10 September 2019

The "Bridge Street" Bridges of Hillsborough

A 1923 editorial in the New Brunswick Home News concerning the movement to change the name of Somerville's Bridge Street posited, "[T]oday, there are many streets leading from the main street across a bridge over the Raritan. Today, Bridge Street has no significance whatsoever. It is merely a habit." If the writer won his point then, he would surely win it doubly now as not only are there still other Somerville roads that lead to bridges but Bridge Street - or South Bridge Street as it is now known - leads to no bridge at all! Instead, it terminates at Route 206, where a left turn brings motorists to an eight-lane highway that poses as a Raritan River Bridge. Drivers at cruising speed in either direction may not know that they are on a bridge at all.

The Old Covered Bridge at Bridge Street (1822-1887).
Painting by Davis Gray, 1971.

In the post-revolutionary period, when wagons crossed the Raritan from Hillsborough to the settlement that would become Somerville, drivers took care on the narrow chain bridge. When a loaded grain wagon caused the bridge to collapse in 1822 it was replaced by a covered bridge. In those days, Bridge Street went straight through where the D&C Electric parking lot is today [2019] and then turned slightly east to cross the river at the narrowest span. The old covered bridge was much loved for many reasons, not the least of which was because it shielded boys at their favorite swimming hole from the travelers on the bridge. Swimming costumes were practically non-existent in the wardrobe of a mid-nineteenth-century youth!

The Iron Bridge at Bridge Street (1887-1930).
Postcard circa 1915.
Eventually, progress and increased commerce dictated a new modern, wider iron bridge be built. The Somerset County Freeholders budgeted $13,000 for the 300-foot span in 1886 with the bridge opening to traffic the following year.

The Concrete Highway Bridge of Route 31/206 (1930-2002)
Photo from 1999.

The construction of Route 31 - now renamed Route 206 - in 1929 called for a modern concrete auto bridge over the Raritan River. This was a major project requiring the use of a temporary wooden bridge at the site where a gigantic concrete mixing machine moved back and forth on tracks. The architecturally significant bridge opened in August 1930 and was in use until 2002.

The Eight-Lane Route 206 Bridge under construction.
28 March 2002 Courier News

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