28 July 2009

Double Take on Two Bridges

Passengers travelling through Somerset County on the Delaware and Bound Brook Railroad in the fall of 1918 might have been heard to wonder aloud, "Where are we?" Everything seemed familiar as the engineer blew his whistle at the Dutchtown-Harlingen Road crossing and then headed north towards Belle Mead, and then it all changed - no more whistles, no more crossings. The clickety-clack of wheel on track and chug-chug of the engine is all that would be heard as the locomotive sped towards Manville. They were now passing through Hillsborough's first "railroad quiet zone".

The Delaware and Bound Brook - now the CSX West Trenton Line, but then a subsidiary of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad - had undertaken a major grade separation project in 1917 and 1918, building road bridges at six railroad crossings in Hillsborough and Montgomery Townships. These include the bridges over the railroad at Route 206 near the Belle Mead train station, Hillsborough Road, Homestead Road, Amwell Road, Hamilton Road, and Bridge Street in Manville. Nearly a century later, most of these bridges are still being used every day - but not for long.

The 1918 Amwell Road bridge was rebuilt with a new span just a few years ago. Now the Homestead Road bridge, also from 1918, and the Hillsborough Road Bridge from 1917 are due to be rebuilt next year at a cost of $3.2 million. That's almost as much as the entire D&BB Railroad was worth when they were originally built.

The two bridges are important elements in the Delaware and Bound Brook Railroad Historic District. Although the bridges themselves are not deemed to have any historic value on their own, the state has determined that removing them would have an "adverse effect" on the historic district. Therefore, the NJDOT is proposing, as mitigation, to reconstruct the bridges in place, with new bridges that resemble the old ones, including architectural elements that will "maintain compatibility" with the historic district.

It sounds like a good plan. These bridges are deficient and need to be replaced.

And in case you are wondering - they took care of the Dutchtown-Harlingen Road crossing by building a bridge at that location in 1926. Only the crossing at Sunnymead Road would seem familiar today to a traveller from a century ago.


Here's a question for Hillsborough history buffs. Do you know why the Delaware and Bound Brook Railroad is the railroad that nearly wiped "Hillsborough" off the map? Answer in an upcoming post.

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