Sunday, April 25, 2021

Chain Bridge, Lehigh Gap -(1826-1926)

 First built in 1826, the bridge remains we currently see are now nearly 200 years old.

The Chain Bridge as seen after the May 1926 fire.  Some at the time suspected arson, or sparks from a steam engine, or faulty wiring.  No cause was ever found.  The cement roadway was being built at the time, and neither fire department from Slatington nor Palmerton could reach it.  A bridge was proposed to replace it to connect to this new roadway at a cost of one-half a million dollars.  The new roadway became useless without the bridge.  It was rebuilt for about 4 years and then the concrete and steel bridge was built.  H. T. Craig was the last president of the toll bridge company.  At the time, the bridge was said to be only one of two of its kind in the entire world (the other in Switzerland).  Craig lived in the toll house on the eastern bank until the 1950s and was bank president.  The bridge was operated as a business and for the longest time it didn't even collect enough to pay the toll taker.  Then with the advent of the car, the bridge saw increased revenue.  The weight could support about 6 tons, but the "rating" of the bridge was determined by "head of cattle."  That number I cannot find.

Fire destroyed it in 1926.  The iron used for it was said to be a marvel in its time.  Each link weighed about 130 pounds, and showed no signs of rust.  Where the links touched, the metal was highly polished from the wear.

There were a series of iron ore furnaces in the area, including one at Harrity (in the flat plane on the northern side of Big Creek, between where the old Reber House stood, and present day "Platz's Restaurant."  Some said the Reber home was built as a home for the original managers of the furnace and the subsequent hotel that is now Platz's was built to accommodate the trade brought about originally due to the industry.  Another iron works was in the Lehigh Gap area.  These of course were forerunners to the Carbon Iron Works, which was a precursor to the Bethlehem Steel plant further down river.)  Of course the iron industry followed the river from the coal mines down through the slate belt to the limestone and cement belts.  These areas were also connected by the "Inter-Urban Trolley" that once flourished just before the advent of the car.

Folks quoted who remembered driving over the chain bridge said it was a test of faith.  If you've ever walked across a suspension bridge you will recognize the sensation.  (My wife and I were fortunate to walk a foot bridge over the Giant's Causeway in Ireland.  I watched many people lose their nerve in walking over it, with how it dipped and swayed in the wind.  The chain-bridge was said to do all these things, taking you within 20 feet of the Lehigh's waters, it was rather fluid in its movements under the rolling weight of carts, wagons, and cars.)

To see and touch this history today, venture along the river seen here and also the corner of the park in Palmerton at Delaware Avenue, at the southeastern corner, there's a monument constructed to its place in history that includes actual links from the bridge.

I do have more research to post about this story but time restraints and other projects prohibit me from writing more at this time.  I hope to give this further study soon.  But as for now, enjoy these pictures and etc. 

Opposite view as above.  Nearly 200 years later, we can still see the tollhouse from the boat launch from the western shore beneath the new bridge that replaced the chain bridge.  Note the foundations to the two mid-river piers are still intact as "islands" on the river.  (Current view, April 2021).

December 1933 article.

December 1933 article.

December 1933 article.

From Ralph Kreamer Feb 1953 article.

From Ralph Kreamer Feb 1953 article.

From Ralph Kreamer Feb 1953 article - Hector Tyndale Craig (17 Oct 1873 - 9 November 1955) - 
Craig had once sued (April 1898) the borough for injuries he received in October 1896 that caused him injuries that prevented him from "working as he once could."  At the time, there was a steam-pipe from Henry Fulmer's slate quarry ran under the road outside Slatington near Lehigh Gap and was "fastened to a prop of an overhead bridge."  It discharges steam at just four feet away at a narrow part of the road.  It spooked his team of horses, both he and his lady friend Miss Shoening were setting out for the Nazareth Fair and were thrown from the carriage.  She was not as injured at H.T.  Twenty-one witnesses were called.

This monument to the chain bridge is still intact in Palmerton, at the southeastern corner of the park on Delaware Avenue.  You can still see the rough textures of the metal where it was hand-forged and shaped nearly 200 years ago.  And this should stand as a testament to our area's contribution to the iron-steel industry world-wide.  Kreamer Feb 1953.

The John Ziegenfuss boat yard.  (These articles have been sitting in a file to be posted here for a number of years.  And due to me being away from this project as long as I have, I regret to know why I have this picture here but including it anyway.)

Amazing to me: The great work Ralph Kreamer did for local history started back into the 1950s and went all the way up to this one in 1992.  I was not a good acquaintance of him in life, but however he did leave a number of files to a friend with instructions "to put them into the hands of someone who will carry it on."  And I'm proud to say I was given several of those files.  Thanks Ralph!  Ralph had an active life and shared his numerous talents in a large variety of ways.  A good life. He passed at 92 back in October 2020.

May 1926 article.

September 1937: One of Lehighton's oldest residents at the time, she was enjoying good health at 
92 years of age.  She was born 22 September 1845 in Franklin township to James and Sarah Conner who operated a farm near what is known as "Maria Furnace."  Notice how in 1937, the mention of Maria Furnace was in quotations.  This is a small indictor of the relative obscurity of what was known of this landmark industry.  When Sheriff Reber lived at the home (now torn down), there were large fields behind the home (up to where the new St. Luke's hospital is being constructed) and down to the flat meadow where the Big Creek travels through.  There was even a tunnel that ran under the road and into the basement of the home - See YouTube video.) (Also the ancient Reber garden vines and forsythia that had taken over the entire yard).

I do hope to expand on this story in the future, but until then, I hope this information is helpful to you.


As a quick comparison, and as a point of personal privilege, I present here some pictures from our Ireland trip in October 2019:

Originally built by fishermen back in the day, to get from the mainland out to the broken-off piece of land.  It's about 65 feet long and about 100 feet above a really rough sea.  The wind whips through nearly constantly.  It is a test of faith to walk it.

A toll-worker ensures the bridge does not excede the weight requirement and that no one fools around.


The Led Zep album "House of the Holy" album cover was shot here.  Giant's Causeway, Ireland.