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picture of bridge

View northwest from Bull Creek Rd

More detail photos


Iron Bridge Ln over Bull Creek
nknw 604-1

Fawn Twp

USGS 7.5" Topo Quad - UTM Coordinates:
New Kensington West - Zone 17; 0604 4497
Iron Bridge Ln

-- private residences
-- Bull Creek Rd [Red Belt, S.R. 1034]

-- Bull Creek

pony Pratt truss;
wooden plank deck with steel plates aligned with wheel tracks;
stone abutments

54 ft

TOTAL LENGTH (including longest elevated ramp):
54 ft
13.5 ft wide deck between trusses


1878, Morse Bridge Company of Youngstown, OH
Reno, engineer

Possibly the second oldest unaltered bridge in Allegheny County. The two which are oldest and positively dated by builder's plate are stone arch spans in Sewickley (1827, rebuilt 1919) and Edgeworth (1841, rebuilt 1918). A database from the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation (PHLF) lists the next two oldest spans as: 1875 Old Clairton Rd over B&O Railroad in Baldwin Borough (through truss) [demolished Sept 2002], and 1877 Thompson Run No. 2 over Bull Creek in Fawn Twp (deck girder). [The latter 1877 bridge does not have a builder's plate to confirm the date and though it also crosses Bull Creek, it is not this Iron Bridge.]

The PHLF database does not list the Iron Bridge. But fortunately the builder's plates have survived to preserve the information.

The next oldest bridge in Allegheny County is the 1881 Smithfield Street Bridge over the Monongahela River in downtown Pittsburgh.

A metal builder's plate is attached to the downstream truss at the western portal:


A metal builder's plate is attached to the upstream truss at the western portal:

(broken) RENO, ENG (broken)

There are but a few internet references to other structures built by the Morse Bridge Company. In Pennsylvania, three are noted:
1.) The Petroleum Center Bridge over Oil Creek is a two span Pratt through truss. It featured pinned eyebars, rests on stone piers and has an open grate deck. It remains open to auto traffic in Oil Creek State Park near Titusville, PA. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

2.) The Warren Bridge Company built a four span covered wooden bridge across the Kiskimenitas River at Apollo, PA. The wooden bridge stood from 1844 to 1881 when it was carried away by an ice gorge; it was replaced by a 6-span metal Pratt through truss bridge by Morse. The Morse bridge was replaced in 1937 by a series of pony spans which themselves are slated for replacement.

3.) The Coverts Crossing bridge was the first bridge to cross the Mahoning River in Lawrence Co, PA. It was built by Morse Bridge in 1887. It has been included in the Historic American Engineering Record by the National Parks Service.

One additional Pennsylvania structure which was well documented by HAER:
The Speicher Bridge over Tulpehocken Creek near North Heidelberg, Bucks Co., PA was built by the Morse Bridge Company in 1878 -- the same year as the Iron Bridge over Bull Creek. The Speicher Bridge was documented by HAER in 1976 before it was demolished by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as part of a flood control project.

An excerpt from the HAER documentation describes the Morse Bridge Company with reference to the Speicher Bridge (footnotes deleted):


The Speicher Bridge brought Berks County in contact with Henry G. Morse (1850-1903), an important late l9th-century businessman. Morse and his brother, C. J. Morse, formed their firm in January 1878. Thus the firm was in business only a few weeks before receiving the Berks County contract.

The company employed 100 workers to fabricate "all classes of iron bridges, roofs, and boilers." A contemporary noted large derricks by which "the heaviest bridge girders" were loaded for shipment on one of the two railroads serving the plant "by which they ship direct by every railroad" entering Youngstown.

This description placed Morse Bridge Company in the company of typical mid-19th-century metal bridge building firms formed to build the first generation of metal bridges. The virtue such firms possessed for customers such as the Berks County Commissioners was that they were "equipped to execute a complete construction job." The county could expect Morse to produce "a finished bridge ready for traffic."

In 1878, 28-year-old Henry G. Morse was in the early years of an important career. He had graduated from Rensselaer Institute of Technology in 1871 as a Civil Engineer. From that time until 1873 he worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad. For the next four years he was an engineer for the Wrought Iron Bridge Company, Canton, Ohio. This training placed him in the company of experienced engineers who rapidly mastered or improved metal bridge design between 1850 and 1880.

Nine years later, in 1887, Morse left his Youngstown firm to become president of Wilmington, Delaware's Edgemoor Bridge Works. In 1896 he began a brief two-year tenure as president of the Harlan and Hollingsworth shipbuilding firm in Wilmington Perhaps his most important activities occurred between 1896 and his premature 1903 desth in J. P. Morgan's office. Contemporaries believed he left Rarlan sud Hollingsworth despite "reorganizing it and placing it on a successful basis" because of "a difficulty" over his stock demands. He resolved to form his own company to build "the most modern shipbuilding plant in the world."

Morse succeeded. He built in Camden, New Jersey, s shipyard the author of his obituary termed "the finest shipbuilding plant in existence." That claim is difficult to evaluate, but the firm was important enough to be "a thorn in the flesh of the new shipping combine." Morse's aggressiveness and quality workmanship were graphically illustrated shortly before his death. He successfully lobbied with the White House and Navy Department to give him a contract for two cruisers originally awarded to William Cramp and Sons Ship and Engine Company. Morse persuaded President Roosevelt his bids were lower, "all things considered."

Apparently he planned to build a completely integrated shipbuilding plant similar to the type of installation Ford later created at the Rouge plant. He hoped to become "entirely independent" of outside suppliers. His contemporaries feared the facility Morse planned; the "shipbuilders" pool offered him $50,000 to refuse to bid on a job. Morse's fatal stroke occurred in Morgan's office because the financier was in 1903 seeking an "alliance" between Morse and other shipbuilding firms.

Morse's early death probably robbed him of a major role in early 20th-century business history. As it was, his career reflected themes prominent in late l9th-century American business history. He deserves more study than he has received.

For Berks County, Pennsylvania, Morse's importance was that he provided its citizens an "ordinary iron highway bridge." The Speicher Bridge incorporated most of the advances metal bridge technology experienced during the mid-19th century. This product of the young engineer's shop served residents for almost a century.

Other extant structures by Morse Bridge Company include:

Hendricks County Bridge 216A originally located in Guilford Township on County Road 800 South -- built 1886 -- is the oldest Warren-thru span in Indiana, and it is possibly the only bridge of this type fabricated out of wrought iron. It was moved to Friendship Gardens, a park in Plainfield, IN.

Spengler Road over Kinderhook Creek, Canaan, NY. A 130 foot long metal Pratt truss bridge built in 1880 by Morse Bridge Company of Youngstown, Ohio. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Six Mile Creek Rd over the Shiawassee River in New Haven Twp, MI. The bridge is closed, but still stands as a metal through truss span built in 1896.


field check; Daniel Alward,; Historic American Engineering Record,; "Armstrong County, Pa., Her People, Past and Present," J. H. Beers & Co., 1914; Plainfield, IN website; Michigan DOT website

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Introduction -- Nearby Structures

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Last modified: 24-Sep-2001; 29-Feb-2016