 1925. The piers were constructed by the Dravo Construction Company, the steel superstructure by the Fort Pitt Bridge Works, and the paving and approaches by the M. O'Herron Company. When completed, the total length of the span was 1120 feet, with a central span of 670 feet between the piers, and side spans of 225 feet at each shore. The portals, compared with the ornamental designs of the nearby Manchester Bridge, were stark, being composed of unadorned steel plates, and often refered to as tombstones.

A crowd of 2,500 people gathered in the center of the new Point Bridge for the official dedication and on June 20, 1927. Chairman Joseph G. Armstrong of the Allegheny County Board of Commissioners, presented the bridge to the people, while W.S. Diggs of the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce and State Senator Frank J. Harris accepted the bridge for the people. Music was furnished by the Langley High School Band. The total cost of the structure was $2,079,000.

Point Bridge Dedication - June 20, 1927

The photos above show: (1) - Henry Tranter, president of Tranter Manufacturing Company, an early proponent of the new bridge; (2) - A group of city and county officials who took part in the ceremony. Left to right are Mayor Charles H. Kline, Director Brown, Commissioner E.V. Babcock, County Solicitor W. Heber Dithrich, Councilman W.Y. English, Assistant Superintendent of Police Leo D. Coleman, Director of the City Department of Public Works Edward G. Lang, Commissioner James Houlahen, Mrs. G.L. Sweeney, A.V. Snell, Councilman Daniel Winters, James L. Costella, Chamber of Commerce director W.S. Diggs and Senator Frank J. Harris.

(3) - Committee representing Southwestern Allegheny County, left to right, Harris, J.G. Shaw, Diggs, James T. Fox, A.D. Levy and A.W. McMillen; (4) - Mayor Kline emphasizing a point in his speech, with Commissioner Babcock, left, and Director Brown on the platform; (5) - The dainty bit of femininity in the center is Mary Agneta Mullen, who wielded the scissors cutting the ribbon and opening the bridge to traffic, with Miss Helen Fording Shaner, left, and Miss Barbara Jane Ruoss, who acted as her aides. These ladies were daughters of West End Board of Trade members, shown in the photo below.

The second Point Bridge

The second Point Bridge

For a time the new bridge was sufficient for all traffic needs at the Point. Critics of the bridge, however, pointed out that in only twenty-five years the span would be obsolete and completely inadequate for the transportation needs of the future. The skeptics were correct.

By 1945, with the advancement of the new Point Park scheme project and the Renaissance I building initiative, coupled with the increasing motor traffic to the West End and South Hills, it was apparent that the days of the Point Bridge were numbered. The bridge was closed to traffic on June 21, 1959, after only thirty-two years of service, replaced with the modern Fort Pitt Bridge.

The Point Bridge in 1959.
The Point Bridge in 1959 during construction of it's eventual replacement, the Fort Pitt Bridge, to the right.

Efforts to save the bridge failed, and in April 1970 work was begun on demolition of the span. Dravo Corporation engineers were employed in a $2.6 million state-funded project to remove both the Point and Manchester Bridges.

The Point Bridge shortly before
being dismantled in 1970.
The northern entrance to the Point Bridge in 1969, ten years after the bridge was closed to traffic.

The forty-six man crew had to dismantle the Point Bridge piece by piece in a reverse-Cantilever method, resulting in plenty of salvagable scrap steel, which was hauled away on barges by the American Bridge Division of U.S. Steel.

The Point Bridge being dismantled in May 1970.
One of the Gateway Clipper boats nears the Point Bridge during the dismantling in May 1970.

The Manchester Bridge* was much easier to remove. Once the approaches were demolished, the two bridge spans were dropped individually into the Allegheny River, one on September 29 and the other on October 28. The wreckage was then cut up and hauled away on barges.

Cleanup went quickly and by the end of November both bridges were permanently removed from the Pittsburgh landscape. This made it possible to complete the final development of Point State Park and the north shore projects around Three Rivers Stadium.

* Note: The Manchester Bridge was originally called the North Side Point Bridge.

The Point Bridge being dismantled in 1970.
The Point Bridge being dismantled in 1970 to make way for the completion of Point State Park.

Point Bridge Artifacts

Unlike the bronze relief adornments from the Manchester Bridge, which were saved during it's dismantling in 1970, there were no substantial relics preserved from the Point Bridge when it was brought down. Other than pictures and memories, there was nothing left of the structure that for so many years stood front and center at Pittsburgh's Point.

The Point Bridge being dismantled in 1970.
Two relic that made headlines were from the original Point Bridge. These beams were discovered when removing the
approachway. They were buried along with the landfill in the approach, only to reappear forty-five years later.

One item that did find its way into other projects was the blocks that made up the roadbed. Although covered over with asphalt, these Ligonier blocks were cleaned and turned over to the State Department of Parks, Forests and Waters, who maintains Point State Park. The blocks were used for sidewalks and other features throughout the park.

Headstone from the second Point Bridge.

Then, in 2008, came a big surprise. The headstone from the Point Bridge was found discarded on a nearby hillside. How it got there was a mystery, but none-the-less it was quite a startling discovery. The headstone is now preserved at Pittsburgh's Station Square.

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