Smithfield Street Bridge

The Smithfield Street Bridge
May 2009 - Photo by Chuck Szmurlo.

The Smithfield Street Bridge, built in 1881-1883, is Pittsburgh's oldest surviving river bridge. The venerable span enters it's 132nd year of service in 2014. It's unique design and stunning longevity have made it a Pittsburgh treasure as well as a national monument.

Despite it's age, the Smithfield Street Bridge remains one of the city's main arteries connecting the northern and southern shores of the Monongahela River. In addition to high automobile and transit use, the pedestrian walkway is a vital link between the Golden Triangle and the many attractions across the waterway at the Station Square complex.

The First Monongahela Bridge

The present structure is actually the third rendition of the bridge. The first in this Trinity of Bridges was a covered wooden structure known as the Monongahela Bridge. It was designed by Louis Wernwag and built from 1816 to 1818 at a cost of $102,000. The toll bridge, owned by the Monongahela Bridge Company, was the only one to span the Monongahela, linking Pittsburgh to the growing municipalities to the south.

The heavily-traveled bridge was seriously damaged in 1832 by a runaway boat. Two complete sections collapsed into the river when the craft struck a pier. After extensive repairs, the Monongahela Bridge stood for another thirteen years before being completely destroyed during the Great Fire of 1845.

The Mononaghela Bridge in 1832 after
being damamged by a runaway boat.    Pittsburgh in flames - April 10, 1845. The
Monongahela Bridge was completely destroyed.
The Monongahela Bridge in 1832 (left) after being damaged by a runaway boat,
and in April, 1845 (right) as it burned during the Great Fire.

After the fire, the old piers and abutments were quickly repaired. A contract was issued for $55,000 to John A. Roebling for the construction of a new wire cable suspension bridge. For Roebling, the Monongahela span would be his first highway bridge.

A few years later, Roebling also designed Pittsburgh's Sixth Street Bridge replacement. Using the knowledge gained on these projects, Roebling went on to become one of the country's most prominent architects, and the designer of the famous Brooklyn Bridge.

The Second Monongahela Bridge

Making use of the old piers and abutments, work was begun on the new bridge in June 1845. The span measured 1500 feet and was built in eight sections, each supported by two cables suspended from large cast iron towers atop each pier. The two single cables ran through pendulums at the top of each tower, a revolutionary design at the time. The width of the bridge measured thirty-two feet, including five foot sidewalks on each side.

The new Monongahela Bridge opened to traffic in February 1846. Once again, it was a financial success. Still the only bridge across the Monongahela River, it handled the majority of coal traffic from the South Hills mines into the city, and was heavily used for pedestrian and horse-drawn wagon traffic.

The Monongahela Bridge - 1857.
John Roebling's Monongahela Bridge spans the river in this scene from 1857.

In 1859 the Pittsburgh and Birmingham Railway Company began a horse car line and installed tracks along the bridge. The agreed upon toll charge was $15 per car each month. Then, in 1861, a second bridge was constructed across the Monongahela River, called the South Tenth Street Bridge. From that point on, the Monongahela Bridge was increasingly refered to as the Smithfield Street Bridge.

The bridge remained in service for thirty-five years. During this time, the rapid growth of the city brought with it a substantial increase in vehicular traffic. The light-weight suspension bridge carried the heaviest kind of street traffic, including the horse cars, steam rollers, and eight-horse teams pulling heavy trucks loaded with iron, coal and machinery. Despite the added strain, the bridge performed well.

Work is proceeding on the demolition
of the Roebling span for construction
of the Lindenthal design (1881-1882).
Roebling's Monongahela Bridge in 1881 just prior to the start of the Smithfield Street Bridge construction.

By the 1870s, however, it became evident that a larger, sturdier bridge was needed to carry the ever-increasing burden. In 1880 the decision was made to demolish the Roebling bridge and construct a new span. The following year another famous German-born bridge engineer, Gustave Lindenthal, was chosen to design the structure.

The Smithfield Street Bridge

Work on the lenticular truss bridge began in 1881. One challenge encountered was to allow for the continued flow of traffic on the old Roebling Bridge while construction proceeded on the new span. The Lindenthal bridge, made of steel and iron, was built twenty feet higher than Roebling's, which remained in operation during the entire two-year construction period. It is one of the first bridges in America to use structural steel in the design.

The Smithfield Street Bridge in 1891
during construction of the third truss.
Architectural drawing showing the Smithfield Street Bridge and Roebling's Monongahela Bridge.

The new Smithfield Street Bridge built at a cost of roughly $500,000. It opened to traffic on March 19, 1883. At this time the abandoned Roebling was dismantled and the old stone piers removed. Gaps in the new piers, designed around the old bridge, were filled in with masonry. As with it's predecessors, a toll was required to cross the bridge.

The Smithfield Street Bridge during construction in 1882.
Note the old Monongahela Bridge in operation under
the new bridge. Traffic to and from Pittsburgh was
maintained during the entire construction period.
The Smithfield Street Bridge during construction in 1882. Note the old Roebling Bridge in operation under the new span.

When initially completed in 1883, the bridge had only a pair of trusses and one roadway, built for two lanes of vehicular traffic, including two sets of tracks for streetcar traffic. On either end of the bridge stood large, ornamental cast-iron towers with attached wrought-iron roofs. Along the north and south abutments were the toll houses. The original color specifications were: iron work under the flooring were painted brown, iron and steel work above the flooring were blue, and the towers were a stone color.

Smithfield Street Bridge in the mid-1880s.
when it was only a one section span with
a single trolley line running the center.
The double-truss Smithfield Street Bridge, shortly after opening in 1883, with only two traffic lanes,
shared by both horse-drawn trolley cars and horse-drawn wagons.

Adding The Third Truss

The Smithfield Street Bridge was built with expansion in mind. The stone piers were wide enough for the addition of a third truss and a second roadway. Eight years after the initial dedication, in 1891, designer Gustave Lindenthal returned to supervise the installation of the third truss on the upstream side of the bridge. This new traffic lane was wide enough for only one set of rails as opposed to two on the downstream side.

In 1895 the City of Pittsburgh bought the span from the Monongahala Bridge Company for $1,150,000 and eliminated the toll charges, thus opening the bridge to the public. This policy was initiated with most of the bridges over the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers, providing free access to the city for all residents of the northern and southern municipalities.

The Smithfield Street Bridge - 1905.
Looking down from Mount Washington at the Smithfield Street Bridge in 1905.

Widening The Bridge

In 1911, the Smithfield Street Bridge underwent another major expansion project when the third truss was moved several feet upstream to create a two lane roadway on each side. The bridge width had now more than doubled since 1883, from twenty-three to forty-eight feet.

At this time the Pittsburgh Railways streetcar tracks were moved completely to the upstream side. There were now two lanes of the bridge dedicated to the streetcars and two lanes solely for vehicular traffic. Two ten foot pedestrian sidewalks stood on decking installed on the outside the trusses. The Smithfield Street Bridge had now reached the full dimensions envisioned by Lindenthal when he created the design.

The Smithfield Street Bridge - 1911.    The Smithfield Street Bridge - 1911.
The Ornamental Portals were dismantled and removed in 1911 during the widening of the bridge.

The Smithfield Street Bridge - 1911.    The Smithfield Street Bridge - 1911.
The third truss was detached and moved several feet upstream during the reconstruction in 1911.

The Smithfield Street Bridge - 1911.    The Smithfield Street Bridge - 1911.
New streetcar tracks were laid at both ends of bridge during the bridge renovation.

The Smithfield Street Bridge - 1911.
A canopy was built near the southern abutment to provide commuters shelter at the streetcar stop.

During the 1911 reconfiguration, the large cast-iron north and south portals, which stood on the bridge's downstream side only, were dismantled and removed. The original color scheme was abandoned and the bridge was repainted entirely in a grayish silver paint. It would remain that color until 1995.

Another change that came during this construction phase was the addition of a sizeable canopy that covered all four lanes. It was located on the southern abutment next to the P&LERR Terminal Building. Near the apex of the roof was a large clock visible to inbound travelers.

1914 drawing of new portals
by City Engineer Stanley Roush.
A 1914 drawing of new portals by City Architect Stanley Roush.

The portals were eventually replaced, in 1915. The new design, by City Architect Stanley Roush, was much simpler yet equally as elegant as the prior portals. The new design featured ornaments in the form of a miner holding a pick and a man holding a gear. It also included the City of Pittsburgh Coat of Arms above each gateway.

Refurbished Smithfield Street Bridge Portals - 1915.
The refurbished Smithfield Street Bridge northern portals in 1915 shortly after completion.

Aluminum Decking Installed

By the 1930s, the aging bridge began showing signs of wear. The increasing weight of traffic became a threat to the load-bearing capacity. In 1933, the downstream deck was rebuilt using structural aluminum beams and prefabricated aluminum decking.

This experimental use of aluminum proved to be a success. The technological breakthrough substantially reduced the weight of the bridge while providing the same level of stability as the steel and wrought iron previously in place. The use of aluminum lessened the structural load by 750 metric tons.

In addition to the vehicular lane, the supporting beams and the wooden deck on bridge's the upstream side was also replaced. The streetcar lines were subsequently rebuilt and upgraded.

The Smithfield Street Bridge - 1933.
The Smithfield Street Bridge, looking from upstream, in 1933.

The Smithfield Street Bridge - 1933.    The Smithfield Street Bridge - 1933.
Replacing the roadbed and deck on the downstream side of the Smithfield Street Bridge in 1933.

The Smithfield Street Bridge - 1933.    The Smithfield Street Bridge - 1933.
Replacing the deck and trolley rails on the upstream side of the Smithfield Street Bridge in 1933.

The Smithfield Street Bridge - 1933.    The Smithfield Street Bridge - 1933.
The iron and steel roadbed on the downstream side was replaced with lightweight aluminum decking.

The Smithfield Street Bridge - 1933.
The Smithfield Street Bridge, looking from downstream, in 1933.

Further Repairs And Renovations

Thirty-four years passed before the bridge saw any further significant changes. Then in 1967, after years of planning, the bridge underwent an extensive repair and renovation. The aging structure was showing serious signs of deterioration. Weight limits and restrictions were placed on vehicles.

The downstream roadbed was again replaced, this time with an even lighter variant of aluminum beams and decking, reducing the structural weight a further ninety metric tons. A complete overhaul of the bridge was put off, but the results were good enough to guarantee a few more decades of reliability.

In addition to the bridge repairs, the pavilion-like canopy along the southern abutment was removed. The total cost of the project was $712,000.

Trolley approaching passenger station
heading towards Carson Street on the
southern side of the snow-covered
Smithfield Street Bridge - 1967.
Outbound trolley at the loading platformr on the snow-covered bridge in January 1967.

In 1985, after over a century as one of the main transit railway routes into the city, the Port Authority transfered all streetcar traffic from the Smithfield Street Bridge. It was rerouted onto the refurbished Pennsylvania Railroad Panhandle Bridge, which was now part of the Pittsburgh's modernized "T" light rail and system, which included a downtown subway system.

The Smithfield Street Bridge remained the primary transit route for buses along Carson Street and the Port Authority's South Busway. The next several years saw the bridge again fall into a state of disrepair while plans were drawn up for a major overhaul. By 1993, weight restrictions on vehicles had been reduced to three tons. Bus service was rerouted to other bridges.

Complete Restoration Of The Bridge

Finally, in 1994, the famous structure was closed for a complete reconstruction. The streetcar tracks were removed. The entire metal frame of the structure was repaired or replaced. The structure was strengthened with additional structural supports. The upgrades increased the bridge's load limit from three to twenty-three tons.

When the year-long renovation was completed, motor traffic was given two lanes southbound (downstream side) and a new single lane northbound (upstream). The original three-color paint scheme specified by Lindenthal was restored. Finally, the six copper finials, which had been removed from the portals due to decay, were replaced. The results were magnificent.

Smithfield Street Bridge in 2008.
The refurbished Smithfield Street Bridge will be a vital part of Pittsburgh's traffic network for years to come.

Today, the Smithfield Street Bridge still serves as one of Pittsburgh major arteries from the South Shore to downtown. In addition to being the city's oldest river bridge, the historic span has the distinction of being the oldest steel through-truss bridge in America, and the only one in this country employing the Pauli system of over-and-under double lenticular truss design.

Arguably the most elegant bridge in the City of Pittsburgh, the Smithfield Street Bridge was designated a National Historic Civic Engineering Landmark in 1976. It was added to the list of National Historic Landmarks in 1980.


Vintage Images Of The Smithfield Street Bridge

Smithfield Street Bridge - 1888.
The Monongahela Incline along Mount Washington and the southern approach to the Smithfield Street Bridge in 1888.

Smithfield Street Bridge - 1889.
The Smithfield Street Bridge, looking inbound towards the city, in 1889.

Smithfield Street Bridge - 1894.
Traffic crossing the Smithfield Street Bridge and entering the City of Pittsburgh in 1894.

Smithfield Street Bridge - 1900.
Looking at the southern portals of the Smithfield Street Bridge in 1900.

Smithfield Street Bridge - 1900.
The Smithfield Street Bridge in 1900, looking south towards Mount Washington. Also visible along the hillside are, to the
left, the Pittsburgh and Castle Shannon Inclines and, to the right, the Monongahela Freight and Passenger Inclines.

Smithfield Street Bridge - 1900.
Another view of the Smithfield Street Bridge in 1900.

Smithfield Street Bridge - 1900.
A 1900 view of the Smithfield Street Bridge from Mount Washington.

The Smithfield Street Bridge - 1903.
looking north from Carson Street towards the Smithfield Street Bridge in 1903.

The Smithfield Street Bridge - 1905.
The heavily traveled Smithfield Street Bridge during a busy afternoon in 1905.

The Smithfield Street Bridge at night - 1905.
A color postcard showing a 1905 view of the Smithfield Street Bridge at night.

The Smithfield Street Bridge - 1907.
The Smithfield Street Bridge during the evening hours in 1907.

The Smithfield Street Bridge - 1907.
A color postcard showing a 1907 view of the Smithfield Street Bridge.

The Smithfield Street Bridge - 1908.
The Smithfield Street Bridge in 1908, looking towards the Monongahela Incline to the north.

The Smithfield Street Bridge in 1912 after
the widening of the upstream traffic lane.
The Smithfield Street Bridge in 1912 after the widening of the upstream traffic lane.

Smithfield Street Bridge - 1915.
Looking north towards downtown Pittsburgh after the installation of the new bridge portals in 1915.

The Smithfield Street Bridge - 1917.
The Smithfield Street Bridge in 1917.

The Smithfield Street Bridge - 1917.    The Smithfield Street Bridge - 1917.
Traffic along the Smithfield Street Bridge in 1917 included streetcars, horse-drawn wagons, automobiles and pedestrians.

The Smithfield Street Bridge - 1917.
The Smithfield Street Bridge in 1917, showing horse and wagon, pedestrian and trolley traffic.

Smithfield Street Bridge - 1918.
Postcard showing the Smithfield Street Bridge in 1918.

Pittsburgh and the Smithfield Street Bridge
in 1945 before Smoke Control Legislation.    Pittsburgh and the Smithfield Street Bridge
in 1949 after Smoke Control Legislation.
Pittsburgh and the Smithfield Street Bridge before smoke control in 1945 (left) and after smoke control in 1949.

Smithfield Street Bridge - 1953.    Smithfield Street Bridge - 1954.
The southern end of the Smithfield Street Bridge in 1953 (left) and in 1954.

Smithfield Street Bridge - 1957.    Smithfield Street Bridge - 1967.
The southern end of the Smithfield Street Bridge in 1957 (left) and in 1967.

Trolley crossing the bridge
towards Carson Street before
heading to South Hills Junction.
circa 1966.
A PCC trolley car crosses the Smithfield Bridge in this photo from 1980. Port Authority rail traffic
across the bridge was halted in 1985 when the downtown subway system opened.

Smithfield Street Bridge - 2000.
The 118-year old Smithfield Street Bridge entered the new millenium in 2000 looking as elegant as it did in 1883.

Standard honoring John A. Roebling and
his Monongahela Bridge, the forerunner
to the present-day Smithfield Street Bridge.
Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission standard honoring John A. Roebling and his Monongahela Bridge,
the forerunner to the present-day Smithfield Street Bridge. Roebling's innovative wire rope suspension
design was an engineering breakthrough in the field of highway bridge building.

Smithfield Street Bridge - 2009.
Looking down upon the Smithfield Street Bridge from Mount Washington in 2009.

Smithfield Street Bridge - 2010.
The southern portals of the Smithfield Street Bridge in 2010.

Smithfield Street Bridge - 2011.
Looking past the brightly lit southern portals of the Smithfield Street Bridge towards downtown Pittsburgh in 2011.

Smithfield Street Bridge at night - 2011
Pittsburgh elegant Smithfield Street Bridge, a National Historic Landmark, brightly lit during the evening in 2011.

Smithfield Street Bridge - 2012.
The Smithfield Street Bridge in 2012, looking south towards the P&LERR Terminal Building and Mount Washington.

Smithfield Street Bridge - 2013.
The City of Pittsburgh has really grown skyward during the lifetime of the Smithfield Street Bridge, shown here in 2013.

Smithfield Street Bridge - 1894.
An artist's rendition of the 1894 picture shown above.

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