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illiam B. Davis, Jr. 

A thesis presented for initiation into 
the Maryland Beta Chapter of 
T&u Beta Pi 



Chain Bridge spans the Potamao River at a point 
about three and one-half miles above Georgetown in Washington 
D.C. The first bridge to be erected at this location was a 
covered, wooden structure built some time between 1795 and 
1797 by the Georgetown Bridge Company. Seven years later 
this bridge was replaced by a similar one which was swept 
away by a flood only six months after its erection. The name 
1 Chain Bridge 11 was adopted from the third structure to span 
the river since it was cons tuc ted on the principle of the 
modern suspension bridge with iron chains supporting the 
roadway. Six of these "Chain Bridges" were constructed be- 
tween the years 1805 and 187 S and all but the last of these 
v/ere destroyed by ice flows or floods. 

In 1874 a bridge ?tfiich served the public until 1956 
was erected by the Phoenix Bridge Company under a contract 
awarded by the War Department. This type of structure was 
what is known as the "Murphy Whipple Truss" and consisted of 
eight spans set on stone masonry piers. The total length of 
the bridge, which supported a twenty foot roadway, was thir- 
teen hundred and fifty-two feet. Expensive maintenance and 
inadequacy for modern traffic requirements have necessitated 

the reconstuction of this historic bridge. 

The new structure is being built by the Tuller 
Construction Company of Red Bank, New Jersey. When completed 


the steel girder "bridge will support a thirty foot roadway 
and two five foot sidewalks, both constructed of reinforced 
concrete. There will "be eight spans resting on remedied 
stone masonry piers; the total length will cover a distance 
of about thirteen hundred and fifty-one feet. Beneath the 
bridge two twenty inch water mains will be fastened to carry 
water to Arlington County, Virginia. This bridge will proba- 
bly open for traffic about May 1, 1938 and provide a service- 
able river crossing for many years in the future. 



Chain Bridge Is the name attributed to a structure 
which crosses the Potomac River about three and one -half miles 
above George town. It connects the old Canal Road on the Wash- 
ington side to the Leesburg Turnpike on the Virginia side of 
the river. The bridge, beginning at the Canal Road, spans the 
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and towpath, approximately five hun- 
dred feet of rocks, flat lowland not normally submerged, and a 
two hundred foot expanse of swiftly flowing water, This lo- 
cation is just below >.hat is known as the Little Falls. 

By studying the accompanying plans and maps concern- 
ing Major 1'JEnf ant's original plan for the City of "..ashington, 

which was submitteu in August of 1791, you can readily under- 
fill t'h*«flf 
stand the liMi»hood of some sort of crossing in the vicinity 

of Little Falls. This location afforded the most direct route 
from Georgetown and Bladen sburg in Maryland to Falls Church 
and neighboring communities in Virginia. 

Thus, on December 29, 17^1, the General Assembly of 
Maryland passed an act for the erection of a bridge over the 
"Potowmack" River, which necessitated the incorporation of the 
Georgetown Bridge Company. It is evident that several years 
elapsed before the bridge was constructed, because in 1795 the 
Maryland General Assembly enacted a bill a .thorizing the open- 
ing of a road or thoroughfare from Georgetown to a bridge _to 
be erected ov-r the "Potowmack" River at, or near, the Little 


Palls. Three years later, however, in January of 1796, the 
Maryland legislative body passed an act supplementary to the 
one for the erection of the bridge. It was primarily for 
the promotion and encouragement of agriculture and commerce 
between Georgetown and the nei a hboring communities in Mary- 
land and Virginia. The act provided for the reduction of 
the toll on wagons and carts crossing the bridge which appar- 
ently had be en erected * 

From these records it is difficult to say definitely 
vi/hen the bridge was first erected but it is thought that it 
was between 1795 and 1797. It furthur a pears that the first 
bridge was a roofed-in structure built by a Mr. Palmer and 
that in about seven years it collapsed from a natural decay 
and was destroyed. However, shortly after the collapse of the 
first bridge it was replaced by a new one which was destroyed 
and swept away by a freshet within six months of its erection. 
This second bridge, which was wooden also, was supposedly 
made by a Mr. Burr who gained fame as the architect of the 
celebrated Trenton Bridge. The abutments erected for the 
first bridge were undamaged and were used for its successor. 
The cost oi the original bridge including these abutments is 
estimated at eighty thousand dollars. 

Probably the most outstanding of all the structures 
to cross the river at this location is the bridge which re- 
placed that b.ilL by Mr. Burr. This bridge was constructed 


on the principles of one built by a cex^tain Judge Tindley, 

near uniontown, Pennyslvania, over Jacob's Creek. It is 
undoubtedly the forerunner of the modern suspension bridge, 
and because of its strength and cheapness Judge Tindley 
applied for a patent on his invention. It was supported 
solely by iron chains extended acros:, the river, thrown 
over twenty foot piers erected on the abutments, and se- 
cured in the ground at the ends. The chains described a 
curved line from pier to peir touching the level of the 
roadway at the center. The name Chain Briage, was adopt- 
ed from this structure and adhered to all the succeeding 
bridges which took its place. 

In the middle of November of 1810, during a freshet 
the water rose to the level of the raadway and after obstin- 
ately holding for a long while the steadily rising flood tilted 
one side of the bridge upward and swept the structure down- 
stream. The two principle chains, however, were so well se- 
cured that they remained. This was the third bridge which the 
Georgetown Bridge Company lost in a period of nine years. 

Under the burden of such hea\y ljsses the Bridge 
Company's funds had become exhausted and the corporation was 
therefore obliged to apply to Congress for the authority to 
raise the sum necessary to complete another crossing. Thus, 
in 1811, a more permanent chain bridge was constructed at the 
expense of eighteen thousand dollars. In 1832, its stability 


tras threatened "by .n accumulation of ice and it was taken down 
to allow the ice to pass. It was soon replaced, hov,ever, and 
in 16 3 was purchased by the Government of the United States 
making Chain Bridge free from toll. The bill providing for the 
purchase of the bridge also granted a sum of money for the con- 
struction of a turnpike on the Virginia side of the river, from 
Chain Bridge to the District Line. This structure lasted until 
1840, when a flood swept it away just as the previous structures 
had been destroyed. 

Two more bridges of the same design were erected, one 
in 1841 and the other in 1654. The first of these was demol- 
ished by a flood in 1853> but the second lasted until 1873, at 
which time it was replaced by a steel truss bridge. For a 
brief while during the early days of the Civil ">7ar, this second 
bridge was the only thing in this vicinity that separated Union 
and Confederate soldiers, who guarded it from either end. Soon, 
however, when nearby Virginia fell into the hands of the North- 
ern troops both ends were carefully guarded bj the Union sold- 
iers. Fort Marcy and Fort Ethan Allen were both erected on 
the Virginia side at strategic points. 

The bridge built in 1873 was a more permanent struc- 
ture, the plains being selected by a General Babcock of the War 
Department who believed it to be the 'est adapted structure 
for this location. It was to span the river, flats, anu canal; 
being composed of eight spans and set on stone masonry piers, 


the total being thirteen hundred and fifty- two feet. This 
"bridge has served for sixty- two years, weathering floods and 
ice flows which undoubtedly would have destroyed its prede- 
cessors. The main tenance of this bridge, however, has been 
extremely costly, amounting to over one hundred thousand 
dollars between the years 1900 and 1955. For the past twenty 
years it has been seriously overloaded and its weaknessess 
ha"e become evident by the necessity for reconstruction of 
the Virginia Abutment in 1927, and repairs made necessary by 
damages due to a flood in Inarch of 1936. 

Ho steps were taken for the reconstruction of the 
bridge until Za.y of 1928 when Representative Moore of Virginia 
introduced a bill into Congress for preliminary design and 
estimates on the reconstruction of Chain Bridge. His efforts 
were fruitless, however, since the bill died in the committee 
to which it was referred. Although unsuccessful at first, 
those striving for a new bridge realized their goal when 
Congress appropriated three hundred and ninety three thousand 
dollars for its reconstruction, on June 29, 1957, 

The New Bridge will be a steel girdex- affair 
approximately one thousand, three hundred and fifty-two 
feet long, and built on the same stone masonry piers, which 
will be altered to suit the new requirements. A low bid of 
three hundred and thirty eight thousand and twenty nine 
dollars submitted by the Taller Construction Company of Med 


Bank, New Jersey, was accepted by the District of Columbia 
Commis loners. Since the contract contains a time limit 
of two hundred and seventy f:.Ye days for the completion of 
the work, the rebuilt bridge will be ready for use about 
May 1, 19 Z8. 

Thus we follow the history of the old wooden 
structure built in the latter part of the Eighteenth century, 
to the strong steel and concrete bridge to be completed in 
the near future. Each succeeding bridge was constructed to 
eliminate the iaults and weaknessess of its predecessors, 
thereby progressing toward the super-structure of this 
modern age. 



Very little is to be derived from the construction 
of any of the several "bridges preceeding that built in 1874. 
It is known that the first and second structures were wooden 
and covered; terminating at strong stone and iron abutments. 
The six bridges following were of the chain suspension type, 
the life of each varying from two to twenty-two years. The 
total cost of the Early Bridges was approximately two hundred 
and fifty thousand dollars. 

A significant fact concerning these structures is 
that the inventor of the chain suspension bridge was a judge 
whose hobby was apparently bridge building. It appears that 
this same Judge Tindley was known to have actually tested 
bars of iron and various chains to determine the maximum 
loads they were capable of sustaining. Thus, the basic 
principles underlying modern bridge design and construction 
were not entirely lacking in the cr.-de structures of the 
latter part of the Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Centuries. 

In 1874, a well designed and constructed bridge 
was erected by the Phoenix Bridge Company according to plans 
and specifications selected by General Babcock of the 
Department. The construction, under the direction of Mr. 
Theodore B. Samo, was begun late in 1873, and the bridge 
opened to traffic in 1874. 


The structure is what is known as the "Murphy 
Whipple Truss" and was divided into two one-hundred and 
sixty foot spans and six one-hundred and seventy-two foot 
spans. The total eight spans covered a distance of approx- 
imately thirteen hundred ana fifty- two feet. The spans 
were separate and independant of each other, resting on 
cast iron bridge seats, securely anchored to stone copings; 
one end of each span was fixed and the other rested on 
friction rollers, providing for the expansion and contract- 
ion of the iron. The trusses were twenty-eight feet in depth 
and were placed twenty-eight feet apart, from center to 
center. Each of the one hundred and seventy- two foot spans 
was divided into twelve panels and each of the shorter spans 
divided into eleven panels. The upper chords, main, and 
intermediate posts were formed of Phoenix column iron, 
apparently a trade name for the company's material. The 
lower chords, main, and intermediate ties were forced links, 
without welds. The posts were fitted to cast iron caps, 
each being machined to fit snugly. Turned wrought iron 
pins, three inches in diameter, locked in one connection, 
the caps of the column, and the diagonal ties, also the 
bottom chords, the seats of the columns and the floor beam 
suspenders. The floor beams were fifteen inch Phoenix 
rolled beams, and the floor joists and planks were Horth 
Carolina Pine, three inches thick and not over six inches wide, 


There were no sidewalks but an iron railing four feet high 
Was placed on either side of the carriage way which was twenty 
feet wide. The bridge was designed to carry, in addition to 
the weight of the structure, one hundred pounds for each 
square foot of roadway. 

The contract price for the entire work was ninety- 
four thousand dollars. 

In 1910, an outward movement of the abut:, ent on 
the Virginia side was discerned which was attributed to 
heavy blasting in the adjacent quarry. When the blasting 
was abandoned, stex>s were taken to ascertain whether or not 
the movement was progressive, but no evidence of progression 
was found. However, in 1927, this same stone masonry abut- 
ment was found to be considerably undermined ~oy the channel 
waters. The bridge was closed to traffic and a new concrete 
abutment built to replace the old one at a cost of thirty- 
nine thousand, two -hundred and five dollars and ten cents. 
The other abutment and piers were found to be in reasonably 
good condition. 

In March, 1936, a record flood caused a portion 
of the bridge to become weakened and forced out of alignment. 
Traffic was stopped for a brief period while repair work was 
carried on. These repairs combined with the previous ones 


for the past thirty five years produced an expenditure of 
approximately one hundred thousand dollars for maintenance. 

A survey made in 1936 shov. ed that the bridge will 
carry with safety a distributed load of seventy-five pounds 
per square inch, twenty five percent less than the structure 
was originally designed to carr^-. This load is equivalent 
to a six ton load with a seven and one-hali foot wheelbase, 
having a five foot gauge. The wheel loads have increased 
so much in the past few years that it was difficult to 
prevent loads excelling those permissabie from crossing the 
bridge. It was largely for this reason that a new "bridge was 
proposed to replace the out nioded structure. 

For some time Arlington County, TirginSa ( has been 
receiving their v^ater supply from the District of Columbia. 
The water is transported ;rom the aqueduct at G-reat Falls 
through the pumping station at Reno Reservoir and rerouted 
through the Delcarlia Reservoir. From here it is carried 
to Chain Sridge through tv.enty-four inch water mains. Until 
1936, the water was transported across the bridge through 
two eight inch mains, but a six inch pipe was added at this 
time to meet the det and for a larger supply. 

However, Arlington County, is about to install a 
modern sewage d_ sposal plant with trunk lines and laterals 
which will cost approximately two and one half million dollars. 


Th is will undoubtedly increase the population and thereby 
increase the water consumption. It has "been found that the 
old steel truss bridge would not hold any larger pipe and 
therefore a nev. bridge is almost a necessity in this respect. 

The new bridge has been des e ned to accomodate four 
twenty inch water mains, two of which will not be constructed 
at the present. These pipes will be hung beneuth the roadw y; 
one pipe on each side of the bridge, and connected with the 
twenty-four inch mains at either end. 

During the . econstruction of the bridge, the U. S. 
Armj Engineers supervised the removal of tl e old pipe lines 
and the relaying of these, one at e time, across the flats 
and over the last spar: to the Virginia conduit. Since the 
flow was stopped in only one main at a time until they were 
relaid and reconnected, there .,as do interuption to the 
Arlington County water supply. The last span will s.pport 
these water lines until the new bridge steelwork is com- 
pleted and the ne.. mains connected to this point. Then the 
twenty- inch pipe will be connected with the Virginia wain, 
flow started in the new line and the old pipe and bridge 
span torn out. 

On July 17, 1937", the District of Columbia 
Commissioners awarded the contract for the reconstruction 
of Chain Bridge to the Tuller Construction Company of Red 


Bank, New Jersey. The old span was sold to the Harris Wrecking 
Company who "began tearing down the superstructure on August 16. 
The last span on the Virginia side was left standing to support 
the water mains. 

Immediately after the destruction of the bridge, the 
stone piers v.ere remodeled by the Segreti Brothers, a local 
stone masonry contractor* Piers near the Washington abutment 
were cut down while those near the other end were raised. Mew 
stone was supplied by cutting from the huge boulders existing 
on the flats near the structure. This work was interrupted 
twice by floods over twenty feet above normal. It was necessary 
to move derricks and other equipment to the canal towpath until 
the flood water receded. 

The steel work wijl be handled by the Bethlehem Steel 
Company who will probably be in construction about Becember 1, 
1937. A guy rope derrick will be erect. d near the Washington 
abutment and from this point the first girders, each weighing 
twenty six tons, will be erected. A traveler derrick will be 
run out on these girders to place the next nineteen ton set on 
the first pier. This process will be repeated until the last 
giraer, which will be erected from a guy derrick on the Virginia 
side, is reached. The maximum load handled by the derricks 
will be a thirty- six ton girder set at a f-fty-seven foot radius. 
Large jacks w r ill be built between piers to support the over- 
hanging girders until the span between piers is completed. 


These girders will be approximately eleven feet high at the piers 
and eight feet high between the piers, producing an arched 
appearance. They will rest on rocker bridge seats at the abut- 
ments and on the piers. The steel construction will probably 
end in }.!arch of 1938. 

the reinforced concrete roadway and sidewalks will be 
constructed by the general contractors, the Tuller Construction 
Company. The roadway will rest on sixteen inch I-beams, which 
in turn will be supported bj fabricated steel cross "reams, wh^le 
the sidewalks will set on steel brackets attached to the main 
girders. An expansion joint will be .laced at every other pier 
in both roadway and main girders to allow for the expansion and 
contraction of the material. To allow for drainage, a two inch 
crown in the roadway and drainage inlets at the quarter points 
of the spans will be constructed. 

At either end of the bridge nev, approaches will be 
built to raise the road to the nev. bridge elevation. It will be 
necessary to make a three foot fill at a two percent grade on the 
District end and an eleven foot fill at a four percent grade on 
the Virginia side. The contract for this work has yet to be 
awarded and therefore no cost can be staved. 

Under the terms of the contract, two lanes shall be 
open to traffic in two hundred and thirty -five days and three 
lanes in two hundred and seventy five days. ien completed 
the District of Columbia will be the possessor of a modern steel 


and concrtie "bridge with an adequate thirty foot roadway and 
two five foot sidewalks. Illumination will be supplied "by 
electric lamps placed on either siue of the bridge at every 
pier. Pedestrians and motorists will be protected by three 
foot ten inch rails erected at the outer ed & es of the side- 

The contract price of the bridge from the Virginia 
abutment to the Washington abutment is three h. ndred and thirty 
eight thousand and twenty- nine dollars. The District of 
Columbia Commissioners are seeking an additional forty thousand 
dollars for the construction of the new approaches. It is 
estimated that Arlington County, Virginia, will have expended 
forty-five thousand dollars for their new > t ater mains. 


The information contained in this thesis was obtained 
from the fallowing sources. 

Brief on the Chain Br id ge 

Compiled at the Office of the Engineer of Bridges 

of the District of Columbia. 
List of Br i d g es ov e r Na vig able Waters of the United States 

Compiled in the Office of the Chief of Engineers, 

U. S. Army. 
The Evening Star 

An interview with Mr. Wallace J. weaver 

Superintendent in charge of the Chain Bridge con- 
struction, Tuller Construction Company. 

An interview with Mr. James E. Curtiss 

Senior Engineer of the U. S, Engineering Office 
Planning and Engineering Section of the War 

( I>m(MARI.UIit) 

PDHJC. ' "W 

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