Point Bridge I and Point Bridge II
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 built 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 1969, by the modern Fort Pitt Bridge.
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 to design and construct the span, which for several years operated as a toll bridge.
On July 1, 1875, the American Bridge Company began work on a stiffened chain suspension bridge. The Point Bridge consisted of four wrought-iron towers, to on each bank, with chains suspended there-from to support the bridge deck. The total length of the span was 1,245 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 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 total cost of the bridge project was $525,000.
The Point Bridge, opened to traffic in April 1877, was considered an early technological masterpiece, with the four quasi-Egyptian towers as anchor piers, between which traffic moved. 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 bridge owners, the Point Bridge Company, did not maintain the bridge properly. The Point Bridge was purchased by the City of Pittsburgh in 1896, and by 1904 the bridge had been completely overhauled and strengthened. Due to it's light construction, however, engineers conceded that the bridge was still fragile and would eventually have to be replaced.
The Point Bridge continued to serve the transportation needs of Pittsburghers for another twenty years, until 1924, when the bridge was closed. Plans for a newer, stronger span had been completed, and soon a second Point Bridge would link the southern shores of the Monongahela River with Pittsburgh's Point. The three years that the public went without a river crossing from the south to the Point were difficult, and city residents began a campaign for a quick replacement.
Point Bridge II
As a result of the public outcry over the loss of the original Point Bridge, funds for a new bridge at the same location were approved, and municipal bonds totalling $2,325,000 were issued. Plans for a bridge that would run parallel to the old bridge were approved. To avoid river obstructions, a through-cantilever design was adopted. 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 bridge, designed by architect Stanley L. Roush, was given a convex outline to harmonize with the nearby Manchester Bridge.
Work on the bridge began in April, 1925. The piers were constructed by the Dravo Construction Company, and the steel superstructure by the Fort Pitt Bridge Works. The bridge was something of an engineering hybrid, with a cantilever arch-truss and a suspended central span. 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.
The new Point Bridge was dedicated and opened to traffic on June 20, 1927. For a time the new bridge was sufficient for all traffic needs at the Point. But, after 1945, with the advancement of the new Point Park scheme project and the Renaissance I building initiative, coupled with increasing motor traffic to the South Hills, it became apparent that the days of the Point Bridge were numbered. The bridge was closed to traffic on June 21, 1959, to be replaced with the modern Fort Pitt Bridge. Efforts to save the bridge failed, and in 1970 it was demolished to make way for the final development of Point State Park.
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.
Then, in 2008, 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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