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Very Old and a Zombie

The postcard above, put out by the Detroit Publishing Company in 1906, shows Sewall’s Bridge over the York River in Maine. It’s more of a causeway than a bridge proper, consisting of a series of short-span wood girders supported by wood piles driven into the river bed. But the structural form is not why anyone ever noticed this bridge. It was constructed in 1761 and was in use until 1934, and 173 years is extraordinarily good performance for a wood bridge. Courtesy of the Maine Historical Society, here is a very old drawing of the bridge:

The bridge was 270 feet long and the longest span was 30 feet, so we’re not talking about advanced engineering in terms of its deck design. It was very early (for the US) for piles driven in water to support a bridge and, according to the MHS, the first pile-supported drawbridge. I imagine that a lot of repairs took place during the long life of the bridge, although probably most of the piles were original. It was also strong enough to carry electric streetcars:

The most interesting part of the story is that was apparently entirely rebuilt in 1934 but looks pretty much the same. There’s a historic-site marker there, so anyone who’s interested would know that the new bridge (now 89 years old) is not the old bridge, but I find that choice interesting. The old bridge was important enough to the people of York that they did not go with a modern-style bridge when they had to replace the old one.

The other thing that jumps out at me is the date. The nadir of the Great Depression was 1933 or so, and I doubt that the town of York or the state of Maine was spending money frivolously at that time. It’s possible that the bridge was in such poor condition that it had to be worked on then regardless of the cost, but the other possibility is that federal money was involved. FDR’s New Deal made a lot of money available to municipalities for infrastructure improvements (not called by that name), and replacing a damaged historic bridge sounds a lot like the kind of project that was built elsewhere.