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Historic American Engineering Record
Fortieth Street Bridge
Washington Crossing Bridge
(Allegheny River Bridge Number 7)
HAER No. PA-447

Pennsylvania Historic Bridges Recording Project - I
Spanning Allegheny River
Allegheny County

LOCATION: Fortieth Street spanning the Allegheny River, Pittsburgh and Millvale, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.

U.S.G.S Pittsburgh East, Pa. Quadrangle, Universal Transverse Mercator Coordinates: 17.587320.4480610


BUILDER: Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Benno Janssen, architect, Charles S. Davis, engineer, McClintic-Marshall Company, superstructure, J.H. McQuade and Sons, paving, and All-Steel Equipment Company, ornamental work.

PRESENT OWNER: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Transportation

PRESENT USE: Highway bridge

SIGNIFICANCE: The Fortieth Street Bridge is significant because it is an outstanding example of a long-span metal deck arch bridge. Its unique architectural details forged in a successful collaboration between architects and engineers in the design and construction of the bridge add to its significance. The bridge is additionally significant because its construction was the culmination of a conflict over Allegheny River bridge heights between the U.S. War Department and local governments.

HAER No. PA-447 (Page 2)

PROJECT INFORMATION: This bridge was documented as part of the Pennsylvania Historic Bridges Recording Project I conducted by the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) during the summer of 1997. The project was supervised by Eric DeLony (Chief, HAER) and the project historian was Dr. Mark Brown. Robert Grzywacz served as the architectural field supervisor for the project. Dr. David S. Rotenstein was responsible for historical research and the production of the HAER historical report for this bridge.


March 3, 1899 Congress passes river and harbor act authorizing the Secretary War to notify owners of navigation obstacles to modify or remove them [55th Cong. 3d sess. Chap. 425]

February 25, 1907 U.S. Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of 55th Cong. 3d sess. Chap. 425 in Union Bridge Company v. United States

February 14, 1912 U.S. Army Chief of Engineers issues Allegheny River report to Congress noting obstructive bridges

July 25, 1912 Congress passes appropriation bill with $300,000 slated for Allegheny River and Pittsburgh harbor improvements [62d Cong. 2d sess. Chap. 253]

March 4, 1913 Congress revokes $300,000 appropriation to Pittsburgh until recommendations in 1912 Allegheny River report have been adequately addressed

March 23, 1917 Secretary of War orders Allegheny River bridges raised

February 27, 1919 Congress authorizes Allegheny County to build the Fortieth Street Bridge

May 28, 1919 Benno Janssen selected as architect for bridge

January 30, 1920 Allegheny County Commissioners give Janssen notice to proceed with the working plans

October 8, 1920 Allegheny County Commissioners approve Janssen's plans for bridge

HAER No. PA-447 (Page 3)

July 25, 1922 Fortieth Street Bridge dubbed "Washington Crossing" by County Commissioners

December 20, 1922 Contracts (for all sections but Ornamental Work) awarded for construction

February, 1923 Notice to proceed issued to contractors

December 29, 1924 Washington Crossing bridge officially opens

September 18, 1961 By an act of the Pennsylvania legislature, bridge is acquired by the Pennsylvania Department of Highways (later, PennDOT)

June 22, 1988 Bridge listed in National Register of Historic Places


The Fortieth Street bridge spans the Allegheny River and railroad rights-of-way for a total length of 2,630'. There are three travel lanes currently on the bridge, although the bridge was designed with a 38' roadway to accommodate streetcars and automobiles. There are two 8' walkways, one on the upstream and downstream sides. The bridge consists of three open-spandrel metal arch spans over the river and twelve deck plate girder approach spans. The central river span (Span 11; the spans are numbered sequentially from east to west) is 353'-6" wide and it is flanked by two spans measuring 322'-10 1/2". Each of the three triple-hinged arch river spans are supported by concrete shore piers with a bush-hammered surface and are emphasized by pylons extending above the bridge deck. Each pylon is marked by bronze letters that indicate the year construction on the bridge began "1923" and its name, "Washington Crossing."

The central river span, Span No. 11, consists of four ribs comprised of twenty-one panels, each 16'-10" long. The two smaller river spans (Nos. 10 and 12) consist of twenty-one panels, each 15"-4 1/2" in length. Sections drawn of the panel points indicate horizontal and vertical bracing within each panel between each individual rib. There is a system of diagonal double lacing, 2 1/2" x 5/16", between each windward rib and its adjoining interior rib. Steel used in construction of the bridge had a copper content that ranged from 0.18 to 0.28 percent "to increase its resistance to corrosion" (Covell 1926:92). The steel, according to one source, was fabricated by the Carnegie Steel Company (of U.S. Steel?) in its Pittsburgh plant (Anonymous 1924:16)

Rising 94' above pool full level (710' above mean sea level), the Fortieth Street bridge has ten closed-spandrel concrete approach piers. The deck girder spans used in the approaches articulate with the piers by roller bearings. Two piers (Nos. 9 and 10) are hollow and have stairways leading to the bases of the river arch spans. Also, the massive piers from which the pylons rise are the locations of ornamental lettering. All of the steel used in the reinforced concrete was fabricated by the Jones and Laughlin Steel Company of Pittsburgh (Anonymous 1924:16)

HAER No. PA-447 (Page 4)

Although surfaced with modern asphalt, the Fortieth Street bridge initially was paved with "creosoted yellow pine blocks laid on a concrete base" (Anonymous 1924:17). The paving blocks, according to the 1924 pamphlet, were manufactured by the Southern Wood Perserving Company of Atlanta, Georgia.

Among the more notable aesthetic enhancements to the structure are its neoclassical pylons and granite obelisks at each approach. The Lawrenceville (Pittsburgh) approach is particularly notable for its plaza at the foot of the bridge. Bronze plaques commemorating the 1753 Allegheny River crossing of George Washington and noting the bridge contractors and county officials are located at each approach. The most outstanding architectural feature, however, are the 288 shields with the coats of arms of the original thirteen U.S. colonies plus the seal of the County of Allegheny attached to the balusters of the hand rails on both sides of the bridge. Also, at each crown in the three river span arches (both upstream and downstream), there are ornate bronze cartouches.


The Washington Crossing bridge spans the Allegheny River between Pittsburgh's Lawrenceville neighborhood and Millvale borough. Located at the headwaters of the Ohio River at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, Pittsburgh's rivers have been both bane and benefit to the development and maintenance of a thriving nineteenth and early twentieth century economy. Beneficial because their courses provided local industries with a natural highway for the flows of raw materials and finished products, the rivers -- as natural resources -- also were unpredictable flood hazards and were not navigable year-round. Topographically, Pittsburgh's rivers were an obstacle restricting traffic between the city's historic core and outlying boroughs and cities such as Allegheny City. Bridging the urban boundaries was an early nineteenth century undertaking deemed important by Pittsburgh residents (Tarr 1989).

Each of Pittsburgh's three rivers is a navigable waterway. Because of their commercial significance, navigable waters such as the Allegheny River are tied to a complex corpus of bench law and legislation. According to one legal encyclopedia, the term "navigable" "is elastic and somewhat indefinite in its meaning and the term 'navigable waters' may have several distinct meanings and may be applied to certain waters for some purposes and not for others" (Corpus Juris Secundum:1). The entry further adds,

Navigability in the federal sense means capability or susceptibility of waters, in their natural conditions, of being used for navigation in interstate or international commerce, and navigability in any other sense may mean a variety of definitions given by either of the several states of the union. [Corpus Juris Secundum]

HAER No. PA-447 (Page 5)

The Allegheny River, because it flows between two states (New York and Pennsylvania), is considered a navigable waterway under the federal definition. [1] "The Allegheny River rises in northern Pennsylvania and flows northwestwardly into New York and thence in a southerly direction into Pennsylvania to its point of junction with the Monongahela River at Pittsburgh," wrote the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1912 (United States. War Department 1912:3). Federal improvement of the Allegheny River began in 1879 by an attempt to provide the Pittsburgh harbor with an open harbor through the "removal of bowlders [sic.] and snags and the construction of low dams or dykes to close secondary channels" (United States. War Department 1912:4). Work also began on a series of locks and dams along the Allegheny River to provide slackwater navigation into the Pittsburgh harbor. By June of 1911, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had spent more than $2.25 million "in the interests of navigation" on the Allegheny (United States. War Department 1912:4).

The earliest attempt to bridge the Allegheny occurred in 1819 with the construction of the wooden covered Allegheny Bridge by Lewis Wernwag (Tarr 1989:218). By 1860, there were five bridges across the Allegheny River. Forty years later, at the turn of the twentieth century, there were seven bridges across Allegheny River between Pittsburgh and neighboring communities (United States. War Department 1912; Tarr 1989:219).

Although Pittsburgh's industrial history is generally has been centered around the city's heavy industries such as iron and steel and glass, the city and its immediate vicinity in actuality had a diverse industrial past. While the heavy metals and glass industries generally dominated the


1] Because a river is navigable under the federal definition of a navigable water, its regulation and improvement fall under the jurisdiction of federal agencies such as the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Army Corps of Engineers. The distinction between navigable waters under the federal definition and all others is aptly defined in an 1870 U.S. Superior Court decision: "If a river is not itself a highway for commerce with other States or foreign countries, or does not form such a highway by its connection with other waters, and is only navigable between different places within the State, then it is not a navigable water of the United States, but only a navigable water of the State" (The Montello 1870).

HAER No. PA-447 (Page 6)

economic landscape of the city of Pittsburgh proper, lighter craft-based industries were the focus of many communities (such as Allegheny City, Reserve Township, Millvale) located across the Allegheny River (Holmberg 1981).

At the Pittsburgh approach to the Fortieth Street Bridge, the United States Arsenal, since 1814, dominated much of the landscape that once was the borough of Lawrenceville (annexed by Pittsburgh in 1867). Like many parts of Pittsburgh, Lawrenceville retains its earlier (pre-annexation) name as a neighborhood in the larger city. Throughout much of the nineteenth century Lawrenceville developed a mixed economy with steel mills (Andrew Carnegie's bridge works) and smaller traditional industries such as breweries, a glue factory and a tannery. Located at the foot of a steep hill, all of Lawrenceville's industrial development remained focused on a narrow strip of land adjacent to the Allegheny River.

The Fortieth Street Bridge entered the borough of Millvale at its East Ohio Street (now Pennsylvania Route 28 and formerly the Butler Turnpike) terminus. Since the 1840s, the strip of land between Allegheny City (annexed by Pittsburgh in 1907) and Millvale (incorporated in 1868) had been known by several names. Between 1848 and 1868 it was the independent borough of Duquesne. After its annexation by Allegheny City, it became that city's Eighth Ward.

From the early 1840s through the second half of the twentieth century, the landscape once embraced by the former Duquesne Borough was defined by processing industries such as tanneries, slaughterhouses, breweries and, after 1885, a large stockyard on Herr's Island in the Allegheny River (Rotenstein 1997). Before the turn of the twentieth century, many of the workers in these industries were German and Irish immigrants like the owners of the plants. After 1900, eastern European (mostly Croatian) workers settled along East Ohio Street and worked in the slaughterhouses, tanneries and stockyards.

The industries that once defined the northwestern shore of the Allegheny River began to disappear after 1920. Increasing transportation costs for raw materials and declining markets for harness leather decimated the local leather industry and the last tannery active in Pittsburgh tanned-out its last stock in ca. 1952. The meat and byproducts industry, however, remained viable for another decade. In 1964 the Pennsylvania Railroad began to close down the Pittsburgh Joint Stockyards on Herr's Island and shortly thereafter the meatpacking and rendering plants followed suit. The last slaughterhouse on East Ohio Street -- the Fried and Reineman Packing Company, which is visible from the Fortieth Street Bridge as you approach Millvale -- closed in 1961. Today, most of the former slaughterhouse workers' homes along East Ohio Street have been demolished or are vacant and in an advanced state of disrepair. The former East Ohio Street now is a congested commuter thoroughfare linking downtown Pittsburgh with outlying suburbs.

HAER No. PA-447 (Page 7)


The extant Fortieth Street Bridge was built to replace the Forty-Third Street Bridge: a Burr truss wooden covered bridge built in 1870 (Pittsburgh Post December 29, 1924). Construction of the Fortieth Street Bridge represented the culmination of a protracted battle between Pittsburgh bridge owners and industrialists who relied on the regional rivers for transportation of coal and other raw materials as well as finished products. Local "agitation" concerning the heights and span lengths of Allegheny River bridges may be traced to the years just prior to the turn of the twentieth century.

On July 14, 1897 Major Charles F. Powell, District Engineer of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, sent a letter to Pittsburgh area industries that read:

will you please give me any information you may have of any bridges, causeways or structures now erected, or in the process of erection, that do or will interfere with free and safe navigation on Monongahela, or Allegheny River . . . .

The information is needed for use in complying with the law requiring reports on bridges, etc., interfering with navigation. [Powell 1897]

Replies to Powell's letter poured in from Pittsburgh's industrial giants including H.C. Frick and Company and the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company (National Archives and Records Administration - Mid-Atlantic Region 1897). Also represented in the response were river boat pilots and builders and organizations such as the Pittsburgh Coal Exchange.

On March 3, 1899 the U.S. Congress passed "An Act Making appropriations for the construction, repair, and preservation of certain public works on rivers and harbors, and for other purposes" (55th Cong. 3d sess. Chap. 425). Under Section 18 of the 1899 act, the Secretary of War was authorized to notify the owners of bridges and other structures deemed by the Chief of Engineers to be an "unreasonable obstruction to the free navigation" of navigable waterways in the United States (55th Cong. 3d Sess. Chap. 425).

Shortly after the 1899 Act was passed by the 55th Congress, the War Department in 1902 notified the Union Bridge Company, owners and operators of a wooden covered bridge spanning the Allegheny River between Pittsburgh and Allegheny City just north of the confluence of the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, that their structure constituted an obstruction to navigation:

Whereas the Secretary of War has good reason to believe that the bridge connecting the cities of Pittsburgh and Allegheny, at or near the mouth of the Allegheny River, known as the Union Bridge, is an unreasonable obstruction to the free navigation of the Allegheny River at the Pittsburgh harbor, on account of

HAER No. PA-447 (Page 8)

insufficient height and width of span, and of wide and high riprapping at the piers . . . . [143 Federal Reporter 381-382]

The Union Bridge Company was a private corporation chartered in 1873 under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Their bridge crossing the Allegheny River was built shortly after their corporate charter was approved by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and was opened in July of 1875 (United States v. Union Bridge Company 1906:379). The bridge company argued that compliance with the order to raise its bridge would "result in the entire suspension of the operation of this company" (United States v. Union Bridge Company 1906:382). Compliance with the War Department's order, in short, would result in a tremendous financial hardship for the Union Bridge Company, which collected tolls on traffic crossing from Pittsburgh's central business district into Allegheny City's First Ward. Attorneys for the Union Bridge Company argued in District Court, the Western District of Pennsylvania, that the 1899 Act was "unconstitutional because it makes no provision for compensation, and therefore violates the fifth amendment to the Constitution, which enacts, >Nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation' " (United States v. Union Bridge Company 1906:388).

District Judge Joseph Buffington ruled in favor of the government and the Union Bridge Company appealed its case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The case was argued before the Supreme Court December 5 and 6, 1906 and the lower court's ruling was upheld in favor of the U.S. government. Justice John M. Harlan, writing for the majority (six justices for the U.S. government, two dissenting and one justice did not participate in deciding the case) delivered the court's opinion February 25, 1907 (Union Bridge Company v. United States 1906-1907). The day after the court announced its decision, the Pittsburgh Post reported that it was "considered to be the most important to Pittsburgh of any ever rendered" by the Supreme Court. Pittsburgh and Allegheny County officials recognized the impending potential difficulties raised by the decision and the affirmation of the constitutionality of the River and harbor Act of 1899. The Union Bridge Company's loss laid open the remaining low-lying bridges across the Allegheny River to their eventual fate determined by another Secretary of War one decade later.

While the Union Bridge Company case was being argued in the federal court system, in 1900 a series of hearings were opened in Pittsburgh on the Allegheny River bridges. On March 13, 1903, W.L. Sibert (Chief Engineer, Pittsburgh C.O.E.) filed a report with Secretary of War Elihu Root recommending the raising of the Allegheny River bridges. Despite Sibert's report and petitions from several Allegheny River valley groups, Root declined to order the bridges raised (Covell 1926). Three years later another Secretary of War, William Howard Taft, also declined to issue the order to raise the bridges. Taft, as one group representing the "river interests" pointed out, felt that the issue was better left to local authorities (Beatty, et al. n.d.).

During the first round of hearings, on May 10, 1900, testimony was presented that the Forty-Third Street Bridge was "an unreasonable obstruction to navigation" (Powell 1900). The owners of the bridge, the Ewalt Street Bridge Company, argued,

HAER No. PA-447 (Page 9)

"Should this bridge be elevated, as suggested by the Government Engineers, it would be of no value as a bridge, because it could not be reached by any vehicle carrying a heavy load . . . ." Owners Henry Daub and P.W. Gilbert pleaded, "[T]o insist upon the changes being made in the Ewalt Street bridge that are suggested in the notice served upon it, is to insist that the bridge shall go out of existence."

The owners of the Forty-Third Street Bridge were, however, outnumbered by complainants who argued that the bridge was obstructing navigation and hurting commerce in the region. John F. Dravo, Secretary of the Pittsburgh Coal Exchange, wrote:

. . . numerous manufacturing plants, blast furnaces and other industrial interests are located on the banks of the Allegheny River and the number is being increased in consequence of Government improvement and proposed additional improvement of navigation. These mills, furnaces, etc., get much of their supplies by river. The low height of this bridge interrupts the delivery of regular supplies to the serious loss of industrial interests and the narrow channel passage renders navigation exceedingly dangerous in times of ordinary freshets.

The Pittsburgh Coal Exchange respectfully, but earnestly, urge the speedy remodeling of this bridge, providing like height and width of channel as is being provided in new bridges structures across the Allegheny River. [Powell 1900]

While the Pittsburgh bridge debate raged on during the first decade of the twentieth century, the City of Pittsburgh commissioned noted architect Frederick Law Olmsted and retired Army engineer Thomas W. Symons to conduct a study of the Allegheny River bridge issue and to prepare a report of their findings (Symons and Olmsted 1910). Their report indicated that the Forty-Third Street Bridge (as well as the Sixteenth Street Bridge) was an obstruction to navigation that should be rebuilt, however, regarding the remaining bridges on the Allegheny River, the consultants wrote, "The boats must be made to fit the bridges, and not the bridges to fit the boats" (Symons and Olmsted 1910:24) [2]

Perhaps the most significant finding in the Symons and Olmsted report was that traffic over the bridges was more economically significant than traffic under the bridges plying the Allegheny River. Symons and Olmsted reported that traffic over the bridges in 1909 carried 108 million tons ($9.4 billion) compared to only three and a half tons ($400 million) under the bridges. And, they noted, "water borne traffic of the Allegheny River has been steadily decreasing for many years and is now but a small portion of that which once existed" (Symons and Olmsted 1910:11). They added, in anticipation of the criticism that declined river traffic was due to the obstructive bridges,


2] Italics in original.

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Last modified: 15-May-2002

HAER Text: Dr. David S. Rotenstein, 1997. [Eric DeLony (Chief, HAER); Dr. Mark Brown, project historian; Robert Grzywacz, architectural field supervisor] ; Pennsylvania Historic Bridges Recording Project - I
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