THE HISTORY AND CONSTRUCTION OE THE PATUXENT BRIDGE
NORTH OF BURMSYILLE ON THE COLUMBIA TURNPIKE.
Thesis prepared by
John T. Dressel
Eor initiation into
the Beta Chapter of Liar yl and
Tau Beta Pi
THE HISTORY AHD CONSTRUCTION Oj 1 THE lATUXENT BRIDGE
NORTH OF BURTONSVILLE OH THE COLUMBIA TURN r IKE
There is no recorded history of the ratuxent Bridge,
this account having been made from statements of the older in-
habitants of the region.
The first bridge was of wood, and was in service until
it rotted and was no longer safe. For a period of two years the
river was forded in the absence of a bridge. The counties then
built a series of four wooden bridges, all of which were washed
away. In 1683 the counties jointly erected a steel bridge. This
structure withstood the Johnstown flood of 1989, and stands today.
The present structure is a two truss steel bridge
v 164 feet in length, supported by two abutments and a pier, all
resting on bed rock. The construction of the bridge was not
difficult, requiring but eighteen days for assembling the steel-
work. The total construction period lasted about four months.
The probable cost of the structure was C ; 5,654.31.
The bridge is sound and in good condition after fifty
years of service. With proper care its future period of service
t is indefinite.
EH3 HISTORY. AID COHSTRUCTIQH Off THE PAuJUXEIIT BRIDGE
BORTH Off BURTOBS^ILLE OK THE COLUMBIA TURHPIKE.
A. HISTORY Off THE PATUISIIT BRIDGE.
The history of the Columbia Pike and the bridges that
have been used to carry it across the Patuxent is very obscure.
According to the older inhabitants this Pike originally connected
Washington and Baltimore by way of Ellieott City, passing through
Silver Spring. The age of this pike is not definitely known, but
men in their seventies have heard their parents talk of this
road, and they definitely state that it is older than the Coles-
ville Pike, another road in this territory.
The Columbia Pike apparently was not a popular route.
According to one Mr. Cole, age seventy-three, the road was never
surfaced with stone over the portion from Columbia to White Oak.
Columbia was about four miles from Ellieott City, and White Oak
was twelve miles from Washington, so that this unimproved section
constituted a large portion of the road, and greatly lessened its
It seems that this pike was not of sufficient import-
ance to warrant the recording of its history. Likewise there ap-
pears to be no recorded history of the bridges used on this route
at various times to cross the Patuxent. I have been unsuccessful
in finding any information on record concerning the bridge, al-
though I have been to the Maryland Historical Society and the Enoch
The first bridge was built at the same spot where the
steel bridge now stands. 1'he builders intended to make it a
covered bridge, but it was left open. This bridge remained until
it rotted and was no longer safe. (This information was handed
down to Mr. Murphy by his father, since the road in its old loca-
tion and the first bridge at the present location existed before
the period of his own recollection. He only remembered seeing
some of the rotted sills of the old bridge at the site.)
At present a brook runs into the river from the Mont-
gomery side, and is upstream from the pike, its course lying along-
side of the present road. The county built a small plank crossing
for this brook so that the river could De forded near the present
bridge. This ford was known as Moxley's or Murphy's Ford. It was
very inconvenient and unsatisfactory, and could only be crossed at
times of low water.
Js'or a period of perhaps two years there was no bridge at
all, travellers having to cross the crook and ford the river, Pol-
lowing this the counties built a series of four wooden bridges.
The first of these was built in 1859 or 1860. This bridge was
washed out by high waters at about 1868. Between the washing out
of this bridge and the erection of the next , the ford and the
brook bridge were used in crossing the river. This has continuously
been the method of crossing the river between the washing out of
one bridge and the building of the next.
The following two bridges and their period of duration
was not recalled. One of these was in use as little as three or
four years before being washed away. These bridges were similar
to the first. All three were single -span structures about forty-
five feet in length and high above the river. The abutments were
of loose stone, and very little mortar was used in their construc-
tion. When the third bridge was washed av/ay the counties erected
another wooden bridge, but one of different nature than its pre-
It was the aim of the builders to construct a bridge that
would withstand the flood waters. The bridge was built much lower
than the others (being but eight feet above the water, according to
Mr, Cole's statement.) The builders believed that if the structure
were firmly anchored and built low the flood waters would flow over
it, carrying away the railings and leaving the bridge itself to of-
fer but little resistance. With this end in view the bridge was
anchored to heavy logs by means of iron rods, the logs were embedded
in the river banks, and large rocks were placed on the logs. This
bridge was shorter than the others, being about thirty-five or forty
feet long. This bridge was also washed away, the log abutments be-
ing carried away with it. It did, however, stand for a longer
period than any of its predecessors of tnis series.
This was the last wooden bridge built at this point. The
counties, evidently discouraged with the successive destruction of
four wooden oridges, erected the steel structure which stands today.
It occupies the same site as did the very first wooden bridge.
(It was built in 1683, according to the name plate on the bridge.)
It has never been damaged by flood waters, and was the only bridge
from its location to the head waters of the x'atuxent Hiver that
withstood the Johnstown JTlood of 1889. The only expense connected
with this bridge since its construction has been periodic painting
and repairing of the wooden floor, complete replacement of the
floor having been made about three times.
This concludes the supplemented text of Mr. Murphy's
Mr. Cole, age seventy-three, was born and raised in this
region. Many of the facts given by him concerning the bridge's his-
tory substantiate the account of Mr. Murphy. In addition Mr. Cole
stated that the wooden bridges were as much as one hundred yards
above the present bridge, (Mr. nurphy fixed the location of the last
wooden oridge at thirty yards above the present site) and that the
road from these bridges joined the present road at a point lesB
than one-quarter of a mile up the hill from the river on the Howard
County site. He recalled but three wooden bridges, whereas Mr.
Murphy recalled four. He stated that all of the old bridges had
log abutments, instead of some having loose stone abutments as re-
lated by Mr. Murphy.
Mr. Miles, age seventy-one, recalled but one wooden
bridge, which was either washed out or rotted away, after which
the piers were raised and the steel bridge erected. This is not
verified by Mr. Murphy, nor by Mr. Cole.
Mr. Murphy, the last- questioned of the three men, de-
finitely denied the raising of the abutments related by Mr. Miles,
and also insisted the abutments of the wooden oridges were as he
had described them.
In spite of these contradictions between the collected
facts, and in view of the far greater number of substantiations,
I consider Mr. Murphy's account, together with the relevant facts
added to it, a fairly accurate and complete history of the Pa tux-
en t bridge.
B. THE COBSSHUGElOI OJ 1 TEE PA2I32EHI BRIDGE,
The Patuxent Bridge was built in 1683 by the Pittsburgh
Bridge Company. It is a steel highway bridge of two trusses of
the modified Pratt type, having a total length of 164 feet and a
clearance above water of 24 feet.
DESCRIPTION 03? SITE, ABUTMEHTS ABD PIES.
At the site of the bridge the hills flanking the river
slope steeply to the river's bed. On the Howard County site enor-
mous masses of root crop out of the hillside, racking it necessary
to sharply turn the approach at this point in order to ascend the
hill. The Montgomery County site at this point does not have so
much exposed rock. However, the rock is very near the surface,
as is indicated by the brook which flows beside the bridge approach,
since at points the water is flawing on bed rock. This formation
made it unnecessary to build an abutment on this side, as the
bridge rests practically on bed rock. It was only necessary to
leTel off the rock and build it up slightly at the corners, as shown
in the accompanying photograph.
It was necessary to build an abutment on the 'loward County
site, which is also shown by a photograph. Mr. Murphy stated that
this abutment was built of large rocks on the outside and was
grouted on the inside down to bed rock. The abutment was pointed
up with mortar, and through this construction it was made prac-
tically as strong as the bed rock itself.
The pier is of similar construction and is set upon bed
rock. Mr. Murphy and Mr. Cole agree that the pier was built by
Mir. Basgate. Mr. Cole stated that the stone masons received $1,50
per day and that the middle pier cost $900.00. The material was
obtained by blasting rock on the Howard County side and was locally
known as river rock. The dimensions of the pier are given in one
of the accompanying sketches. The downstream end of the pier is
square, but the upstream end is extended to allow it to be rounded
off in a parabolic shape in order to offer less resistance to the
water. The result is to make the pier seem eccentrically loaded to
a marked degree.
It is of interest here to point out the reason for giving
such clearance and length of span to the bridge in crossing a stream
of this size.
i'HS HATDRE OP TIB PATUX3IIT RIVER.
The United States Geological Survey maintains a stream
gaging station at this point r and accurate records of the river 1 s
flow are available. The following information was taken from the
Water Supply Paper iio. 561, U.S. Geological Survey. The river at
this point drains an area of 127 square miles. From 1920 to 1923
was the period of lowest discharge, the mean flow being 100 cubic
feet per second. At the time of the Johnstown Flood, on June 1,
1889, the discharge was estimated at 19200 cubic feet per second
and. the water rose to 18.9 feet above the low water level. From
the information obtainable, this was the largest flood in 60 years.
Ho recent discharges have been unusually large, the largest being
5100 cubic feet per second on January 13, 1915 with a rise of 14.6
feet above low water level. The flood of 1889 proved the wisdom
of giving the bridge this clearance above low water.
BRIDGE AHD ROADWAY.
I have been able to obtain no data on the bridge other
than measurements which I have taken myself. A letter written to
the American Institute of Steel Construction received the reply
adjacent to this sheet. The reply to a subsequent inquiry sent to
the American Bridge Company is also given.
The trusses are the modified Pratt type and are identically
alike. The single spans (measured with a cloth tape) are 82.2 feet
long and are 2.2 feet apart at the middle pier, making a total
length of 166.6 feet. The width of the bridge , center to center
of trusses, is 14.8 feet, and the clear width for vehicles is 13
feet. The height of the bridge between rivet lines is 16.15 feet,
and the clearance height for vehicles is 13.6 feet. The important
dimensions are given in the accompanying sketch.
The panel lengths of the truss are approximately equal.
The three vertical columns are built up of 2 channels spaced back
to back, and lattice bars on both sides of the channels. (Details
of all members are given in the sketches.) The inclined compres-
sion members of the truss are composed of 2 channels spaced back
to back with a plate on the top and lattice bars on the bottom of
the member. The noriaontal compression member at the top of the
truss is built up in the same manner. The remaining members are
in tension, and are composed of round or square rods or rectangular
The trusses are tied together at the top by angles placed
back to back and running between the vertical columns, while the
ends are tied together with built up members similar to I beams,
using lattice bars for the web and angles for the flanges. The
whole is made rigid by rods as shown in the sketch. The trusses
are kept at right angles with the top by means of braces formed
from angles placed back to back.
The floor is supported by transverse beams at the panel
points. A plate is used for the web and angles back to back form
The spans rest on 24 inch square uy 9 inch deep granite
blocks carrying iron bearing plates. The weight of the span is
transmitted from the truss through 3 inch diameter pins to pairs of
angles set back to back on the bearing plates*
The roadway of the bridge is a wooden floor of planks
3 inches in thickness and from 9 to 12 inches in width. The floor
is supported by 3 inch by 10 inch joists, spaced 25 inches center to
center. Guard rails and curb rails are 3 inches by 8 inches *
The following is from a statement by Mr, Murphy:
The steel and cement were shipped to Laurel by the B. & 0,
Railroad, and were then carried by Mr. Murphy to the bridge with
teams of horses.
Ho difficulties were encountered in constructing the bridge.
Wooden trestles were built across the stream and the members of the
bridge were placed in position on the trestles and then bolted and
riveted in place.
The assembling of the bridge took from 15 to 18 days. The
work on the abutments and pier required from 4 to 6 weeks. The total
period required for complete construction, including the time spent
in waiting for the steel, was about 4 months. There is no other
statement to substantiate nor to contradict this account.
The bridge was built jointly by the two counties. Ho record
of its cost could be obtained at Rockville, the county seat of ilont-
gomery County, nor at the office of the county engineer, Mr. Harry
An account of the cost of the bridge was found after an
extensive search through the Howard County records at Ellieott
City, Ho description is given of the account other than in the
title "Bridge Account of 1883. M This record extends from June 5",
1883 to Llay 7, 1884. Payment to the Pittsburgh Bridge Company was
made in two installments; vl798.50 on February 19, 1884; and
£l 46 0.00 on Llarch 4, 1884; total £3258.50. Mr. Bathgate (probably
the Mr. Basgate spoken of by the older inhabitants) received
£646.00. 'j.' he sum of the itemized payment amounted to £5654.31,
although no total appears in the record. This is the probable
cost of the structure, although it cannot be definitely stated as
The bridge today appears to be as sound as when first
built. The steel work has been kept painted and the abutments are
in good condition, having already served for half of a century,
the future period of service may be said to be indefinite.
The Uature of the Patuxent. .. United States Geological Survey
Water Supply Paper Uo. 561
Cost of Bridge Howard. County Commissioners Records
Accounts uy inhabitants Mr, Cole
Sources of information investigated, lacking
Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore
Ell loot t City Times newspaper
Snoch Pratt Library, Baltimore
Andrew Carnegie Library, Washington, L.C.
Congressional Library, Washington, L.C.
Montgomery County Commissioners at Rockville
Montgomery County Engineer's Office
American Automobile Association
llote. vhe Geological Survey Paper was found in the
Carnegie and Pratt Libraries
American Institute of Steel Construction, Inc.
1050 Leader Build inf*
Telephone: CALEDONIA 5 7356
Cable Addrea: Aminsteel
C. G. CONLEY, The Ml. Vernon
Bridge Co., Mr. Vernon, Ohio.
CLYDE MACCORNACK, The Phoenix
Bridge Company, Phoenixviile, Pa.
H. A. FITCH. Kansas City Structural
Steel Co.. Kansas City, Kans,
ROBT. T. BROOKS, The George A.
Just Company, New York, N. Y.
A. J. POST, Post B McCoid. Inc..
New York, N. Y,
CHARLES F. ABBOTT
LEE H, MILLER, M. Am. Soc. C. E.
F. H. FRAN KL AND,
M. Am. Soc. C, E,
V. G. IDEN
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
H. B. H1RSH, Belmont Iron Works,
WALLER TAYLOR, Consolidated Sttel
Corp,, Ltd.. Los Angeles, Cal.
N. W. WARREN, Dominion Bridge Co.,
Ltd., Montreal, Canada,
JNO. J. DUFFIN, Duffin Iron Company,
J. L. KIMBROUGH. Indiana Bridge Co..
R. I. INGALLS. The Ingalls Iron Works
Company, Birmingham, Ala.
ROBT. T. Brooks, The Geotge A.
Just Company. Neiv York. N. Y.
H. A. FITCH, Kansas City Structural
Steel Co.. Kansas City, Kans.
W. M. WOOD, Mississippi Valley
Structural Steel Co., Decatur, 111.
C. G. CONLEY, The Mt. Vernon Bridge
Co., Mt. Vernon, Ohio,
ART. J. DYER, Nashville Bridge Co..
T. J. Foster, National Bridge Works.
Long Island City, N. Y,
CHARLES N. FITTS. New England
Structural Co., Boston, Mass.
KARL E. VOGEL, Omaha Steel Works.
J. M. HUGHEN. The Petroleum Iron
Works Company, Beaumont, Texas
GLIDE MACCORNACK, The Phoenix
Bridge Company, Phoenixville, Pa.
EDW. K. KL1NGELHOFEK. Pittsburgh
Bridge ^ Iron Works, Rochester, Pa.
A. J. POST, Post a McCoid. inc.. New
York, N. Y.
Executive Offices: 200 Madison Avenue
New York, N. Y.
April 18, 1933
Mr. John T. Dressel
5228 Ash Street
Mt. Ranier, Md.
In reply to your letter of April
13, regarding the history of the Fatuxent
River Bridge, on which you are working, I
advise that the Pittsburgh Bridge Company
that constructed this bridge in 1883 was
merged with the American Bridge Company in
In accordance with the usual prac-
tice in bridge shops it may be taken for
granted that all drawings, calculations, etc.
of the Patuxent Bridge that were in the pos-
session of the old Pittsburgh Bridge Company
have long ago been destroyed.
It might, however, be worth your
while to write Mr. Richard Khuen, Jr., Chief
Engineer of the American Bridge Company, at
Frick Building, Pittsburgh, who might be able
to give you further information regarding the
bridge in which you are interested.
Very truly yours,
Director of Engineering Service
STEEL insures strength and security
Looking Upstream from the Montgomery County Side
Looking Upstream from the Howard County Side
Looking Upstream from the Montgomery County Side
Looking Upstream from the xioward County Side
Abutment on the Montgomery County Side
Abutment on the Howard County Side
mortal of Bridge, Looting from the
Howard County Side
B ottom of Koad #1
Center rier of Bridge, Looking Upstream from the
Montgomery County Side
PA TUX EN T BRIDGE on thb COL (J MB/A P/KE, MD.
(3,8' ^ 13.7' -. J , -/3.7JT' - ,| , /?■ 7.C , [ « S3. A'
SIDE and TOP VIEWS of S/A/GLE TRUSS
DESCRIPTION of MEMBERS
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jfop/te&tes / f
MEMBER C MEMBER D
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fop and hot 7 l em
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Two at/a/es, /<r*3' r 4> /# /tys bac ft to back
Me/nj>cr No. of rods $/ze
DETAILS or PIER
r T' *1 ""-.fee defai/ behw
BEAMS SUPPORTING FLOOR JO/STS
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LOCAriOti OF PATUX£A/T
SUBSIDIARY OF UNITED STATES STEEL CORPORATION
On mi' Mxcsi n k ■: i;
Mr, John T. Dressel
28 Ash St.
I't. Rainer, Maryland
Receipt is ackno-wl edged of your letter of April 19
with reference to your thesis on "The History and Construction
of the Patuxent Bridge North of Burtonsville on the Old Columbia
As this bridge was built a long time before the American
Bridge Company was formed- we regret very much that we have no
r >cord or any information on this bridge in our files.
Yours very trul^ ,
Rock if ///e
UPPER P/irUX£A/T fill/Eft AftEA