The five arch bridge
By SHARON BAUMBAUGH
A piece in the Echo Pilot newspaper in November 1921, called attention to the condition of the top of the north wall of the Conococheague Creek Bridge, west of town. The wooden shield of the roof of the wall was splintered and entirely broken in places and some of the stones in the masonry were dislodged. Aside from the element of danger from the disintegration of the top of the wall, it was thought that it would be a matter of pride on the part of the county to maintain the appearance of this old stone bridge. It was considered one of the most picturesque in this part of the country.
The following October it was announced that workmen from the State Highway Department had repaired the northern parapet of the stone bridge spanning the Conococheague. The condition had been reported some time before by the Executive Committee of the Franklin County Nature Club (History's Echoes Aug. 27, 2014).
Five years later it was a portion of the stone wall forming the north side of the bridge that had fallen into the creek as a result of the head-on collision of two automobiles. The next year the narrow bridge was again the site of an accident.
The newspaper would soon carry an editorial wondering what would happen if two transcontinental busses should happen to meet on the old stone bridge. This was soon followed by the report of an accident when a party from McConnellsburg, driving a Ford sedan, was headed toward Greencastle. Nearing the bridge, the driver saw one of the big Nevin buses (local bus company) heading toward him. He pulled to the right in order to give room to the bus but as he did so, another Nevin bus, which was following him toward Greencastle, failed to make the stop, striking the sedan. The car was thrown against the south wall on the west side of the bridge causing considerable damage.
In November 1940, workers from Walker Bros. of Chambersburg began the work on the planned relocation of Route 16, which would also include the construction of a new bridge over the creek. The new bridge would be wide enough for modern traffic and be placed about 150 feet north of the five arch bridge. The old stone bridge would be allowed to stand.
The beautiful five-arch bridge was said to date back to about 1816. This information was given by F.F. Unger of Mercersburg in his illustrated account of 'Old Bridges In Franklin County' published in 1941. However, it needs to be added here that according to an old Echo Pilot newspaper piece, the bridge dated back to the 1830s. Whatever the exact date of construction, the stone structure took the place of an earlier wooden bridge; prior to that the creek was forded by wading either on foot, on horseback or driving a wagon through the water.
In February 1970, the Martin's Mill Bridge Association was advised by county masons that it was possible to repair and preserve the five-arch stone bridge west of Greencastle. Rep. William O. Shuman, a member of the bridge group, took two expert masons to the scene. They reported that most of the damage was on the north side of the smaller arches (the east and west ends). The first step was to find the present owners of the land that provided access to the bridge that was abandoned when Route 16 was relocated. The Association had been given an estimate of about $4,000 to make repairs in the entire project with all the original stones available for reuse. Plans would include a rededication of the bridge during the 1971 Old Home Week celebration.
It was not to be. According to Dr. Jerome Harness, crews from the state's highway department dismantled the bridge before all could be put in order to save the old stone piece of history.
Two historic bridges were reported as having been greatly damaged during Hurricane Agnes in June 1972. Swept away in the flood were the last traces of the picturesque five-arch stone bridge on Route 16, abandoned many years earlier when a new concrete bridge was built. The bridge built in the early 19th century had deteriorated rapidly during the previous winter, it was stated. Also swept away and badly damaged was the Martin's Mill Covered Bridge, also known as Shindle's Bridge, southwest of town (more on this massive storm in the future).
The first bridges were fixed bridges, even a log thrown across a stream, then, more elaborate structures. Later came the stone arch bridge, first a single span and then a continuous span supported by piers. Then the concrete bridges more common today. Finally, in modern times, the suspension bridge, marvels of engineering and some beautiful in design.
The five-arch bridge today is remembered on old post cards collected and treasured; and in the prints done from Mark Twain Noe's original painting, done as part of the First National Bank's 'Gallery of History' project started in the late 1980s. These pictures bring memories to some and ideas of 'what could have been' to others, if that particular bridge had been saved.