The Frankford Avenue Bridge
BRIDGING THE PAST TO THE FUTURE FOR 300 YEARS
by Harvey Cantor
This bridge over the Pennypack was erected in 1697 at the decree of William Penn. The male residents of the area were assessed either in their labor, or their money for construction of the bridge. It is thought to be the oldest stone bridge in continuous use in the United States. The road it carries over the Pennypack from a path, to toll raod, to a city street. The name changed from King's Path to the King's Highway, Bristol Turnpike, and currently Frankford Avenue. It was the main route from Philadelphia to Trenton and New York. the bridge was designated a National Civic Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineering in 1970.
A portion of what later would become the King's Road between Philadelphia and New York went into operation in 1677. In 1681 the Court at Upland, near Chester, Pennsylvania, appointed a board to oversee the building of the road. On November 19, 1686, the Provincial Council in Philadelphia ordered the building of the King's Highway to Morrisville. This was to be the first public road surveyed in Bucks County. On June 22, 1700, William Penn writes James Logan to "urge the justices about the bridge at Pannepeck and Poquessin that he might be able to come to the city."
There would be no regular transportation over the bridge until 1725. There was a coach that ran from the Three Tuns Tavern at Chestnut Street, between Second and Third Street, to Franklord. The fare was ten shillings. For the next thirty years there were several other ventures. However, it was not until 1756, after the road was extended to New York, that the first stage coach between Philadelphia and New York went into service. The journey was three days. By 1783, the 90 mile trip took one day aboard the coach named Flying Machine."
On April 24, 1775, at five o'clock in the afternoon, an express rider surprised the people of Frankford by bringing the news of the Battle of Lexington. He had ridden from Boston in five days. He had left New York two o'clock that morning.
The travel become easier when the road became a turnpike. In 1803 a company was chartered to complete the road to the Morrisville Ferry. A bridge was built there in 1806. It was a covered bridge costing $209,300. The tolls on the turnpike and the ferry charge were heavy. The toll on a coach from Philadelphia to New York was $5.00. The company made money and was able to return a 10% dividend to their stockholders.
On a hot day there would be three changes of horses along the route. The coaches were carts with tops, carrying ten to twelve passengers. By 1813, there were fourteen regular lines in operation between the two cities.
This bridge has been sketched by many local artists and appears on the front of our own membership brochure. In 1996, a film crew from Japan came to the Pennypack to immortalize the bridge for Japanese audiences in "Bridges Around the World." Many of our own members cross over this bridge every day, going about their dally commutes to and from school, work, or errands.