The bi-state Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission (DRJTBC) this week announced a Friday, Oct. 28 release date for long-forgotten archival film footage showing depression-era traffic congestion in Easton, PA and Phillipsburg, NJ and early excavation and construction for a new toll bridge across the Delaware River.
The film reel had been filed away in a storage area at the Commission’s former administration building in Morrisville, PA. for decades. The reel – and several others like it – recently came to light as the Commission moved its executive and back-office operations into new quarters near the Scudder Falls Bridge in Lower Makefield, PA.
The film has been digitized and is scheduled to premiere for public viewing on the Commission’s YouTube channel at https://youtu.be/lWwXWEu0Cfg.
The 23-minute-long video post contains 20 minutes of historic silent, black-and-white film footage taken at multiple locations and on a variety of dates, perhaps spread over several years. Some of the filming dates have been determined by Commission staff through examinations of file photographs and available records from the period when filming took place.
The footage includes the following:
- Traffic at the Northampton Street Bridge (“the free bridge”) prior to the construction of the Bushkill Street Bridge, now the Easton-Phillipsburg (Route 22) Toll Bridge;
- Union Square in Phillipsburg (camera located in front of Pennsylvania Railroad Station, which is not shown) showing traffic from Main Street/William Penn Highway and the exterior of the former Wardell Hotel (previously the Lee House) and the Union Square Hotel built in 1811;
- Northampton Street in Easton (this segment was filmed in 1933 or later because Easton repaved the street in fall 1932, several months after the former Lehigh Valley Transit Company had removed its trolley tracks from the street);
- Traffic census work at the bridge (undated, possibly spring/summer of 1936);
- Centerline marking for the proposed Bushkill Street Bridge in summer 1936;
- August 19, 1936 land clearing for the new bridge on the Phillipsburg, N.J. side (access had been provided with the permission of the Watson Silk Company, the former landowner)
- The formal Bushkill Street Bridge ground breaking on the Easton, PA. side on November 14, 1936 (posed photo op portion shows left-to-right: Harvey Mack, William H. Wilson, Fred R. Parker, Congressman Francis E. Walter, Dr. D.M. Hawke, Louis Focht, Joseph Morrison, Russel B. Stone, Edward Pierson);
- Early Pennsylvania-side excavation work by Easton-based Beans, Inc. Contractors, which remains in business to this day;
- Damage caused by minor flooding (undetermined date, possibly Feb. 23, 1937);
- Early construction of abutments for Bushkill Street Bridge in 1937 (contract with John F. Casey Co. of Pittsburgh, PA.).
Aside from automobiles of that era (late roundabouts, snubbed-nosed vehicles and single-hull chassis), footage shows a significant number of buses and some trucks – including a fuel tanker. One segment shows a horseback rider crossing the bridge and winding through traffic on Northampton Street in Easton; ironically travel by horse may have been quicker through the heavily congested area at the time. Some film shows Christmas decorations on the bridge, a traffic surveyor in an enclosed booth, and travel at night. Trolley tracks can be seen on the bridge and in Union Square, but the Lehigh Valley Transit Company had discontinued service effective October 31, 1931. The trolley tracks were removed from the bridge in 1951.
It’s not known if the filming was conducted by Bridge Commission staff, a hired service, or an advocate for a second bridge between the two communities. The likeliest possibility is that one of the engineers at the bridge agency’s northern office had the equipment and some filming experience. The northern office was immediately upstream of the Northampton Street Bridge on the Easton side, in the building that previously housed the former Easton Delaware Bridge Company that once operated the bridge as a tolled crossing.
The Commission last month released the first reel of found film footage, which involved the 1933 demolition of the former wooden covered bridge between Milford, N.J. and Upper Black Eddy, PA. In coming months, the Commission expects to release additional reels of film footage involving bridge construction projects and ceremonial openings.
The Northampton Street Bridge was constructed in 1895 and 1896. It replaced a former wooden covered bridge – the second across the Delaware River — that opened in 1806. The former Easton Delaware Bridge Company operated the bridges as private tolled crossings for 115 years. The company sold its steel cantilever-truss bridge to the states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey in an August 3, 1921 sale arranged by the former Joint Commission for Elimination of Toll Bridges – Pennsylvania-New Jersey.
The bridge was immediately made a non-tolled crossing. The states annually paid the Joint Commission to operate and maintain the bridge on their behalf until late 1934, when the states established a newly constituted Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission (DRJTBC). The new Commission then operated the bridge on behalf the states — with annual state subsidies – for 53 years. The states conveyed ownership of the bridge outright to the DRJTBC on July 1, 1987. Under a revised Compact completed by the states and Congress in 1987, the Bridge Commission must operate this bridge and 11 other non-toll crossing using a share of the proceeds that it collects at its toll bridges.
As previously noted, land clearing for the Bushkill Street Bridge was initiated on August 19, 1936. The date is significant because it enabled the DRJTBC to comply with a U.S. War Department permit that imposed an August 30 deadline for commencement of field work on the bridge. The subsequent bridge project involved construction from the end of Bushkill Street in Easton to the former Meadow Avenue in Phillipsburg. The project also entailed construction of an elevated approach viaduct over the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Belvidere Division tracks and Broad Street in Phillipsburg.
The bridge construction contract was with the Bethlehem Steel Company’s bridge building division, formerly the McClintic-Marshall Co. of Bethlehem, PA. As previously noted, the supporting superstructures were constructed under a contract with the John F. Casey, Co. The approaches to the bridge in Easton and Phillipsburg were constructed under a contract with the Korp & Korp Co. of Phillipsburg. The toll booths and accompanying administration building at the end of Memorial Drive in Phillipsburg were constructed by the Fowler-Thorne Company of Trenton. A tunnel connecting the toll booths and administration was installed by Korp & Korp.
The large public works project was a welcome sight in the depths of the Great Depression, providing a measure of employment for hundreds of workers. The bridge opened to traffic January 14, 1938. Remaining elements of construction, such as painting, were completed later that year.
High-volume “superhighway” approaches to the bridge were constructed on the Easton side in the 1950s. Owing to this new alignment away from Bushkill Street, the bridge was renamed the Easton-Phillipsburg Toll Bridge. (The Commission’s longstanding policy is to name bridges for their locations.) The bridge’s New Jersey approach subsequently was realigned with a new direct highway toll plaza in the early 1960s. The bridge and its approaches were fully rehabilitated between 2013 and 2015. It ranked fifth in traffic volume among the Commission’s eight toll bridges in 2021, with an average annual daily traffic count of 33,300 vehicles.