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9.30.2014

The Former Centennial Bridge, Center Valley, PA

Center Valley is a tiny unincorporated town that sprig up as a result of the new railroad and local farming. The North Pennsylvania Railroad was built through the area in 1857 and by the 1870s multiple homes were built around the small station, along with a Post Office, and a large farm. The farm would have its goods shipped directly to market utilizing the railroad. Bethlehem Pike, parts of which remain intact, nearly follows the current route of Routes 309 and 378, and was the direct road connection to Philadelphia and the city of Bethlehem. The Allentown-Coopersburg Turnpike was also recently completed, which created a juncture across the creek from Center Valley of two major routes to the two closest cities and a direct connection to Philadelphia. (Library of Congress Photo)

The railroad ran from Philadelphia to Bethlehem, almost parallel to Bethlehem Pike, and was eventually absorbed by the then behemoth Reading Railroad for its Bethlehem Branch. This was a lucrative rail line that not only took passengers, but also carried products to and from Bethlehem Steel, including structural steel that was sent south to build the skyline in Philadelphia, and coal to industries south. Center Valley was a haven away from the gritty industrial areas to the north of it. At one point this village was even called "Milk Town" thanks to the amount of milk that was shipped out of it. Eventually the railroad was turned over the SEPTA and commuter service was terminated in 1981. 

This farming Village and its railroad station needed a direct connection across the Saucon Creek to the important new Allentown-Coopersburg Turnpike and Bethlehem Pike to help connect goods to consumers across the Saucon Creek. The solution to this problem was the construction of the Centennial Bridge, named in honor of our nation's 100th anniversary. This stone arch wagon bridge was built for a sum of 1200 dollars. The practicality of adding this bridge is understandable, but why they couldn't just go down the current routing of New Street and Passer to Old Bethlehem Pike is beyond me. I wish I could have sat in on the petitioning meetings by the locality back in 1875 when they debated building the bridge. (PennDot Photo of bridge)
As someone fascinated with history, and having grown up near this bridge, this bridge always fascinated me. Pretty much the only thing you could see from either end of the bridge within my memory was an orange barricade that said "bridge closed." Anyone who has driven northbound on 309 or driven through the southern terminus of PA 378 has likely noticed one of these barricades. On the other side of the creek, on Station Avenue, you could see the other end of the barricaded bridge at a better angle thanks to a small hillside on the street. According to this Morning Call article, the bridge was closed by PennDot in 1992 due to a crack that was splitting the stone arches. Below you can see the bridge in 1996 after three years of abandonment. This is near the condition it was when it was condemned. (Library of Congress)
The view from underneath (Library of Congress)
The dedication plaque (Library of Congress)
Definitely a strange bridge
The old bridge did not end up collapsing while in abandonment, and the speculated plans for a new bridge that were mentioned in the article did not end up coming to fruition. Prior to closure in 1988, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places thanks to it being a great example of a wagon bridge. The venerable old bridge stood functional for 116 years, and would go on to live for another 21 years when it would be torn down in 2013. The structural cracks that PennDot cited were obvious if you peeked through the barricade. The roadway portion of the bridge, still the same shimmery asphalt as the old portion of Station Avenue leading up to it, was a good half foot to a foot sunken in. Sadly I never took any pictures of the bridge in this state. My assumption is that it was no longer safe to leave this bridge up, so they demolition commenced in 2013. Here is a Google Maps Aerial View of the bridge location in 2012.
Quite a bit of this little village remains intact, including the tradition of agriculture. Desales University, formerly Allentown College, sprang up just down the road from this village. The Victorian homes that remain in this little village are pretty neat. 
The old general store remains. On the left you can see where the railroad once was. It was just recently reclaimed as a rail trail, the Saucon Valley Rail Trail, that is very popular with the area residents. (Google Street View)
 A neat Freihofer's Bread, glass window advertisement still remains in the window of the building. I believe it is now utilized as a residence.

Getting closer to the bridge now. "Bridge Out!"On the left is the original Center Valley Post Office. (Google Street View)
You can see here in June of 2009, the bridge was still intact. It would face the wrecking ball in 2013. Notice the basketball hoop at the end of the bridge. (Google Street View)
The 309 side of the bridge. (Google Street View)
And the after shot from the same spot... (Google Street View)

Below is the view post demolition in October 2013, from near the other end of the bridge on Route 309. (Google Street View)
As someone who is always looking at the origin of old structures and different things, my attention naturally was attracted to this bridge. I grew up not too far from this location. I always recall being fascinated by this bridge. For some reason I did not go and take photos of it when I still lived there. I did not have a camera yet at that time though, so I only have memories of what I could see exploring the perimeter of it. It is a shame to see an old bridge like this get torn down, but it needed to happen for safety reasons. This is how the area of the old bridge looks now on the Station Avenue side. I took these photos in December of 2013. I went home over Christmas time and was surprised to see the old bridge gone. This is one of the more strange abandoned things that I have seen. Maybe it is my personal connection to it that makes me so interested in it, but there was something so unique about this bridge. It is shame that they could not preserve it. I am glad that they made a little park area out of the land, along with placing this memorial. The Saucon Creek is a great trout fishery and it is nice that they opened up some of the land for the public.

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