With Introduction and Supplemental Researchby Lannie Dietle
All paragraphs formatted in italics are research written exclusively by Lannie Dietle, author of 'In Search of The Turkey Foot Road' and are not, necessarily directly related to other sections of this post. All other paragraphs written in regular typeface are by 'Histbuffer', Alan Wilson, and are separate research and commentary. A combination of both are here presented as seamlessly as thought possible for your edification.
The populated place known as Iron Bridge where 'Old 119' crosses Jacob's Creek, at Latitude 40.1126 degrees Longitude -79.553186 degrees. In the earliest contemporaneous reference to the place named Iron Bridge that I have seen is on page 243 of the 1878 book "Annual Report of the Secretary of Internal Affairs". The name may be a reference to an Iron bridge that was built across Jacobs Creek in 1863, and was still in service in 1904. Iron Bridge is also famous for being the site of the first iron suspension bridge in the United States. This innovative bridge was built in 1801 near the early residence of the well known iron maker Isaac Meason, on what was then called "the great road leading from Uniontown to Greensburg".
In regard to Isaac Meason, page 488 of Ellis' 1882 book "History of Fayette County, Pennsylvania" states "The latter first lived near the chain bridge, in Tyrone township, removing to Mt. Braddock at an early day." Meason's circa 1801 Mount Vernon iron furnace is located 3.6 miles away on modern roads, at Latitude 40.095833 degrees, Longitude - 79.510556 degrees. This may be where the iron for the chain bridge came from.
|chain bridge at falls of Schuylkill, courtesy of Wiki Commons|
*I realize holding people's attention in a blog format is a unique form of challenge. Please hang in there and follow along with us here. I think you will be a more satisfied fan of local and regional history and become better informed if you do.*
Bridging the Townships and the Counties
Though there are no known pictures of the bridges of this area, as stated elsewhere, and there are no known remnants of the old bridges, this was an historic place. A meeting takes place of the townships of Bullskin, Upper Tyrone, and close to Mount Pleasant township; furthermore, the Counties of Westmoreland and Fayette come together and are separated here. By all means, the hamlet held the position as having an important bridge and area of roadway. Near the turn of the nineteenth century, it experienced the comings and goings of the trolley, or street cars, and the whistling echoes of the bustling locomotives, in their heyday.
Ii is known there were also prosperous saw mills near here. The Pershing's had, at least one, while George Hogg and a relative of his, one 'A. Hogg', kept a saw and grist mill, nearby. Hoggs eventually found residence further into Bullskin, as did the influential Pershing's, who eventually moved further into Hammondville and to Bridgeport, (referenced in "History of Fayette County, Pennsylvania"of Franklin Ellis). The residence near Iron Bridge that George Hogg kept a small ways northeast, near Jacob's Creek, was aptly named 'Hoggs' on some old maps. It is very thick with brush and marshy swampland, being very difficult to traverse. That having been said, traces of the old saw mill would be hard to locate now. Apparently, as stated in Ellis' "The History of Fayette County, Pennsylvania" pg. 496, George Hogg acquired Mt. Vernon Furnace off of Isaac Meason as well, though, to my knowledge, the information on this transaction hasn't all been successfully tracked down thoroughly.
|1918 topographical map|
A Few Memories
To add some local flavor to this post, when we were kids we would walk down the railroad tracks, a half mile west of here, on the Pennsylvania Railroad side, toward the old "Y Pond" and fish for bass and blue gills and the occasional sturgeon, or catfish. There were some large turtles that drifted around us, which we watched rather warily. It is doubtful if fishing is allowed here anymore.
When you are sure of "No Trespassing"areas, they must need be respected, though they sure weren't nearly as prevalent in the old days. The pond looks somehow smaller now, for some reason, with the bicyclers zipping past the trail; the activity is still rather new to me, and getting use to the removal of the PA Railroad tracks. Just to make mention, there was muskrat and coon trapping to be had around here, too.
My late uncle Harold, who was an avid woodsman, known all around as 'Hack', (like the baseball player from the early part of the 20th Century), lived for years right up a hundred yards or so to the east at the little hamlet, with his last wife, Dorothy who survives him and has since moved near the Senior Center.
He could probably tell me a few good anecdotes and stories, which he had many of, and could likely of filled me in about the place, but, sadly, this is no longer an option. There is a little pull off spot on the south side of Jacob's Creek by the street car tracks that was used as a kind of "make out" place, among other things, twenty five to forty years ago. Maybe that is still true and I hope revealing this doesn't ruin it for anyone. Alright, enough said there.
A Road By Any Other Name
Lannie Dietle brought up a valid point in an e-mail containing his main research, which would of gone unnoticed. Whether or not locals are aware of this or not, he heard said there were issues with the road name here of "Old 119".
The term "old 119" has long been in general circulation on some street addresses and most road maps. Where did the use originate? Since many of us near here were children, it was, and is, also known, simply, as the 'Mt. Pleasant Road', sometimes referred to as the 'Connellsville, Mt. Pleasant Road'. Also, locally the route is commonly referred to as 'the Pennsville Road'. From what is still in use of the southern part, from Greenridge Cemetery, it is signed as "Richey Road". Northward, on modern maps, it is listed as "1027". Recently, the only signs I, myself noticed, starting from where the road joins Rt. 819 on to Mt. Pleasant back to the Richey Road area, were the signs for Prittstown, (where Braddock's army crossed through there); the small village of Crossroads, and further south, the village of Pennsville. To quote Ellis' 1882 book, "The History of Fayette County, Pennsylvania" again on page 496, we have "the Mt. Pleasant Road", and a few pages back, it has the outdated moniker of the "old State road".
Not to be overly weighed down in details, but interestingly enough, it is documented as the route from Scottdale through the Everson Valley, twice marked as "119" on a 1958 Road Map. It crossed over and travelled on into, and inversely, from Connellsville on various maps. Checking into this more in a few locations on the internet, the "old 119" route went from Everson to Scottdale, then through Water Street, to Alverton, and further north to Old Bethany thereby, on to Rt. 31 and then beyond to New Stanton. The road past the old Sony, now RIDC Westmoreland complex, is known locally as "old 119".
Rt. 119 itself was created in 1926. In 1966, (according to research included here on Wikipedia), the Rt. 119 'four lane', or expressway, was completed between Pennsville and Rt. 819.
To be exact, this old route traversed this area of Upper Tyrone and East Huntingdon, quoting, from the website http://www.pahighways.com/us/US119.html, which states the following:
"For the most part, the designation followed the current path with some exceptions. In Pennsville, the route changed to Brown Street to enter Scottdale. North of that borough it followed Water Street to Alverton and then Old Bethany Road to Ruffs Dale. From there it followed Buttermore Avenue to Hunker and New Stanton where it picked up the current alignment".
Here's part of the map showing 119 in Upper Tyrone and Bullskin Townships:
|old 119 on this 1958 road map|
Another issue would be, did West, East, and/or South Pennsville Street's continue on into what is today, Richey Road? It is again, indeed apparent, something to this effect was the case, as on other maps, the western end of "Longanecker Road" did connect here before the coming of the 119 expressway.
Well, it certainly appears that the "Mt. Pleasant Road", the "old state road" and "1027" would all be acceptable as proper names in the past. The term, "Old 119" seems unusual. Any other information that can be provided, especially from those familiar with living here, would be appreciated.
Hopefully, this still goes a fair way toward clearing the matter up.
The 1941 Pennsylvania's Department of Highways "General Highway Map" of Fayette County identifies a different road as "old 119" as Route '1027'. Whatever the name we call the road today, back when Finley built his chain bridge in 1801, it served as the "great road leading from Uniontown to Greensburg."
The old trolley
Here are a few photos taken earlier this year.As you can see, there isn't much to differentiate the bridge now as if it were ever anything very unique, but hardly more than 25 years ago, the structure was quite different. The trains and trolleys passed here regularly in the past. The Coal and Coke Trail has replaced the old PA Railroad tracks and the B & O tracks are on the southern side. There had been speculation the late 1880's bridge might of still been in place until recently, about the late 70's or so, though this is unconfirmed. It use to be possible to see a few pylons in the water 20-30 feet west of the bridge before gathering a lot of debris and brush, becoming well hidden. Some people use to assume they were from the old truss bridge, though, it is probable they were from the trestle where the street car once crossed the creek. To give more perspective, I have a photo of where the trolley crossed back over Jacob's Creek and bridged the two counties again, a few hundred yards further west toward the Overton Way area.
|Coal and Coke Trail looking west|
|old trolley bridge abutment on the Westmoreland side|
|old street car track east toward Iron Bridge|
The modern 'Iron' Bridge
|'old 119', or the Mt. Pleasant Road, looking north|
Below are the B&O railroad tracks over Jacob's Creek as it wends its way from the south near McClure on toward the northeast:
|railroad tracks heading toward Bridgeport|
|street car track east toward Dexter under the 119 overpass|
The "Great Swamp", "Braddock's Road" and "Turkey Foot Road"
Iron Bridge was the basic origin of the northwestern area once known as "The Great Swamp" in Bullskin, famously bivouacked by Braddock and his men further down Greenlick Run, a tributary emptying into Jacob's creek after running through at the "New" Dam, Jacob's Creek Project, a few miles from the east. This was immediately after the army marched here from Stewart's Crossing in Connellsville, using the Narrow's Road and generally holding to the township line between Upper Tyrone and Bullskin before veering to the east in Prittstown and from there to Hammonsville and on toward Mount Pleasant.
We should also briefly mention the "Turkey Foot Road", a subject that Lannie Dietle has written about in an excellent book with a new edition coming out soon. In early February he penned a detailed guest article here on this blog where you will find more information and links.
Very briefly, this was a particular ancient road, following older Indian trails. Providence Mount's led the way in turning it into a pack road in the late 1700's, bypassing the swampy terrain of the Iron Bridge/Jacob's Creek area which we are noting, when there was no known bridge there. Instead, those intrepid men guided the clearing of it approximately a mile to the southwest over Walnut Hill, and then to the north down the Dexter Road near Kingview and on northeast to Mt. Pleasant, consequently joining the basic route of the Braddock Road. I hope to have more information on the Dexter area and a forthcoming West Overton post, fairly soon.
There is a local tradition in the past that Captain Jacob's, the Delaware Chief who met his death at Kittanning, maintained a log cabin hereabouts.
When we were children, there were ruins of old buildings near the creek on the Bullskin side, possibly of an old feed, or, flour mill. Any remnants would seem to be long gone now. The Bullskin Historical Society might have something in their archives about it. I may be able to upload a photo soon, courtesy of the Society's President, Kim Brown.
Here it is, thanks to Gilbert and Kim:
Now, getting back to Lannie Dietle's research with a good description of the way the oldest bridge here was set up:
The May 22, 1802 issue of Greensburg's "The Farmer's Register" includes an article titled "Iron Bridge" which states:
The Bridge which Judge Finely (near this place) had undertaken to erect across Jacob's creek, at the expense of Fayette and Westmoreland counties, near Judge Mason's * on the great road leading from Uniontown to Greensburg, is now completed. Its construction is on principles entirely new, and is perhaps the only one of the kind in the world. It is soley supported by two iron chains, extended over four piers, 14 feet higher than the bridge, fastened in the ground at the ends, describing a curve line, touching the level of the bridge in the center. The first tier of joists are hung to the chains by iron pendants or stirrups of different lengths, so as to form a level of the whole. The bridge is of 70 feet span and 13 feet wide; the chains are of an inch square bar, in links from five to ten feet long; but so that there is a joint where each pendant must bear. The projector has made many experiments to ascertain the real strength of iron, and asserts that an inch square bar of tolerable iron in this position will bear between 30 and 40 tons; and, of course, less than one-eighth part of the iron employed in this bridge would be sufficient to bear the net weight thereof, being about 12 or 13 tons.
This passage shows that Finley had engineering experience. He performed tensile tests on the iron to determine its tensile strength, and then performed engineering calculations to determine that the bridge design had an adequate safety factor.
Page 415 of George Dallas Albert's 1882 book "History of the count of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania" quoted 1801 Uniontown records about coordinating construction of the chain bridge with Westmoreland County, and states "This bridge over Jacobs Creek, on the turnpike ran between Connellsville and Mount Pleasant, was the first suspension bridge erected in the state of Pennsylvania."
Although no image of Finely's bridge across Jacob's Creek is known to exist, there are surviving images of other bridges that were based on Finley's design. One such bridge is illustrated in the circa 1820 drawing of Cumberland that is included with this article.
Some more history of Judge James Finely and the Jacob's Creek Bridge:
According to Ryan Gordon of Penn State University, referenced on Wikipedia, James Finley was born in Ireland in 1756 to Scotch Irish parents who had immigrated to the United States...In the years prior to 1784, Finley moved to Fayette County near to Uniontown, to farm. It is also stated that "In 1784, Finley was elected justice of the peace. Five years later, Finley was elected as county commissioner, and served two years in the state House of Representatives, starting in 1790. 1793 saw the now successful Finley named to the Pennsylvania State Senate. Amid Finley’s multiple elections, he was also named the associate judge for Fayette County—a position he held for the rest of his life". Finely went on to describe the design in 1810 in the political magazine of Oliver Oldschool, in "The Port Folio" :
'The bridge is solely supported by two iron chains, one on each side, the ends being well secured in the ground, and the chains raised over piers of a sufficient height erected on the abutments at each side, extended so slack as to describe a curve, so that the two middle joists of the lower tier may rest on the chains'.The reasons for its demolition in 1833 remain somewhat perplexing unless there was fairly severe damage done to it, for it's construction, by all accounts, was superb. It is also known that he patented the bridge design in 1808, though, it was later said to of been lost in a fire. And, as Lannie Dietle shows, his bridge design was certainly used in many places, though there was said to be a possible flaw in the cables stabilizing the joists to it. So, between the damage and the design, that should surely have something to do with explaining why it was dismantled for a more mundane wooden bridge before the construction of an iron truss bridge. This is then debatable whether his actual design was properly adhered to or not, leaving the argument undecided. As stated, it was also said to of been damaged and rebuilt in 1825, so there could be speculation as to whether the rebuilding had adhered exactly to his original plans.
Finley is also credited with designing and constructing a chain suspension bridge across Dunlap's Creek in Brownsville, Pennsylvania, in 1809. In 1820, however, the bridge collapsed under a heavy snow combined with the loads from a six-horse wagon team.
More about the history of the chain suspension bridges in "Progressive Pennsylvania", by James Moore Swank, at Google Books.
Finley describes his bridge
The June 1810 issue of "The Port Folio" contains Finley's detailed technical description of his bridge design, in the article, Finely also states:
In the year 1801 I erected the first bridge on this construction over Jacob's Creek, on a contract with Fayette and Westmoreland counties, to build a bridge of seventy feet span, twelve and a half feet wide, and warrant it for fifty years (all but the flooring) for the consideration of six hundred dollars. Nothing further of this kind was attempted for six years. The exclusive right secured in the year 1808. There are eight of these bridges erected now; the largest of which is that at the Falls of Schuylkill, 306 feet span, aided by an intermediate pier; the passage eighteen feet wide, supported by two chains of inch and a half square bar. There is also one at Cumberland (Maryland) supported by two chains of inch and a quarter bar, span 130, width 15 feet.
The November 10, 1902 issue of Philadelphia's "The Bulletin" has an article titled "A Chain Bridge a Hundred Years Ago in Western Pennsylvania" that quotes the above 1802 article, and then states that "The Jacob's creek chain bridge was torn down several years ago and an iron truss bridge was erected in its stead." The April 10, 1904 issue of "The Bulletin of the American Iron and Steel Association" clarifies the date the chain bridge was torn down, stating:
"It... was in use until 1833, and in August of that year the Commissioners agreed to build a wooden bridge in place of the old suspension bridge, and thus ended the life of the first chain suspension bridge in the country, and it outlived as far as known all the bridges later built on the patent. At or near the site to-day is an iron truss bridge, built in 1863."
This is harmonious with page 250 of Ellis's 1882 book, which reports that the Fayette County commissioners' records indicate that the chain bridge was initially replaced by a wooden bridge.
Aug. 5, 1833-Commissioners agreed with George Marietta to build a new wooden bridge over Jacob's Creek, in place of the old Finley chain suspension bridge, for $267. The iron of the old bridge sold to Nathaniel Mitchel for $90.
Identifying the location of the chain bridge
The location of the "Chain Bridge" on the 1817 Melish Whiteside map of Fayette County is an excellent match to the location of "Iron Bridge" on a 1902 topographical map. By comparing an 1872 map to satellite imagery, it is possible to determine that the path of "Old 119" was much the same as is today. This means that the chain bridge and the iron truss bridge were located about where the modern bridge is situated on "Old 119" at the place known as Iron Bridge.
(Sayenga, Donald. “James Finley.” Structure. Nov. 2008. NCSEA. 21 June 2011 www. structurmag.org, Strickland, William. “View of the Chain Bridge Invented by James Finley. Port Folio. June 1810).
I would like to finish this post appropriately enough, by commending Lannie Dietle for the time spent on his input, basic framework and encouragement. Without his correspondence, it is most unlikely the article would of been undertaken by me.
In passing, his particular family background is to be noted, and the research they have accomplished, is really unsurpassed. Though, he may not completely realize just how much influence he has garnered with this blog, I am proud of, and have been able to enjoy, what collaboration we have had together. Toward the area of his involvement, and the times he has helped to steer me in the right direction, for example, with my genealogy, it is sincerely appreciated, and would be that much poorer without his influence.
Now, remember folks - any ideas, stories, or comments are welcomed!