Saturday, February 26, 2022

A Vernacular Bridge Used by Veblen, Einstein, and Pyne

Few people driving out Snowden Lane in Princeton will notice this little old bridge. Replaced by a larger bridge in 1965, it still remains, just upstream of the newer one. Why was it not demolished when the new bridge was built? Either they realigned the road for other reasons, or someone felt it special enough to save. Back when this part of town was referred to as "the country", the bridge would have been used frequently by the Veblens to reach their home, by their friends like Einstein to visit, and by members of the Moses Taylor Pyne family to reach their horse farm where Snowden Lane meets Herrontown Road. 

I showed it to architectural historian Clifford Zink, and he immediately uttered a German word meaning homemade. A "vernacular bridge!," he declared. 

He pointed out the narrow ledge running the length of the bridge, at the bottom of the arch on both sides. The ledge had supported the arch-shaped wooden framing, called "centering", upon which the stones had been laid, in such a way that their shapes would keep them in place after the framing was later removed.

There's lots to appreciate about this bridge. They just don't make 'em like this anymore. But you can see on the lower right that the bridge is starting to lose some stones. 

The bridge seems to me worth saving. There's a need for a safer way for bicyclists and pedestrians to reach Smoyer Park and Herrontown Woods from nearby residential neighborhoods, and this narrow stretch of Snowden is currently like a gauntlet. The little bridge could be part of a bikeway/sidewalk. 

I contacted the town engineers, but they say it's owned not by the town but by the homeowner, who has not expressed interest in repairing it. Strange that a structure that once was public, spanning a stream, would now be privately owned. If it were to collapse or become blocked, you'd think the resulting blockage would be a public concern.  

A previous post shows how the stonework is not just at either end of the bridge, but extends the full width.

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