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City Island Bridges, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

City Island is a city park covering about 60 acres in the middle of the Susquehanna River, directly across from downtown Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The first bridge connecting City Island to downtown was called Camelback Bridge, a wooden bridge which was constructed by Theodore Burr and opened in 1817. Damage by floods and fires over the years led to replacements, the most recent being the current Market Street Bridge, a stone-faced concrete arch bridge dating from 1926. The bridge still carries traffic from downtown to the western suburb of Wormleysburg today, and has a turn-off in the middle allowing cars to drive from the bridge down to City Island.

A second bridge, the steel through-truss Walnut Street Bridge, crosses City Island a short distance upstream of Market Street Bridge. The Walnut Street Bridge is one of the most historically-important bridges in the country, using a Baltimore-truss design and Phoenix columns constructed by the Phoenix Bridge Company of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. Even though it is plain black in color, the bridge has beautiful decorative details. The tensioning rods along the top of the truss have lovely, sunflower-shaped joint covers on them, and the upper corners of the portal braces enclose a geometric quatrefoil design. In addition to supporting running and biking trails, the bridge provides pedestrian access from downtown to the Harrisburg Senators AA baseball stadium.

A historical plaque on City Island states that Walnut Street Bridge, built in 1890, is the oldest surviving bridge over the Susquehanna River. However, it is only partially surviving. The original bridge consisted of two segments, one crossing northeast to downtown and the other crossing southwest to the suburb of Wormleysburg. Both segments were damaged in the Hurricane Agnes flood of 1972, closed to traffic, and converted to pedestrian and bike use. Then, in 1996, ice floes swept away the middle truss of the southwestern segment. This truss is still missing today, with abandoned trusses sitting on both banks of the river and a gap in between.

 

Although not technically required to enjoy a visit to the bridge today, you are highly encouraged to find and view the YouTube video of the 1996 event, which shows the middle section of the Walnut Street Bridge being detached, slowly carried downstream, and then being dramatically crunched like a tin can and sucked under when it strikes the Market Street Bridge. Make sure to watch it with the sound on – it is awe-inspiring and, because nobody was hurt, truly hilarious.

I have provided a more detailed description of the Walnut Street Bridge, and its eventful history, in my book, Bridgespotting: A Guide to Bridges that Connect People, Places, and Times.

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