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How Black Bridge got its Name

Diagram of a Howe Truss Bridge (S. H. Smith, 2015)
Diagram of a Howe Truss Bridge (S. H. Smith, 2015)

Black Bridge carries trains over the Codorus Creek as railroad traffic moves between York and Emigsville. This bridge is a prominent feature viewable from the new section of the rail trail, recently opened in Springettsbury Township. A railroad bridge was first built at this location in 1848 and was initially known as Codorus Bridge. To understand why it was renamed Black Bridge, one has to understand the typical construction of a Howe Truss Bridge during that era.

In 1840, William Howe, received patents on an alteration to previous truss bridge designs. His truss bridge featured timber diagonals slanting to the center of the bridge and vertical iron ties; as depicted in the diagram. The Howe Truss quickly became the preferred long span railroad bridge, not only because of its strength, but also railroads of that era favored this bridge for its ease to partially prefabricate offsite and to ship by rail.

The Eighth Annual Report of the Northern Central Railway, i.e. as of December 31, 1861, listed 67 York County railroad bridges from the Maryland Line, through York to New Cumberland. These included 9 Howe Bridges, with the remainder shorter Girder Bridges. The longest span Howe Truss bridge was the 336-feet total length, 2-span Codorus Bridge (now Black Bridge).

The following photo shows a typical 2-span Howe Truss Bridge of the construction common in the mid-1800s. This photo is of a Howe Truss Railroad Bridge that was in Boone, Iowa, and is from the Iowa State Archives. The Codorus Bridge (now Black Bridge), built in 1848, probably appeared similar.


My dad, Harold L. Smith, worked his first day on the job for the Pennsylvania Railroad at Black Bridge in 1934. After Dad retired, for some reason Black Bridge came up in the conversation; and I asked how the bridge got its name, since many bridges are black. Turns out, Dad asked the same question of his father, Luther S. Smith; who also had Black Bridge as one of his earliest jobs on the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Luther told Harold that old timers on the railroad recalled how a long-ago railroad bridge maintenance crew misunderstood their painting instructions for that bridge. Instead of only painting the iron tie rods and all other iron hardware, that crew painted everything black; timbers included. The bridge maintenance crew took a lot of ribbing about their Black Bridge; which became its nickname, until eventually becoming its official name.

The newly opened 2.5-mile section of the Heritage Rail Trail County Park in Springettsbury Township extends from the intersection of Route 30 and Loucks Mill Road north along the east side of the Codorus Creek to Mundis Mill Road; then bridging the Codorus into Manchester Township. As shown in this photo, one can now walk under the latest incarnation of Black Bridge; which is now a 4-span steel girder bridge, that has been in place since 1925.

Eastward View of the Heritage Rail Trail County Park, as it passes under Black Bridge (S. H. Smith, 2015)
Eastward View of the Heritage Rail Trail County Park, as it passes under Black Bridge (S. H. Smith, 2015)

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