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Full text of "The history and construction of the Anacostia Bridge at 11th St. S.W. : a thesis / prepared by Paul Bowker"

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APRIL 27, 1933 






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There have been several bridges across the Anacostia which existed 
previous to the one which now stands there. In 1795 and 1797 the Maryland leg- 
islature authorized the construction of two bridges. Again in 1819 the Navy 
Yard 3rid^e Co, spanned the river. During President Grant* s second administra- 
tion still another bridge was built and this eventually was replaced in 1907 
by the present structure. 

The Anacostia Bridge, a steel arch deck type structure, is 1,000 ft. 
Long, between abutments, has a roadway 35 ft. wide and two 6 ft. 6 in. side- 
walks. There are 6 steel arch spans 129 ft. 2 in. long and 1 lift draw span 
100 ft, long. The piers are concrete throughout. Each steel arch span consists 
of 6 plate girder arches, each having 3 hinges. /Is the bridge was built in a 
country abounding in flats and lowlands the three hinged arch feature was provided 
to take care of any settlement in the substructure without a coincident move- 
ment in the superstructure. 

The bridge as it now stands is in a good condition although the south 
abutment tes a wide split from top to bottom, and there has been a slight settlement 
of this abutment with no damage done thanks to the three hinged arches. The narrow 
roadway eventually will lead to the replacement of the present structure with one 
which can more adequately provide for large streams of traffic. 


Engineering Record Vol. 52 No. 8. 

Vol. 52 No. 10. 
Files of the Washington Star (John C. Proctor). 
Files of the Washington Post (George C. Havenner). 
Files of the Washington Herald. 

Report of the Operations of the Engineering Department of the District of Col- 
A History of the National Capital — W. B. Bryan. 
Ana cost ia, D. C. -History — Charles R. Burr. 

The writer also wishes to express his appreciation of the inform- 
ation and help given him by R. E. Sherry and J. C. Ricker, operators for many 
years of the draw on the present bridge; Mr, Houser, assistant engineer of 
bridges of the District of Columbia, and Mrs. H. E, Way. 



The Eastern Branch of the Potomac River, otherwise known as 
the Anacostia River, since the early- settlement of the region surround- 
ing it, has, up to the present time, remained a source of controversy 
and civic dispute. The gradual building up of the nation's capital 
offered the farmers of the countryside a market of no mean size, and to 
transport farm products from the southeast the Anacostia River had to be 
crossed. This in itself constituted no great problem for engineers of 
that day, for building a bridge across a river some 1540 ft. wide was 
simple enough. Being primarily concerned with transportation facilities 
the engineers spanned the river with bridges and left for a later day the 
discordant problems of reclaiming the flats and swamps of Anacostia. 


Records of the first bridges built across the Anacostia River 
show that th< Maryland Legislature in 1795 and again in 17*17 granted 
charters for the building of toll bridges across the Eastern Branch. 
These two structures were commonly known as the Upper and Lower Bridges, 
The former was erected by the American Bridge Company and was just off 
Kentucky Avenue at about Benning where the river had a width of 1,543 
ft., a depth at common low tide of 4 ft, and a channel 12 to 14 ft. in 
depth and 450 ft. wide. This first bridge cost $18,000, was 25 ft, wide 
and 1600 ft. long. It was constructed of wood resting on piles end there 
was a draw over the channel which had a depth of 24 ft. at that point. 
The river at that time was deep enough for ocean going vessels to clear at 
the Port of Bladensburg. Soil erosion, brought about by the stripping of 


forests, has since clogged up the river, but as late as 1843 a brig 
sailed out of Bladensburg with a cargo of tobacco. 

The bridge of 1797 was about a quarter of a mile above 11th 
Street and was constructed by the Eastern Branch Bridge Company. It was 
a drawbridge. 

Both of these early structures were partially burned by American 
forces upon the approach of the British in 1814 to prevent invasion of the 
capital. The marines under Captain Creighton burned the lower bridge and 
seemingly without military justification, for the enemy had already crossed 
the river at Bladensburg and later on retired the same way, which to them 
was just as convenient and more safe. 

Nearly a year later Congress recompensed the American Bridge 
Company with appropriations of $20,500 for repairs. The Lower Bridge 
continued in general use until about 1841, after which it was used only 
for foot travel. In 1846 aparks from a passing excursion steamer ignited 
the draw and the bridge was completely burned, never to be rebuilt. 

This "Burnt" Bridge was the outlet and inlet for the trade and 
travel of southern Maryland until the construction of a new bridge at the 
Navy Yard in 1820 by the Navy Yard Bridge Company which was incorporated 
in 1819 by William Prout, S.N.Smallwood, Timothy Winn, Adam Lindsay, and 
William Marbury, The directors of the Eastern Branch Bridge Company, 
whose bridge was only a short distance to the East, protested in vain 
against its erection, for it meant the division of Maryland trade with 
the newer structure collecting the lion's share of tolls. Incidentally, 
the matter of toll collection was causing trouble. Maryland inhabitants 
claimed they were discriminated against because bridges linking the 
District of Columbia and Virginia were free. This agitation, which 
started in 1844, eliminated in the purchase of the "Upper Navy Yard 
Bridge" by the government in 1848 . when it was made free, though 


no one can say in what part this was due to any claims of discrimina- 
tions against Maryland. 

The bridge had a rather tragical historical background, for 
John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Lincoln on the night of April 14, 
1865, left the city with his accomplice by way of this old wooden 
structure. A military guard was still posted on the bridge but as the 
war was over restrictions were relaxed and the two were allowed to pass 
unmolested . 


This Bridge of 1819 was removed during President Grant's 
second administration as it was considered a menace to safety and an 
invitation to calamity. Congress in 1874 authorized the construction 
of a "substantial iron and masonry bridge across the Anacostia River at 
or near the site of the present Navy Yard bridge" and appropriated 

The new bridge had masonry piers, a wooden floor, and iron 
framework. It was wide enough for two street car tracks, it was 
located south of the bridge which now spans the river and was 20 ft. 
lower. According to R. E. Sherry and J, C, Ricker, the operators of the 
present draw and old inhabitants, in the construction of the bridge piles 
were sunk on which were placed 12" x 12" white pine timbers. These were 
c ivered by 3" board and on this substructure the masonry piers were built. 
Loose rocks and stones were placed around the base of the piers. The draw 
had a span of only 23 ft. and was hand operated. The bridge was extremely 


low and when the river was high a row boat could not pass under the 
bridge. However, this new structure proved inadequate in a compara- 
tively short time for in 1897 another bridge was recommended with the 
suggestion that the old spans be used to bridge Rock Creek, In 1903 
the engineer of bridges of the District of Columbia in a report stated 
that the bridge had been structurally week for 15 years, due in no small 
part to the heavy cars of Anacostia and the Potomac River Railroad 
Company. He also reported that " a careful determination of stresses 
in the bridge under the existing conditions and according to modern 
bridge practice clearly shows that the bridge is stressed throughout 
100 percent in excess of good practice and that the hanger posts in many 
cases are stressed within a few percent of their ultimate strength," 
Because of its narrowness and unsafe condition the replacement of the 
bridge was recommended. The recommendation vras eventually carried out, 
for by acts of Congress in 1904 and 1905 a total of $375,000 was 
appropriated for the replacement of the old structure by the present 
bridge at the foot of 11th Street. With such a limited amount of money 
it was deemed advisable for artistic and economic reasons to construct 
the steel arch deck type of bridge with a lift draw. 
The bridge is 1000 ft. long between abutments and contains six 
steel arch spans 129 ft. 2 in, long, and 1 lift draw span 100 ft, long. 
The roadway is 35 ft. wide and there are two sidewalks 6 ft. 6 in. wide in 
the clear. The bridge is so designed to carry two railroad tracks with 
each track capable of carrying a forty ton car. Sidewalks are designed to 
carry 90 lbs, per square foot. There are four ordinary piers supporting 
the arch spans and two main piers each of which carries one arch span and 
one-half of the draw span. The piers are concrete throughout and rest on 
sile foundations. The foundations were so designed that the channel of the 


river could be widened to 600 ft. with a depth of 22 ft, below mean low 

Each arch span consists of 6 plate girder arches, each having 
three hinges: one at the crown and two at the springing lines. This 
arrangement was used to permit slight settlement in the foundation which 
take 3 place in the pile structure without detriment to the superstructure, 
Present day observations of the bridge show that the use of the three 
hinged arches was a wise move, for as wa3 forseen, there has been a 
settlement in the foundation. The south abutment has settled toward the 
north thus increasing the natural camber of the first arch. The north 
pier of the draw span has settled toward the south, thus flattening the 
adjacent north span. 

The piles were driven to satisfactory refusal in the stream 
bottom. The piers were carried down to about 22 ft. Below mean water 
level and the piles extended from thereon about 25 ft. further. Six 
preliminary test piles were driven. At the site of each pier and abut- 
ment when the bottom was dredged to the required depth and where the 
material was soft, sand was filled in to a de^th of 2 ft. around the tops 
of the piles to make a bed for the concrete. The piles were designed to 
take a maximum load of 15 tons each. They are pine or oak 12 in. in 
diameter at the butt and most of them 40 ft, long after being cut off. 
It was required that they should be driven to a refusal of l/3 in. under 
a 15 ft. drop of a 2,000 lb. hammer. There are 410 or 420 piles in each 
of the S piers and in the north and south abutments there are 258 and 405 
piles, respectively. The total number of piles is 3087. 


The substructure is entirely monolithic concrete carried up to 
the subgrade for the roadway and extended above that on the sides of the 
bridge to form the parapet walls. These walls are not built continuously 
with the lower part but are keyed to it. 

The abutments form in plan 3 sides of a rectangle with vertical 
faces and their walls extended are offset at the base to resist the thrust 
of the earth fill. The piers for the draw span are about 31-i^- ft. wide, 
64 ft. long at the base and 55 ft, wide above the tops of the piles. They 
are rectangular in plan and are chamfered to receive the buckleplates and 
the machinery for operating the bascule leaves. Cofferdams, mad© of tongue 
and groove sheet piling, were driven around the foundation piles. These 
cofferdams were subject to complete removal or they could be cut off to 
1 ft. below low tide 2 months after the completion of the concrete. 

The piers are made of 1j3i7 Portland cement except in the footings 
which are 1:2:5. The footing csncrete was deposited under water around the 
pile heads by means of a steel tremie pipe with flexible joints. The con- 
crete formed the bottom of the cofferdams which were then pumped dry so 
that molds could be constructed and braced in the usual manner. All sand 
and gravel used in the concrete was carefully selected and graded. 

On each intermediate pier 12 sets of I beam grillages in inclined 
planes are bedded in the concrete to form supports for and distribute the 
pressure from the skewback shoes of the superstructure. Each grillage is 
made with 8 horizontal 10 in. 25 lb. I beams bolted together with 2 lines 
of standard cast iron separators. Just above the water level the battered 
surfaces of the piers are finished w'th a belt of 1:2:4- concrete 6 in. thick 
and about 5 ft. high ( to resist impact from floating objects). 


The piers are built without reinforcement except those for the 
bascule span which have 2 pairs of 1 in, horizontal steel bars 12 in. 
apart 3Jr ft. above the pile tops. In these piers also there are plat- 
forms of I beams built into the base of the masonry to anchor the super- 
structure. Each of the six fixed spans has six three hinge plate girder 
arch ribs spaced 4 ft. 6 in., 12 ft, 3 in, and 21 ft. 3 in, from the axis 
of the bridge. Each rib is made of two semi arch girders 4|- ft, deep with 
parallel flanges, the lower on? curved to a radius of 147 ft. The span 
from the center of the skewback pins is 128 ft. 4Jr in, and has a rise from 
the center of the skewback pin to the center of the crown of 14 ft. 6 in. 

A deflection of §• in. is calculated for the dead load of the 
bridge and 3/8 in, for the maximum uniformly distributed live load. The 
span is divided into twelve 10 ft. 1^- in. panels and at the panel points 
supports are provided for the floor system. These supports are vertical 
spandrel columns at the end of the arch and between them there is in the 
center and two outside panels of each transverse plane X bracing of 3 ingle 
angles at the 1st and 2nd panel points. 

The center of the sidewalk is nearly coincident with the outside 
girders, and a portion of the sidewalk, together with the handrail, is 
cantilevered beyond the girders with brackets. The sidewalkr- are flat 
concrete slabs made in two thicknesses; the lower one is 2 in, thick and 
is made of Is 2:4 concrete; the upper one is 1 in, thick and is made of 
l:l-£- mortar reinforced by a continuous sheet of No, 10 wire mesh. 

The roadway is crowned transversely where the stringers are 
supported directly on the masonry. Double curved girders confine the 
roadway material at the ends of the span where an expansion joint is 
provided and covered with a checkered steel plate riveted to one girder 
and sliding freely on the top of the other. 


The roadway is crowned transversely and a - each of intermediate 
piers drainage is provided through special vertical cast iron pipes fitted 
to the girders under the edge of the sidewalk. The estimated quantity of 
steel is 3,630,000 lbs. including the machinery. The draw span and the 
machinery weigh 761,000 lbs, exclusive of flooring and each of the regular 
spans weighs 446,500 lbs. Semi arch girder ribs were shipped complete from 
the shops and weigh 7 tons for the outer to 10J- tons for the middle girder. 
The amount of concrete in the substructure is 15,450 cu, yds. 

The draw span has a clearance of 24 ft. above low water and a span 
of 100 ft. It is designed to operate in less than a minute against a direct 
50 mi. per hour wind. To know when the draw has about reached its maximum 
height the men who operate the bascule have marked a line on the window frame 
of each yf the operating houses, " r hen the top of the hand railing of the 
draw coincides with the line, the machinery is stopped, If the leaf is 
carried much higher a circuit breaker automatically cuts off the current. 
The south leaf is raised first and put back in place last. The counter- 
balanced leaves are provided with a locking device at the center of the 
span and are supported on fulcrum pivots and reaction girders on the piers. 

In each leaf there is one principal plate girder cantilever 
1&|- ft, on each side of the axis; they are 80 ft. >r in. long and 10 ft, 
deep overall. These are pivoted on 21 in. horizontal axles dividing them 
into short and long arms of 21 ft. 4-*- in, and 58 ft. 8 in. They are braced 
together with deep web connected plate girder floor beams and knee braces 
and top and bottom laterals and carry between them the street car tracks and 
roadway. The 6-J- ft, sidewalks are cantilevered outside the girders with 
solid web brackets riveted to the vertical web stiffener angles of the main 
girders and secured to their top flanges with tension splices, Flaiges of 
the main girders are reinforced with numerous horizontal civerplates, and 


near the pivot, have vertical reinforcement plates besides. 

The trunnion is of forged steel about 8 ft. long 20|- in. in dia- 
meter in the center and 15 in, in diameter on the end bearings and is 
bored with a 2\ in. hole through the axis. At its extremity the web of the 
short arm is stiffened by vertical and diagonal angles and is enclosed in 
a rectangular steel plate box 5 ft. wide and 10 ft. long extending the full 
depth of the girder and containing about 45,000 lbs, of cast iron and 
2,800 lbs. of concrete on each leaf for counterweight. At the end of the 
short arm the upper corner of the web is notched and horizontal angles are 
riveted to the lower part to provide a seat engaging the lower flange of the 
horizontal transverse anchorage reaction girder. Opposite the pivot a seg- 
mental rack casting about 12 ft. long with an 8 ft , radius is bolted to the 
lower flange of the cantilever girder and engages the 23 i». driving pinion 
which i3 located between the supports fir the girder, and is gearedto a 
transverse horizontal shaft driven by 2 General Electric 38 h.p. motors of 
the railway type. The motors and operating machinery are set in the walls 
at each end of the span and are separately cintrolled from the operating 
ho ises above by brake bands and by a controller and resistance. Each pair 
of motors has a series-parallel controller fitted with interlocking cylin- 
ders and pneumatic blow-out. The resistance is so designed that the motors 
can be brought from standstill to full speed without causing sparking at 
the commutators or shock or jar to the bridge. The gear wheels are cast 
steel throughout and their cut teeth have involute curves of 15 degrees 
obliquity with radial line extensions below the involute base circles on the 
teeth and ad-iendum curves on the large wheel cut inverse with dedendum lines 
for a 12 tooth opening. Curves are exact to within l/32 in, and metal is 
proportioned for a working stress of 20,0^0 lbs per sq, in. 


All forcings are annealed and all adjustment bolts have double 
nuts. The trunnion bearings are provided with compression grease cups 
designed for a working pressure of 600 lbs. per sq. in. Motors are 
operated by current from the 500 volt metallic circuit street railway 
feeders on the bridge. Hand gear is also provided to capstan heads in the 
floor for the operation of the bascules. 

When the bridge is closed to navigation the long arms of the 
opposite cantilevers are locked t igether and the girders take bearing be- 
tween the fulcrums. The extremities of the short arm engage the reaction 
anchorage girders through spring buffers. The buffers have a vertical move- 
ment of about 2 in. At the center of the span the adjacent ends of the 
cantilever girders are locked together when the bridge is closed by a hori- 
zontal 4^- in, steel pin which passes through the overlapping webs of the 
girders. This pin moves back and forth in a cast steel guide block and is 
operated by long links commanded by a hand wheel installed in one of the 
operating houses. The east end of south pier and the west end of the north 
pier are operating houses. The duplicate houses are for storage of tools, 
oil, etc. The houses are of reinforced concrete with an exterior finish to 
resemble cut ashlar. They are about 15 ft, long 6^- ft, wide, 14^- ft, high 
jver all with an arched roof 6 in. thick reinforced by Z layers of 3/8 in. 
steel rods 12 in. apart. 7/alls are reinforced by 3/8 in. vertical rods 6 in, 
apart and by horizontal rods. 

The operating houses contain the switchboard, brake, controller, and 
lacking gear, A trap door leads to the pier. The houses were provided with 
electric heater but these have been replaced by stoves for economy. 


When the draw is opened a green light automatially flashes as 
a passable height is reached. The leaves of the draw are inclined at an 
angle of about 55 degrees with the horizontal when fully open. The dis- 
tance between the leaves of the draw is about I- in. in the summer and 1 in. 
in the winter. This allowance for expansion is sufficient for ordinary 
conditions, but it is interesting to note that in July 1930 the extreme 
heat locked the draw fast. No damage was done except that traffic was 
delayed. At the present time the draw is not used more than once or 
twice in several weeks. 

From 1912 to IT'15 the draw was operated from 6 o clock in the 
morning to 10 o'clock at night. Since then, however, it has operated from 
9 A.M. to 5 P.m. A night watchman stays on the bridge the rest of the time. 

The bridge and machinery was designed in the office of Mr, V.J, 
Douglas, engineer of bridges of the District of Columbia, with LIr, T, 
Wilson, Jr. in charge of structural work and Mr, T. C. Bailey, Jr. in charge 
of masonry work and construction unier the direction of Col, John Biddle , 
".S.A. , engineer commissioner and Capt. J.J.Morrow, U.S.A., assistant to the 
engineer commissioner, Washington, D.C. The c mtract was awarded to the 
Penn Bridge Company of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania for a total sum of 
$340,000 exclusive of approaches. 

Several repairs have been made on the bridge since its erection. 
The floors were reconstructed in 1930 one side at a time thus allowing 
traffic to continue. The original buckle plates were replaced with rein- 
forced concrete slabs and a new asphalt surface was laid. A timber floor 
system on steel members was constructed on the draw s oan. These repairs 

■ 12- 

&nd a new handrail coat approximately $104,000 


In conclusion, what could by more appropriate than to scan 
hastily the glamorous past of the Anacostia and its bridges. First are 
flats and swamps, breeding disease. But the river must be crossed, so 
flimsy structures are built. And then the British'. Burn the bridges'. 
Stve Washington. And now t:> build another bridge, better than the last, 
t •> offer a means of travel to all who seek it, even to John Wilkes Booth 
and his companion who come fleeing from a crime that shocks the world. 
Time passes. Still the swamps and the lowlands breathe death and 
destruction and the choked river flows sluggishly beneath a rotting 
structure. Then build yet another bridge an-i when time has taken its toll 
still another. And call this last a "Bridge of Sighs" for the clatter of 
the horses feet on its wooden planks means the "place across the river", 
St. Elizabeth's. 

And now listen to the angry citizens demanding relief by re- 
clamation from the flats of Anacostia. But let them wait; first build a 
new bridge, one of steel and concrete, a bridge of besuty and strength, 
a modern structure for a modern city. A modern city? But the swamps and 
the reeking lowlands? Fill them in! Build parks, lakes, playgrounds, snd 
tree lined drives - and then - wait again for time and politics to raise 
a new memorial to man's ingenuity and the engineer's usefullness. 




m . '^J 








View from the Anacostia side showing also the Navy Yard and the old 
bridge downstream. 


Looking north from the Anacostia side of the river. 

Abutment and first span, south (Anacostia) end of bridge. 






Inscription on the north approach. 

View showing how settlement inward of the south abutment has put a 
hump in the adjacent three hinged arch. This abutment also has a large 
crack from bottom to top, widening to about 2 inches. 


Note the twisted appearance of the arches due to settlement of 
the substructure and south abutment. 

Looking northwest toward the Navy Yard, 


Qne of the four small houses next to the bascule, 

The first pier on the south side. 


The north abutment of the old bridge with the Navy Yard 
in the background. 

South abutment of the present bridge. Repairs are being made on the 
sewer on the right, whose walls have been crumbled by vibration of the bridge.