A 162 year-old stone arch bridge in Lower Saucon Township that is under threat of removal was placed on a statewide list of endangered historic properties Thursday; a move supporters hope will encourage Northampton County officials to rehabilitate it.
Preservation Pennsylvania, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection of historically and architecturally significant resources in the Commonwealth, announced that the county-owned Meadows Road Bridge was one of just six properties–and one of two in the Lehigh Valley–to be added to the list in 2020.
“Since 1992, Preservation Pennsylvania has published the Pennsylvania At Risk list to draw statewide attention to the plight of Pennsylvania’s historic resources; promote and support local action to protect historic properties; and encourage funding and legislation that supports preservation activities,” the organization said in a news release.
“The picturesque four-arched Meadows Road Bridge was built in 1858 and is the oldest bridge in Lower Saucon Township,” the news release noted. “In Northampton County, it is one of the oldest surviving bridges and is one of only two examples of a four-span stone arch bridge.”
The Meadows Road Bridge has been closed since April 2018, when inspectors determined it was unsafe to continue allowing traffic to cross it.
Since then, there have been discussions by both township and county officials about whether the bridge should be repaired or rebuilt, and in either case, how a plan to do something should be executed.
Township officials have gone on the record to say they want the bridge saved, however county officials have not expressed a strong desire to preserve the structure, which as a one-lane span is functionally obsolete from an engineering standpoint.
Some of the bridge’s supporters also believe its architectural integrity has been compromised by repairs made by the county that may not have been in keeping with historic preservation best practices.
For example, township officials have said Portland cement was used to repoint the bridge’s stonework instead of a type of mortar that would have been historically accurate.
Preservation Pennsylvania shared some of the Meadows Road Bridge’s unique history in its news release and in a profile of it published in their Winter 2020 magazine.
The magazine article notes that the bridge is one of very few survivors from the pre-Civil War period, when commerce and industry were beginning to flourish in Saucon Valley.
Northampton County records from 1860 show that at that time, Levi S. Moyer was the wealthy owner of a nearby gristmill along Meadows Road; a mill which still stands today.
Such a mill would have been an important destination for local farmers in the mid-19th century.
“The bridge connected farmers to the mill, just as today it connects local citizens to offices and retail from one side of Lower Saucon Township to the other,” Preservation Pennsylvania noted.
A more recent chapter in the Meadows Road Bridge’s long history occurred in the 1970s, when the county attempted to replace it with a modern span.
“In 1976, when the county announced plans to replace the bridge, several local citizen groups wrote letters requesting that the bridge be saved,” Preservation Pennsylvania reported. “The public outcry and support for preservation of the existing bridge led the county to withdraw its plans for replacement.”
“The community really cares about this bridge,” said Julia Chain, Associate Director of Preservation Pennsylvania, in the news release. “We’ve seen communities elsewhere in Pennsylvania successfully work to find a compromise and preserve bridge crossings.”
“Preservation Pennsylvania will submit a historic resource survey form to the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission requesting evaluation of the bridge for National Register eligibility and support local advocacy efforts,” Chain added.
Regardless of whether or not the current span is restored or replaced, area residents should not expect the Meadows Road crossing to be available for their use anytime soon.
The design phase, engineering work and environmental studies required to construct a new bridge typically take years to complete. Environemental and other regulations must be met. And any effort to repair the bridge while maintaining its historic and architectural integrity will also likely require extensive planning.