Historic Riverside Avenue Bridge

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One of the most unusual bridges in Greenwich is the ornamental cast-iron bridge, which crosses over the railroad tracks on Riverside Avenue.


Bridge-Angled212.jpg                   The Riverside Avenue Bridge                                        

                                        SOURCE:   Library of Congress

I found out this bridge was built in 1871 by the Keystone Bridge Company in Pittsburgh PA.  It was designed by Francis C. Lowthrop, and employs something called the "Whipple Truss". A truss bridge uses a triangular design to distribute the stress load from tension and/or compression evenly through its infrastructure. This section of bridge was one of six spans that once carried 2 tracks across the Housatonic River in Stratford.  As more trains were added, more tracks were needed to accomodate the traffic.  Furthermore, increasing business demanded more cars which required heavier locomotives, so stronger and wider bridges were needed. 

In 1884, the old cast-iron bridge was replaced, and the metal was recycled.  The 2- track cast-iron bridge was replaced with a 4-track wrought-iron structure.  Cast-iron fabrication involves heating pig iron to a liquid, then pouring it into moulds.   Wrought-iron is tougher, ductile, malleable and easily welded.   As a result, the new bridge was wider and stronger.  Some of the old cast-iron was used for highway bridges and recycled, while one span was brought to Greenwich and placed over the railroad tracks on Riverside Avenue between 1884 and 1885.  Originally, the bridge was rated to handle 5-tons of vehicle weight.  Subsequent improvements increased the limit to 8- to 11- to 15-  tons.  This limit was dropped to 11- tons after the 1988-1989 renovation.


Bridge-Track View214.jpg

                   View From  Railroad Tracks                                          

                       SOURCE:   Library of Congress

In the 1970s, the Riverside bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  After 1870, there were no bridges built from cast-iron.  Many of these bridges were replaced with wrought-iron when the tracks were widened, and it's reported that there are only one or two cast-iron bridges left in the country. This makes it an extremely rare structure.  

In  1988, a $2.37- million reconstruction of the bridge was undertaken.  People had complained about the "bumpy" bridge.   This was partially a result of the wooden boards, which made up the base of the structure.  Frost heaves had loosened much of the wood.   Traffic was re-routed while construction crews replaced the wood with reinforced concrete.  A pedestrian railing and protective walkway were also added.  The bridge was hailed as a "bridge within a bridge".  Some were impressed that the bridge had been strengthened while preserving its historic nature.  Not everyone was happy, however.  A few residents felt that raising the surface of the road and  installing a walkway  hid some of the ornamental detail of the bridge.

Technically, Metro-North Commuter Railroad owns the bridges across their tracks; but the Connecticut Department of Transportation is responsible for maintaining the structures due to an agreement made with the railroad.   The Connecticut DOT was the agency that undertook the renovation in 1988. 


Bridge-Truss215.jpg                                          Triangular Truss Construction

                                          SOURCE:  Library of Congress

In October 1989,  Ada Cantavero, who operated "Ada's Store" a few yards north of the bridge, cut the ceremonial ribbon to re-open the span.  She was very happy that the bridge  re-opened since she had lost business due to the detour. 

The American Society of Civil Engineers featured the bridge in their 1988 calendar, along with the Brooklyn Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge.  These are some of the best-built and most beloved bridges in the United States.  Experts call them masterpieces of design and engineering.   I consider them symbols of early history and a testament to man's ingenuity.

There's something special about the Riverside bridge.  It appeals to my romantic side.  I can't help but think back to when the bridge was one of 6 spans that carried trains across the Housatonic.   Trains headed to some unknown destination.  Maybe to some adventure. 

Maybe it's just a "nod" to an earlier, simpler time. 



Greenwich Time

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Carl White published on March 19, 2013 2:47 PM.

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