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Full text of "History and construction of the bridge across Paint Branch on Columbia Pike in Montgomery County, Maryland / by Frederick L. Wenger."

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The first bridge was an old iron structure of two 
spans, which was built in the early part of the Nineteenth 
Century. Having served its purpose over a long period of 
years with none too good maintenance, a new and more modern 
bridge was erected adjacent to it in 1912 by the Luten Bridge 
Company of York, Pennsylvania. This bridge was of three 
spans each a reinforced concrete arch and at that time was 
the second structure of its type in this section of Maryland. 

With the invention of the automobile and its rapid 
growth together with the laying out of many miles of paved 
roads encouraged to a great degree by Federal aid, traffic 
became so heavy that many old structures or bridges had to 
be widened to accommodate this increase. Among such struc- 
tures was the Luten Bridge over Paint Branch. 




The information obtained by me for this thesis was 
procured mostly from Mr. M. D. Knight, who was County Engineer 
for Montgomery County, Maryland, at the time the Luten Bridge 
was built in 1912. 

The Records of the Minutes of the Meetings of the 
Montgomery County Commissioners, Maryland, also afforded me 
some help. These were located in the new Court House at Rock- 
ville, Maryland. As this Court House had just been occupied 
it was practically impossible to search any records before the 
year of 1879, for all these old records were strewn about the 
top of filing cabinets in no orderly fashion; in fact I was not 
allowed to search through them. 

Still further I journeyed to Baltimore, Maryland, where 
I visited the State Roads Commission and secured plans for the 
widening of the Luten Structure in 1930. 

I was fortunate, however, in procuring some very good 
photographs of the various stages of the construction work on 
the Luten Bridge from Mr. S. P. Owings, who was an inspector on 
the bridge at the time of its construction. 


Studying the early history of roads in Maryland, just 
after the formation of the Union, one 3 attention is immediately 
turned to the old Post Road from Ellicott City to Washington, D.C., 
over which much of the traveling of that day was done between these 
two points. This road also served as a means of bringing to the 
mill at Elicott City the grain which was produced in this section 
of Maryland, and which was subsequently shipped to Washington, D.C., 
and other points within about a 40 mile radius in the form of flour, 
dairy feed and the like. But with the advent of the steam engine in 
later years, this old road was abandoned for a time and practically 
all this commerce was carried on by rail shipment. 

However, with the laying out of the Columbia Pike from 
Westminister, Md., to Washington, D.C., a portion of the aforemen- 
tioned old Post Road coincided with it and as a result travel over 
It was again resumed. The Columbia Pike followed the natural con- 
tour of the land for the most part which was level and in a number 
of places rolling terrain. The absence of hills and heavy grades 
in this new road attracted considerable wagon traffic just after 
its completion, but there was one point in the road which was the 
dread of all teamsters. It was the old iron bridge over Paint 
Branch between White Oak and Fairland. This bridge was 100 feet 
long, 26 feet high and was built upon one stone pier and two stone 
abutments, which are still standing. The approaches on both ends 
were downgrade and very steep. It is also of interest to note that 
the live load upon which this bridge was designed was five tons. 

- 2 - 

How inadequate this would be for our present day vehicles and 

their correspondingly heavy loads. This bridge must have needed 

considerable looking after in its time for contained on Page 43 

of the Record of the Minutes of Montgomery County Commissioners 

is the following transcript: 

September 2, 1879. 

The County Commissioners met pursuant to a request 

made by Mr. Thco. G, Hardesty. 


David Griffith John Saunders 

Thos. Henderson and 

Wm. W. Poole Thos. G. Hardesty. 

Mr. Hardesty made a statement to the Board in regard 

to the condition of the bridge over Paint Branch on the 

Old Columbia Road, and on motion of Mr. Griffith, Mr. 

Hardesty was appointed to let the repairs to said bridge 

and abutment to the lowest bidder subject to the approval 

of the Board. 

As time passed on the citizens of this county, more 
particularly the residents of the Fifth District of Montgomery 
County, felt the need of a stronger bridge to supplant the old 
iron bridge to carry the then increasing wagon loads which were 
coming into use. 


-z - 

A petition was gotten up by the residents of Montgomery 
County, Md., for the construction of a new bridge to replace the 
old and fast deteriorating iron bridge. 

The following transcripts from the Records of the Minutes 
of the Montgomery County Commissioners are evidence of the initia- 
tive taken in this matter by the citizens together with the various 
stages of the preliminary work leading up to the actual award of 
the contract for a new bridge: 

August 28, 1911. 
In the matter of the proposed bridge over Paint 
Branch a proposition was made to the Board by E. T. 
Conly and others to furnish all over the sum of $8,500, 
and not to exceed $10,000, out of the amount raised by 
bond issue, in the event of the construction of a con- 
crete bridge, and in the event of the construction of 
a steel bridge to pay to the Commissioners the Inter- 
est for one year on cost of same. The Board took the 
matter under advisement and ordered bids advertised 
for both steel and concrete bridge. 

September 12, 1911. 
Ordered this day in compliance with Sec. 177K, 
Chapter 484, Acts of 1910, that Messrs. Wm. H. McCurey, 
E. P. Marlowe, M. D. Knight, Supt., be and they are 

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hereby appointed examiners to determine the amount 
of damages and assess the benefits caused or to be 
caused by the change of location of the bridge on 
the Columbia Road over Paint Branch, 

September 19, 1911. 
The following bids were received on the Paint 
Branch Bridge on the Columbia Road, bidders submit- 
ting their own plans. 

Baltimore Bridge Co. $5,870.00 

Concrete Abut. 3E7.75 per cubic yd. 

Roanoke Bridge Co. $6,701.00 Complete 60 davs . 
Steel 6,398.00 " 90 " 
Rein. Concrete 9,629.00 " 60 M 

Kelson-Meredith Co. Bid #1. $7,175.00 

Concrete Abut. R.75 cubic yd. 
Old bridge removed 225.00 

Nelson-Keredith Co. Bid #2. $9,874.00 

Concrete Abut. S.75 cubic yd. 

Complete 90 days. 

Luten Bridge Co. $9,774.00 Complete 90 days. 

Remove old bridge 60 days. 

York Bridge Co. $5,200.00 

Concrete Abut. 8.25 cubic yd. 

J. S. Kcllvaim & Co. $5,680.00 
The Board deferred action on above bids. 

- 5.- 

September 26, 1911. 

The report of Examiners on Paint Branch Bridge 
was adopted. 

Ordered this day that al3 bids received on the 
Paint Branch Bridge he and the same are hereby re- 

Ordered this day that plans be prepared and bids 
on same be advertised for on the Faint Branch Bridge. 

April 23, 1912. 
The contract to erect a concrete bridge over the 
Paint Branch on the Columbia Road was awarded to the 
Luten Bridge Company of York, Pa., at and for the sum 
of $9,000.00, the sum of $6,000.00 to be paid to the 
contractor on estimate furnished by road Superintendent 
and the remaining three thousand to be paid to the con- 
tractor on August 1, 1913, after completion of contract. 

The bid of ^9,000.00 by the Luten Bridge Company was con- 
siderably under other bids according to Mr. Knight for there is 
no record of the final bids and award, but when it was considered 
that this bridge company presented its own plans and specifica- 
tions and design, using a reinforced concrete arch instead of a 
solid masonry or concrete arch as other bidders had done, one can 

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readily see the saving in material afforded by this new design. 
It was the second reinforced arch struction of that day in Mary- 
land, only one other being previously constructed and that was 
located over Sligo Branch, and which today stands out as an engi- 
neering feat, both as to its strength and beauty. 

Construction of New Bridge 

The new structure, that is the Luten Bridge, was built in 
the year of 1912, and was located upstream about 50 feet, the abut- 
ments of which rest on solid rock cliffs on both sides of the 
branch and the piers too being built upon rock in the stream bed. 

At the time this new location for the bridge was laid 
out, the then County Engineer, Mr. M. D. Knight, advised the County 
Commissioners to locate the bridge at least 1,000 feet downstream 
where natural approaches to the bridge could be had by following 
the contour of the land, with the result that no grades would be 
encountered upon entering the bridge. But there too, the old 
story of additional cost to the County again presented itself and 
as a result the bridge was located on its present site as origi- 
nally planned, for it was indeed a problem to raise money in those 
days for such improvements. Then too there were two bad turns on 
the approaches to the new structure due to the bridge having been 
built 50 feet away from the old structure with no provision made 
for the changing of the roadway approaches to the bridge. In 
other words, the Columbia Pike was in no way altered but turnouts 
to meet the new structure were made. Even though the Luten bridge 

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was raised 15 feet above the old iron bridge there still remained 
an 8$ grade on both approaches. 

When the Luten Bridge Company was awarded the contract, 
permission was granted to use the local sand and gravel, which was 
not of the best, particularly the sand which contained some clay. 
The cement used was purchased from Germany at a price of #8.00 
per barrel, which was hydraulic cement. Permission to use the 
local sand and gravel was received only after the Luten Bridge 
Company had convinced the County that they had taken the contract 
at such an inviting figure and being $3,000.00 below the estimated 
cost, the Commissioners permitted them to use this local material. 

After the completion of the structure and before the 
Luten Bridge Company could get its final payment of 10# as held 
back by contract as a retainer, they were required to post a bond 
in the amount of $5,000.00 for five years to guarantee the bridge 
against any defects. The only defect of the bridge was caused by 
the laitence in the concrete. This was due to the fact that the 
concrete was poured into the forms from a high point and all the 
coarse aggregate settled to the bottom while the fine particles 
from the cement and much of the dust and dirt from the aggregates 
together with the foam on the surface of the water formed a milky 
appearing substance. When the bridge was widened these defective 
portions of the piers had to be chiselled off and an 18" encase- 
ment of new concrete was constructed around them using dowels and 
tie- rods . 

- 8 - 

It is very interesting to note the manner in which the 
spans were tested after completion. Two 5-ton rollers were run 
across the spans side by side. Before they entered the spans, 
however, a rod reading was taken at the center and just as the two 
machines rolled by the center another rod reading was made in order 
to measure the deflection. Mr. Knight stated that the deflection 
thus made was negligible. The two rollers were equivalent to the 
10-ton load under which the bridge was designed and also were equi- 
valent to the heaviest tractor engines used about the farms. 

Description of Bridge 
The bridge has a length of 200 feet. Its roadway is 16 
feet wide. The length of span is 60 feet. The height of the 
piers are 28 feet and 51 feet. The height of the crowns of the 
arches above the spring lines is 9 feet 4 inches at the piers 
while the springs at the two abutments are 5 feet above the springs 
at the oiers. The center span is a six centered arch while the two 
end spans are five centered arches. The width of the piers at the 
base was 6 feet 8 inches. Its width is 17 feet 4 inches while the 
clear roadway is 16 feet. The overall length is S00 feet includ- 
ing the abutments. 

Widening of Bridge 
In 1930 the bridge was widened to take care of the ever 
increasing traffic over the pike. The width added was 12-1/2 feet, 
thus Increasing the clear roadway to 27 feet. As stated before an 

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18 Inch encasement of concrete was added on the old piers while 
the new ones were constructed with the original width of the Luten 
Bridge, The wings and railing on the downstream side were removed 
down to a point to permit the laying of the roadway. The pier 
foundation rested upon solid rock. A macadam surface was supplied 
to supplant the old dirt surface. For further details see accom- 
panying plans. 

The total cost of the widening amounted to $16,000. This 
is a large sum compared to the original cost of construction of 
$9,000 for the Luten Structure, But considering the great increase 
in cost of labor and material from 1912 to 1930, one can readily 
comprehend the reason for this estimate. 


Mr. Knight endeavored to have the County Commissioners 
have the State Roads Commission take over a portion of the Columbia 
Pike as a State Road and widen it to relieve traffic on the Baltimore- 
Washington Boulevard and make it an outlet for traffic from Laurel 
into Washington via. 16th Street and Georgia Avenue. But no heed 
was taken of his suggestion at that time which was about the time 
of our entry into the World War. Today this road stands out as an 
evidence of Mr. Knight's foresight in the matter for it Is serving 
the purpose for which he calculated it would in the near future at 
that time. Also the County Commissioners remarked that there was 
a paved road by way of Ashton which would well serve the purpose for 
which Mr. Knight foresaw the Columbia Pike would in time serve. 

- 10 - 

Today the layman looks upon our present construction 
methods as some asset that has been handed down to us through the 
ages, but when one stops to think that at the time the Luten Bridge 
was built over Paint Branch in 1912, reinforced concrete was In its 
infancy. What strides have been made since then. At that time 
hydraulic cement had to be imported from Germany at a cost of $8.00 
per barrel for reinforced concrete work while in other structures 
of that day where concrete was used without reinforcement, natural 
cement was used which had a lower compressive strength as compared 
with hydraulic cement. Then too we have witnessed in our time the 
establishment of plants in our country for the manufacture of hydrau- 
lic cement, better known to us as Portland, and at a cost of con- 
siderably less than $8.00 per barrel. Still further we have by 
careful testing and analytical work increased the allowable stresses 
in the concrete and steel, and have effected even smaller cross- 
sectional areas of beams and slabs to carry the loads that larger 
sections carried in 1912. One is therefore impressed with what a 
great field is open to the engineer both in experimental and con- 
struction work in the field, and what further knowledge of these 
materials the future holds for us only time will tell. 


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