17 – Price’s Bridge, 1822, Conococheague Creek west of Cearfoss, MD
Traveling west from Hagerstown out Salem Avenue onto Maryland Route 416, a new bridge crosses the Conococheague just past Cearfoss. On the northeast side of this bridge is a narrow, overgrown road that drops quickly out of sight down a steep incline. At the foot of this neglected route, once Route 58, Price’s Bridge carries a single-lane road over the creek on its five arches. A barrier has been placed across at either end of the bridge; but some earlier miscreant has cut a hole in the fence mesh, granting access to the bridge roadway itself. To the right, on the upstream side, a large island of debris has collected against the arches and spreads up and across the waterway. At the near end, several large rods extend through the body of the bridge, secured on either side by sections of I-beam. These have apparently been placed there to strengthen the bridge by holding the side walls together. At the other end, part of the south wall has collapsed, and a section of the stone rail is missing.
Once there were 30 stone bridges in Washington County, a unique symbol of the 19th century’s westward movement as it passed through Western Maryland and pressed toward the Mississippi. Only 23 of these stone spans in various states of repair remain. Some have been severely altered to carry modern two lane traffic, some have been bypassed by new structures, and others continue to serve into their second century. Bridges were often placed at fords across streams. Roads led naturally to these fords. When periodic high water interrupted traffic, bridges were built to serve the roads at all times. The first wooden bridges often needed to be rebuilt after storm damage, and it was then that stone bridges began to find favor.
Price’s Bridge was built in 1822 by the Lloyds of Pennsylvania to replace a wooden span at Price’s Ford. One of only two five-arch spans in the County, it is also one of the oldest. Price’s Bridge was the second bridge built in the county. Stone for the structure was quarried on the Solliday Farm and pulled downstream on horse-drawn boats.
All the stone bridges over the Conococheague were damaged during the hurricanes of the 1970s, but Price’s Bridge was judged beyond repair at that time. Therefore, when federal disaster funds became available, the money was spent to build the new bridge, which was completed in 1979.
Shortly before he died, County Engineer Glenn Dull said that he had had $30,000 in his budget to demolish the old bridge, its historic nature having been destroyed by the metal rods inserted in the earlier repair. Only the demands of the Water Resources Administration prevented this from happening. Their restrictions on debris in the waterway would have doubled the cost of demolition. Thus access to the bridge was cut off, and Mr. Dull awaited a natural event to destroy the old structure.
Douglass Reed, a local expert on historic restoration, disagrees with Mr. Dull’s statement that the metal rods compromised the historic character of the bridge. In his opinion, the structure retains its historic integrity. Mark Trovinger, a local history buff, says that Max Unger told him that the stone bridges were built into the bedrock so that the more weight placed on them the stronger they would be. He can’t understand why the bridge is beyond repair.
David Cottingham feels that if the island of debris is allowed to remain, it will eventually clog the arches to form a dam, and this will destroy the bridge during a flood. No longer part of the County roads system, the old bridge is caught in some sort of political limbo. The new County Engineer Terry McGee feels the price for stabilizing the old span would start at $100,000. There is little money in the county budget to preserve bridges that no longer carry traffic. One official says the bridge will be allowed to stand so that perhaps its stone might be used someday to repair other stone bridges in the county.
Is it important to save a bridge because it is old, and beautiful, and part of our history? Does a bridge that has served the county for 150 years deserve to be demolished by neglect? Can a modern use be found for this historic structure? Can the community afford the funds for this reclamation project? Are there individuals in the county who care enough about this bridge to find the money?
Epilogue: An effort was mounted to save the bridge. Maryland Historical Trust offered a grant, companies committed products and work in kind as did community groups. The County Commissioners refused to support the project, and it died. The bridge still stands, a little more dilapidated each year.
This article appeared in the Herald-Mail as the 17th in the series.