Morgan Memories – Then & Now – Cheesequake Creek Railroad Bridge
The year 1913 was a busy one for bridge building in little ole Morgan, NJ. Of the two replacement bridges constructed that year, the County Road bridge and the New York and Long Branch Railroad bridge, the railroad bridge is one which survives to this day. Technically known as a Sherzer rolling lift draw bridge, it replaced the original 40ish year old 1870’s era swing bridge. The railroad must have received a multi bridge discount since there appears to be a twin bridge on this same railroad further south in Point Pleasant and another similar looking one in Belmar.
From what I have thus far found from the time period of the construction regarding the construction, it must have been a major undertaking to replace the railroad bridge. Consider the technology we have now with the technology from essentially 100 years ago. By the way, most of the information about the construction thus far was obtained from back issues of the South Amboy Citizen available via South Amboy’s Sadie Pope Dowdell Library web site; the articles are posted below.
During the 1912/1913 time frame, Cheesequake Creek was a very active water way. The US Army Corps of Engineers reported that commerce on the creek in 1912 was 44,130 tons with a value of $292,500. The commerce transported on the creek during this time period was for the clay related industries along the banks of the creek, i.e., sand, brick and clay, and the inland farms, i.e., produce and fertilizer (manure!).
The November 9, 1912 South Amboy Citizen article indicates a temporary rail bridge was to be built while the old swing bridge was removed and the new bridge put in its place. While I have yet to find information regarding the exact date the new bridge was completed (yes, I examined every issue from 1912 & 1913), the April 12, 1913 issue discusses an incident which occurred after the bridge was in use. That would, of course, mean the new bridge opened some time before April 12! My theory is that the bridge swap happened during the winter months in order to have minimal impact on Cheesequake Creek navigation. Boats traversing Cheesequake Creek transporting these cargos needed to get past the railroad bridge site in order to get to and from Raritan Bay. I can’t imagine that the temporary bridge would have been more than a single track which connected the two sides of the creek. I also can’t imagine that it would have had the capacity to open. If you had to stop all creek navigation, which probably was required during the construction, it would have been better to do it in the winter when little agricultural activity would have been going on. Remember that the area at the headwaters of Cheesequake Creek at that time was predominantly farms.
In the to-be-added page showing a 1913 blueprint survey of the Robert E. Lee Morgan property on the north banks of Cheesequake Creek, you’ll see the original swing bridge and the “New Trestle”. As discussed above, the current bridge was placed in the approximate location as the original swing bridge.
In 1918, the then five year old bridge survived the great Gillespie Loading Company explosions of October which occurred only a mile and a half away (see to-be-added pages).
NJ Transit electrified the line from South Amboy to Matawan in the early 1980s necessitating them to take on the challenge of adapting a then 70 year old bridge to support overhead centenary wires without impeding its ability to open and close – and to be able to do it for decades. That surely must have been a very interesting homework assignment for some engineers. You can see the before and after in the photos on this posting. The first photo was taken on the same day circa 1975 as the one showing the house on the Old Spye Road posting from the to-be-added Old Spye Road page. That would have been how the bridge essentially looked since it was constructed in 1912/1913. The second photo is from the summer of 2009 taken from nearly the same location (didn’t seem to totally match the first one – maybe next time).
As with all structures, there has been occasional maintenance to the bridge. I have found information about two maintenance projects from the 21st Century but surely there must have a number of them during the 20th Century. One of the projects occurred around 2003 and consisted of underwater repairs to the piers and abutments supporting the drawbridge. Sometime after April 2006 and by the end of Summer 2007, the bridge was to receive a number of repairs by the Kiska Construction, Inc. of Long Island City, NY. Specifically Kiska was to rehabilitate the mechanism for opening and closing the bridge, as well as other structural and mechanical improvements. Some information about this is contained on page 6 of this brochure from UrbanTech, a Consulting Engineering company which performed some engineering services for Kiska.
In the to-be-added pages, we’ll cover some of the damages caused by Hurricane Sandy. To their credit, NJ Transit did a very fast repair in order to get the trains moving through Morgan as quickly as possible.
The railroad bridge over Cheesequake Creek continues to serve NJ Transit daily commuters making their way north for work or passengers going south for fun. It still opens to let boats pass through and, as far as I know, is still operated by someone sitting in the attached cabin though I have heard that recently NJ Transit has added an automated capability.
South Amboy Citizen Articles:
Harry L. Thomas, of this city, has been appointed civil engineer of the New York and Long Branch Railroad, and has been placed in full charge of the construction work of
the new bridge to be built at Morgan. Mr. Thomas resigned his position with the engineering department of New York City to accept the new office.
Large quantities of timber and other material are being unloaded at Morgan for the New York and Long Branch Railroad, preparatory to erecting a temporary bridge over Cheesequake Creek. When this is completed the present bridge will be torn down, and a new and much larger one erected in its stead. It will be several feet higher above sea level than the old one, and will be wide enough to carry four tracks. It will have a lift bridge, operated by power.
This issue also announced that Governor Woodrow Wilson of New Jersey was elected President of the United States
Olaf Hanson, who is employed as a workman on the construction of the N. Y. and L. B. drawbridge at Morgan, had three fingers so badly mutilated by the pile driver on Monday, that his fellow workmen had to clip them off with a pair of scissors. Hanson endeavored to pull himself off the ground by placing his hand on a sheet piling, not noticing that the weight of 4,200 pounds was descending. The accident caused great pain and he was taken immediately to the Perth Amboy City Hospital.
On Wednesday evening about 7.30 o’clock, the N. Y. & L. B. R. R. drawbridge at Morgan Station was lowered, on the oyster sloop “Georgianna,” nearly sinking the boat. Walter Ryerson, who was in charge of the bridge, evidently misunderstood a signal given by the bridgeman, who signaled him to raise the bridge higher. He pulled the wrong lever and the bridge descended on the boat, nearly sinking it. A youth was standing on the sloop, and when Amos Stratton yelled to him, he managed to draw himself on the bridge in a manner to escape injury.
Originally posted on January 22, 2011.