Columbia's Walking Bridge

It Was A Bridge Under Cover

By Glenn Lewis

On a relaxing walk across the pedestrian bridge from Columbia, NJ to Portland, PA on a sunny day, you would not suspect that this scene of the magnificent thrusts of the water gap, and the architecturally rich arches of the Delaware Lackawanna and Western viaduct that anchors your upstream view, could be anything but tranquil.


The Columbia Bridge before the flood. Photos courtesy Neil Brodt

The footbridge, built only for human passage, and maybe an occasional animal, enables the walker to enjoy the quiet, natural surroundings without sharing the space with cars and trucks whose whirring tires across steel decking shatter the stillness. A leisurely stroll through Portland can be very rewarding for those who want to shop for antiques or gifts, look at old photos in the town barber shop, or have lunch in one of several eateries. You are struck by the fact that this town sits precariously, right on the edge of the river, and there are references- signs, post cards- to a different kind of bridge. When you look at the pier supports of the footbridge, you notice that they look much older than the bridge itself. You read a plaque as you start your walk back to Columbia, and then you know that there was an earlier bridge that rested on those same piers. And there was a cataclysm that removed forever, the last covered bridge across the Delaware River.

It was August 19th, 1955, and former Knowlton Township Mayor, Frank Van Horn was there, watching the rising, raging flood waters, the result of hurricane Diane's torrential rains, from above the river on Walnut Road with other family members. "I was only five or six, but I'll never forget the things I saw that day," says the Mayor. The gathering watched in horror as houses, animals, trees and many other objects floated by their vantage point. The covered bridge could not hold back the river, once the flow began to press against the wooden sides.

About two miles downstream from the covered bridge, a steel railroad bridge spanned the Delaware, and still does today. "Apparently, the Portland side of the bridge let go first, followed by the Columbia side," says Van Horn. "The first side got hung up at the steel bridge, then the second side joined it like a V, just like a jigsaw puzzle, and the water started to rise behind it like a dam," recalls the Mayor.

"That old dry wood couldn't take the pressure, and eventually the force drove the wooden bridge under the railroad bridge, and the wood splintered, and the dust rose up like an explosion," he recounted. "It kind of ground up the wood when it came up to the surface on the other side of the railroad bridge." Other accounts from the time suggest that the main beam from the covered bridge acted like a battering ram on other spans downstream. And so ended the covered bridge era on the Delaware.

According to the Bicentennial Celebration publication, Historical Sites of Knowlton Township, (1976) , the covered bridge was built by the Charles, Kellogg and Maurice Company, and was finished in 1869. It was a Burr truss bridge, and was 775 feet long and 18 feet wide. The plaque on the Portland side of the bridge reads, "Site of the last of 16 covered bridges that once spanned the Delaware. Erected 1831-1869. Destroyed by flood August 19, 1955."

"And as the years have come and gone
The river keeps time, just flowing on.
But could the bridge its story tell
Of how 'twas built both strong and well.
(from a poem, "The Old Covered Bridge," by Mrs. Ada Snyder Read. It appeared in the Historical Sites of Knowlton Township).

Nearby accommodations and attractions

  • Brook Hollow Winery
  • Hand-crafted wines fermented, aged, and bottled at our family farm in the heart of the scenic Delaware Water Gap. In addition to wine tasting and sales, we offer indoor and outdoor rentals as well a full catering services for up to 250 guests.

    594 State Highway 94, Columbia 07832, 908/496-8200

  • Wild Ridge Plants
  • Nursery propagated native plants available wholesale or retail by appointment. Our plants are chemical-free and local provenance. Consulting and growing services, presentations, guided walks.

    , Pohatcong, 908/319-7230

  • Shippen Manor Museum
  • Restored c.1754 stone ironmaster’s home associated with Oxford Furnace. Colonial and Victorian rooms, costumed docents, open-hearth cooking, period music. Open first and second Sundays, 1-4pm. Genealogy library also open Mondays, 9-12. Special programs for schools.

    8 Belvidere Ave, Oxford 07863, 908/453-4381

  • Brook Hollow Farm
  • PYO apples, several varieties including semi-dwarf trees (great for kids). Peaches from our orchards, pumpkins, farm market. Wagon rides on fall weekends. Near beautiful Delaware Water Gap, Rt 80 ex 4 to Rt 94 N, 3 1/2 mi to Frog Pond Rd. You'll be glad you found us!

    Frog Pond Rd., Hainesburg 07832, 908/496-4577

  • Big Skylands Country
  • Warren County's Montana Mountain, Merrill Creek Reservoir, and the Pohatcong Valley is equally rewarding for students of history and devotees of the outdoors.

    , ,

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Comments

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jim d
15 Nov 2013, 07:02
i was just in the area yesterday. there are two large bridge piers on the jersey side, less than a hundred feet north of the pedestrian bridge. i have never read reference to those piers before. does anyone know what bridge stood on those piers ? please email me at toowired@speakeasy.net
evelyn
30 Aug 2012, 09:16
Mary, My more recent comment is the better remembrance one and I'm going to check it out too.
evelyn
30 Aug 2012, 09:13
Hello Mary,\r\n\r\nThe only thing I can remember about a "reservoir" something about Tocks Island... con't remember if that ever happened but lots of people had to leave their homes, summer camps, etc. when that was planned... your question has made me inquisitive about it again.. had forgotten about it. Check "Tocks Island" on the internet.. I am going to do that too. Good luck.
evelyn
30 Aug 2012, 09:01
Not sure if it's true that part of the town was bought for a reservoir, but Tocks Island was a planned thing years ago and it never happened, even after families had to leave their homes, etc. on the north side of the river near Portland.... probably could search that out on the internet... all of that was pre-internet days.. As I mentioned originally I have pictures of the bridge wrecked on Adkins Island, which is right next to a campground on the Pennsylvania side of the river... Since 1955 we've had floods in 2004,2005, 2006 and again last fall of 2011... so far my home has not been affected, but did lose a jetski in 2011 and found it recently three miles south of here!!!
mary smith
11 Mar 2012, 18:36
Just wondering if the story about the part of town is true. That it was bought by the gov't for a resovoir that never came to be and is still empty. I've read the story and would love to know if it's true and where it is. I grew up in Cranberry Lake. Thanks
ev
18 Oct 2008, 15:55
Hi Peter...nice to hear from you. Did you see how many messages collected on this page? I thought about you wanting to walk the walk bridge and thought maybe you did it before you came into the diner...next time. Went to the diner with my friends last Sunday...and next time I'm that way, I'll check about your glass case. Hope you had an interesting ride back to Atlanta...think my trips to New Hope or Lambertville will be on hold till next year but when I go will definitely say hi to Carol!! Nan and I just got back from Shelter Island..for the funeral of my cousin...what a beautiful island...his two sons now live there in their BEAUTIFUL homes... unbelievable. My emigrant grandparents are probably on their clouds shaking their heads in disbelief. Going back to N.J. tomorrow after church and seeing my friends. Look forward to seeing the pictures. The foliage looks like it is going to be BRILLIANT this year... Enjoy whatever kind of autumn you have in Georgia,too. Ev
Peter D Heidgerd
18 Oct 2008, 12:02
Evelyn:\r\nYou know, during our rendezvous at the Portland Diner on Sunday morning, October 5th,2008 afterwards I had planned on going across the pedestrian bridge... I forgot to mention that after that BIG breakfast there! (I also must have left my eyeglass case there... Sue may have moved it to the ledge [as she did my coffee] to make room for your photo album... either way, I was without it the rest of the day, and trip... gotta get another one I guess.) <<<That's my lamentation-- yours was the bavarian cream donut at the Hess station! I had a great visit... and will definitely come back. The pics of your place came out great! I will print some out at some point and surprise you now that I have your correct address and everything! Oh, and by the way, remember when dining in Lambertville, to go to Bell's Tavern (and say Hello to Carol for me! --would you?!)\r\nLove,\r\nPeter\r\nps Happy Autumn!
evelyn
05 Oct 2008, 17:59
Hi... lost you as you made the turn to go to the gas station...followed a black car and then noticed there wss only one person in it... made a couple of turns and couldn't find the gas station, so I headed for New Hope...and where would I find you there??? So asked directions 31 and got home about 8:15... of course, my daughter left six messages and she was right, I should have called her at some point during the day. Enjoyed your and Sue's company... hope you have a safe trip back to Atlanta.... Thanks for breakfast... my dinner was a bavarian cream doughnut at the Hess station!!! Ev
evelyn
27 Sep 2008, 07:27
Great! See you then. Ev
Peter D Heidgerd
27 Sep 2008, 07:19
Evelyn:\r\nWell Amen! We'll see you at 10 am on October 5th. I am glad we will get to meet. \r\nPeter
evelyn
26 Sep 2008, 09:53
Hi Peter... guess you didn't see my latest comment because you haven't responded to it. I can go to Church on Saturday too, at 5 p.m. so will meet with you at 10 a.m. at the Portland Diner, October 5th... My friend won't be with me because of his choir commitment... but that's o.k. Please confirm the time again with me... Ev
Peter D Heidgerd
23 Sep 2008, 19:43
Evelyn:\r\nWell, it's like this... I have not told my friends yet about the new time because I have been fretting over how we can 'do it all'... trying to rethink things through before I tell you "no" or them anything... Frustrating. You see, we are planning on driving up to the Delaware Water Gap and seeing the Old Mine Rd. On that particular day is an event in the town of Millbrook, known as "Millbrook Days" (life in pioneer times etc pretty cool actually)... Then we were going to head up to the Delaware View House (just up the road from Millbrook 1.5 miles)... Then up to the roads end and cross over in to PA and take 209 south thru Stroudsburg where we would get on another road to put us down to Kintnersville and then to the Inn at Phillips Mill for dinner... It's a lot on the plate. We were originally going to head out for the diner and plan on being there around 8:45-- With the 12:30 time change that really would put us on the proverbial conveyor belt all the rest of the day. So far it looks out... I may recommend something else to them for that day and we'll just do that and maybe I would have a chance to get up to Portland and meet you and your friend on say Tuesday (that's a kind of remote possibility-- but still that-- a possibility). Are you sure you can not meet up with us at 10:00? It really just looks out of the realm of possibility for Sunday. I am sorry.\r\nPlease let me know if there is any way you can rework your Sunday schedule (at my church they have a Saturday evening service at 5 pm, and then two on Sunday... too bad your church doesn't have something like that! Rats!
evelyn
23 Sep 2008, 15:18
Peter... have you seen my last few messages???? Please let me know if the change of time is o.k. with you and your friends... Evelyn
evelyn
22 Sep 2008, 07:49
Hi again...just checked the Inn at Philips Mill....so nice. You call that the lower side of pricey?... so would my daughter and her beau...but that's the VERY high side of "budget" for me!! But it looks so nice and cozy.. Maybe I can get my daughter and friend to go there on one of their visits here. They took me to the Tavern on the Green at Christmas time...which is not the best time to enjoy the atmosphere. Hope the change of time isn't inconvenient for you. Ev
evelyn
22 Sep 2008, 07:42
Peter...just realized that October 5th is a Sunday... and now that you've made plans with your friends, do you think you and they can change the time to 12:30? My friend lives in Stroudsburg and sings in the choir at 11 a.m so can't be here until then, and I go to church at 10:30. Sorry about that, but that's one of the things that happens..it's called "Senior Moments". Evelyn
Peter D Heidgerd
21 Sep 2008, 18:54
Evelyn:\r\nAlrighty then!!! \r\nThat just put a BIG smile on my face. I am a kid, I am about to have two bowls of Cap'n Crunch!\r\nI am looking forward to seeing you.\r\nPS-- I 'found' (I had already been there in 1981 on a late spring date)a place where we'll be dining that evening.. The Inn at Phillips Mill on the River Rd just on the north side of New Hope. The place looks just like it did when I was there before... They have a picture of the quaint.. and I mean quaint, edifice on their website-- check it out sometime. Their menu is actually on the lower side of pricey, so it is 'do-able'.\r\nSee You!
evelyne
21 Sep 2008, 16:27
You are no where NEAR being a Senior... and as long as you follow my rule: "Stand up straight and think young" you won't be... 48? Just a kid!! My daughter will be 50 in November! See you on the 5th!!! Evelyn
Peter D Heidgerd
21 Sep 2008, 16:17
Evelyn:\r\nThat is just fine.\r\nYour description was funny! It is so neat to see a 'senior' with wit when it comes to seniority. It always makes me want to be just like that myself! (I am 48 so as you know, it won't be long and I will be that age... I so appreciate it all!) \r\nI was just reading on the internet about the Shohola PA train accident of 1864... It was gruesome sounding... Shohola PA was until 2006 the site of another bridge done by John Roebling, the architect/engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge. I can not believe that anyone today, especially after 2001, would have allowed that bridge to be removed for all of its historical significance! It erks me so to see that so many are more concerned about the money in their back pocket and not things historical etc, for the benefit of future generations! AAARGH! \r\nWell, well, I got off on a tangent.\r\nYes, I look forward to seeing you on the 5th around 10 a.m. God willing of course!\r\nPeter
evelyn
21 Sep 2008, 13:35
hello Peter... That sounds good to me...10 a.m. would be better, if that's o.k. with you.. and you'll know me without the sign... I'm a Senior with white hair and who knows I might get there after you!!! There might be a gentleman with me... he's a Senior too... but with grey hair. It's a very nice day today (Sunday) about 80 and probably good enough to go for a swim but there's nobody around to save me if I drown!! See you on the 5th!!! Evelyn
Peter D Heidgerd
21 Sep 2008, 12:54
Evelyn:\r\nI did not think that this many days would have gone by, sorry! I have talked with my friends, the De George's of Mansfield NJ-- the idea of breakfast at the Portland Diner sounds fine, so if you are still up for it GRRRReeeat! How does between 9 and 9:15 sound? There will be three of us. I guess I could walk in with a sign (like people do at airports) with your name "Evelyn" on it! I am a talkative, animated sort 5'7" in height, medium build... It shouldn't be difficult! By the way, we're still looking at Sunday morning, October 5, 2008. Thanks, and let me know! \r\nPeter
Peter D Heidgerd
08 Sep 2008, 23:12
Evelyn:\r\nThat's a roger... I should be in touch with my friends (they live in Washington, NJ) in the next few days, by the weekend no later than... Talk to you soon.\r\nPeter
evelyn
08 Sep 2008, 17:19
Hi Peter.....If you're friends are agreeable, I can meet you at the Portland Diner Sunday afternoon, October 5th. I might bring a friend, too!!! Don't like to put any phone or email info into this either, although I think we are the only ones viewing it. Don't really know. Just let me know one way or the other if o.k and the time. Evelyn
Peter D Heidgerd
07 Sep 2008, 19:39
Evelyn:\r\nThanks again for your quick response. I will ask the two friends of mine if they would like to incorporate this into our plans for Sunday October 5th... I agree about New Hope... I really wasn't at all, for the same reason you mention looking forward to actually going to New Hope.. I usually have always just crossed the bridge and kept going, and yes, I have been to Peddlar's Village (but back in the 1960's, and maybe once in the early to mid 70's-- my Mom was an avid antiquer!) We too ate at the Cock N Bull with its big bay window... All I remember was the cute brick walkways and most buildings it seemed were painted red! I will have a cell phone by the time I make my trip, and if you want it I will need your email.. If you have one. I do not wish to leave my cell phone number on this site for obvious reasons... I will not have a PC to use while on my trip... We should be in the Portland-Columbia area by around 3-4ish if we include this as an aside. Tentatively we have seeing an historic road in NW New Jersey and maybe some hiking... So we'll see. Thanks for your hospitable offer. Most gracious.\r\nPeter\r\nps I just realized about the email addresses.. I guess we could have to commit to meeting at a certain geographical place at a pre-designated time etc... Not a problem.
evelyn
07 Sep 2008, 07:37
Hi again.... it's a deal!! I wouldn't mind meeting with your friends, too...but that's up to you. Too bad it isn't still summer... you could all come and have a swim in my river... which I've been doing for the past 73 years!! Just let me know when and what time. I've only been to New Hope once with some friends...we were discouraged by the tourist trap atmosphere and turned around and went back to Peddler's Village where we had nice day and a good lunch at the Cock n'Bull restaurant there..just checked their website..there are six restaurants there and great shopping. The only other place I've been to in that area is a restaurant in Easton across the street and to the right of the Crayola Factory. And one in Bethlehem..but that's not on the river. There must be a website that could help you with that!! This contraption finds everything about everybody!!! It's a bright and sunny day once more on the river... it only came up about 3-4 feet..so far. But IKE is on his way. My daughter and her boyfriend got here about 7 p.m. It was pouring pellets! The jetski is now safe and sound in my parking pad. The reason my email is repeated so many times is because I thought it wasn't going through and I kept hitting 'submit'. I'll get this thing down pat someday!!! Happy trails to you!! Evelyn
Peter D Heidgerd
06 Sep 2008, 23:54
Evelyn: \r\nTypical guy that I am, I may be with some other people that day, not sure yet... I will let you know if I am solo then I certainly would commit to meeting up with you for a chat and a coffee, or lunch or what have you. (What is up with this site, I am glad to see it wasn't just me!)\r\nAlso, can you recommend a really good restaurant on the river road (the PA side between Portland and New Hope?)-- There is a website which I saved to my favorites on "Bucks County" it has the parks, the covered bridges, etc... But no good maps of where the correct locations of the covered bridges all are... I looked at one, it was not where the map said it was... and also, there is no listing for the historic and GOOD GROG restaurants, only B&B's-- How unusually weird is that?! Anyhow, if you have any good ideas I'm up for it... Thanks for quick response!\r\nPeter (ps I have a book about New Jersey published in 1953 authored by John Cunningham [he was the governor at one point?]-- used to hear/see his name a lot growing up, anyway, there's a picture in that book of the bridge at that time with a policeman in the middle of the bridge... a cool B/W shot.\r\nAll gone. Wouldn't be neat in a kinda WPA or NRA (Roosevelts of course!) way if they (the bureaucracy) decided to (in order to create some jobs in that locale) came up with plans to make an exact replica of that bridge and rebuild it to spec? COOOOOOL that would be!!! YEAH!\r\n...Peter (thanks)
evelyn
06 Sep 2008, 14:45
Hi... just read your e-mail and that you'll be in the area on October 5th... Do you know where the Portland Diner is? Would like to meet you there and show you the pictures I have. I live opposite Thomas Island, which is the island below where the bridge broke up. It was sad that the bridge was destroyed. Right now it is POURING and we expect the river to rise about 8 feet, which is still safe. My daughter and her friend are on the way to take her jetski out of the water! Never a dull moment living on the river. Evelyn
evelyn
06 Sep 2008, 14:45
Hi... just read your e-mail and that you'll be in the area on October 5th... Do you know where the Portland Diner is? Would like to meet you there and show you the pictures I have. I live opposite Thomas Island, which is the island below where the bridge broke up. It was sad that the bridge was destroyed. Right now it is POURING and we expect the river to rise about 8 feet, which is still safe. My daughter and her friend are on the way to take her jetski out of the water! Never a dull moment living on the river. Evelyn
evelyn
06 Sep 2008, 14:45
Hi... just read your e-mail and that you'll be in the area on October 5th... Do you know where the Portland Diner is? Would like to meet you there and show you the pictures I have. I live opposite Thomas Island, which is the island below where the bridge broke up. It was sad that the bridge was destroyed. Right now it is POURING and we expect the river to rise about 8 feet, which is still safe. My daughter and her friend are on the way to take her jetski out of the water! Never a dull moment living on the river. Evelyn
evelyn
06 Sep 2008, 14:45
Hi... just read your e-mail and that you'll be in the area on October 5th... Do you know where the Portland Diner is? Would like to meet you there and show you the pictures I have. I live opposite Thomas Island, which is the island below where the bridge broke up. It was sad that the bridge was destroyed. Right now it is POURING and we expect the river to rise about 8 feet, which is still safe. My daughter and her friend are on the way to take her jetski out of the water! Never a dull moment living on the river. Evelyn
evelyn
06 Sep 2008, 14:45
Hi... just read your e-mail and that you'll be in the area on October 5th... Do you know where the Portland Diner is? Would like to meet you there and show you the pictures I have. I live opposite Thomas Island, which is the island below where the bridge broke up. It was sad that the bridge was destroyed. Right now it is POURING and we expect the river to rise about 8 feet, which is still safe. My daughter and her friend are on the way to take her jetski out of the water! Never a dull moment living on the river. Evelyn
evelyn
06 Sep 2008, 14:45
Hi... just read your e-mail and that you'll be in the area on October 5th... Do you know where the Portland Diner is? Would like to meet you there and show you the pictures I have. I live opposite Thomas Island, which is the island below where the bridge broke up. It was sad that the bridge was destroyed. Right now it is POURING and we expect the river to rise about 8 feet, which is still safe. My daughter and her friend are on the way to take her jetski out of the water! Never a dull moment living on the river. Evelyn
Peter D Heidgerd
05 Sep 2008, 21:55
(The time of this post was not as indicated 21:49, but rather approximately 0149 hrs on 6 Sep 08--\r\nThanks.)
Peter D Heidgerd
05 Sep 2008, 21:48
Evelyn:\r\nI was born and raised in New Jersey back in the 1960's and 1970's... My fathers side of the family (emigres from Germany) owned and operated woolen mills in Columbia, NJ-- I have always wished I could have seen the bridge as I have seen several pictures of it over the years. I had gone with my father one day back in March 1978 I believe, on a road trip to travel back roads of New Jersey, mainly to travel across the Sergeantsville covered bridge (restored in 1961)... At that time I thought that the Portland-Columbia covered bridge was still there... It was not until years later that I learned it had left us in a calamity! I will be traveling by on October 5th, and will walk across the old bridge site... Anything you can share would be appreciated... Ideas, a place to stop in etc... Anyhow, Thanks.\r\nPeter Heidgerd
evelyn
26 May 2008, 16:28
I have pictures of the Portland Bridge in pieces on Atkins Island... we camped on private property near there and if my parents had been on vacation, they would have ended up in the river with the tent. When the river went down, my father dragged the tent out of it, dried it, folded it up and took back to our home in Queens... spread it out in the street, hosed it down, had the rips sewed up and brought it back to our campground and we used it for many years after that. I love this river... I now live here permanently..(but not in the tent!!)
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