Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Sabotage Brought Down the 70-Ton Draw Span of Pelham Bridge in 1908 and Delayed its Opening

February 2, 1908 was a sleepy Sunday at the new Pelham Bridge.  The old bridge that long had stood on the site still stood, but its replacement was nearly complete.  In fact, by contract the two companies responsible for constructing the new Pelham Bridge were obligated to complete the work by May 30, 1908.  The grand opening of the new Pelham Bridge already was scheduled for June 1, 1908.

Officials responsible for completion of the new Pelham Bridge were under increasing pressure to complete the work on time.  There recently had been labor problems at the site.  Some felt the labor problems had slowed construction and feared that it could continue to cause difficulty at the site.

The new bridge was a grand engineering feat with a massive "jackknife draw" in its center to allow marine traffic to pass the bridge.  Late the evening before, on Saturday, February 1, laborers constructing the bridge broke for the week and left the site to enjoy a Sunday of leisure.  Before leaving, one of the two spans was raised and intentionally left open -- presumably to allow marine traffic to pass with no one there except a single watchman to ensure the security of the construction site.

Early on Sunday, the watchman was in his shanty at the bridge.  He heard a tremendous crash that shook the bridge and his shanty.  When he ran outside, the seventy-ton jackknife draw span that had been standing upright was gone.  It had pitched over and fallen into fifty feet of mud and water in Eastchester Bay below, almost obscured from view.

At first, it was believed that a strong gust of wind brought the span down.  Close inspection, however, soon revealed that the bridge had been sabotaged.  Giant bolts and clips to which anchoring cables were attached had been removed, allowing the span to fall downward without anchorage, snapping the base of the span away from the rest of the bridge when it came down in a "rush."  Although little else was known about the incident at the time, one thing was clear.  "No one but a man skilled in bridge construction would have known how to go about loosening these bolts."

The sabotage delayed the opening of the the new Pelham Bridge.  Indeed, the June 1 bridge opening ceremonies were delayed by more than four months.  The new Pelham Bridge opened on Thursday, October 15, 1908.  (See text of October 16, 1908 article at the end of today's posting.)

I have written about histories of the various Pelham Bridges that have spanned Eastchester Bay for the last two centuries.  For examples, see the list with links at the end of this posting.

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes the text of two articles about the sabotage of the new Pelham Bridge as well as the text of a third article describing the opening of the bridge four months late on October 15, 1908.

Expert Hand Loosened Bolts That Dropped Draw at Pelham Bay.

Detectives employed by the American Bridge Company are trying to discover who loosened certain material bolts and clips which allowed a seventy-ton draw span of the new Pelham Bay Bridge in the Bronx to drop into the mud of East Chester Bay yesterday.  The officials of the Bridge Company admit they have had some trouble with workmen on the bridge, but refuse to make any definite charges, although they are satisfied that the mischief was accomplished by some one having knowledge of the way to go about it.

The bridge was almost completed.  It is designed to take the place of the old Pelham Bay Bridge, which connects Eastern Boulevard with Pelham road.

The draw is of the 'jackknife' pattern.  Instead of a draw span swinging around in a circle on a pier in the middle of the bridge, the draw is drawn upward from the centre on each side by cables.

The south draw is fifty feet long and 30 feet high.  It had been placed and tested, and when the workmen left Saturday night was folded up against the southerly pier to allow free passage on the water.  The cables holding it were fastened by strong bolts and clips to an anchorage at the bottom of the pier.

Early yesterday morning the watchman on the bridge was in his shanty when he heard a crash that shook the structure.  He ran out and found the south draw span half hidden in the mud of the bay.  

Investigation showed that the steel cables has [sic] been loosened at the anchorage by the removal of the bolts and clips.  This allowed the draw to drop with a rush, and the force of the fall snapped it from its fastenings at the hinged end.  

John G. Theban, the supervising engineer for the Department of Bridges made an examination.  He was disposed at first glance to believe that the draw had been blown down by the force of the wind, but further investigation proved that the bolts sustaining the cables had been loosened by persons having proper tools.  No one but a man skilled in bridge construction would have known how to go about loosening these bolts.

Powerful derricks on wrecking tugs were sent to the scene of the accident to-day.  It will be necessary to raise the span and send it back to the American Bridge Company at Trenton, N. J., for repairs.  The bridge, which was to have been opened for traffic on June 1, will be delayed two months or more."

Source:  70-TON BRIDGE SPAN WRECKED BY SKILLED WORKER, The Evening World [NY NY], Feb. 3, 1908, p. 14, col. 3.  

Bolts Were Tampered With, Contractors Think -- Labor Troubles.

A seventy ton 'jackknife draw' span on the new bridge being constructed across East Chester Bay to connect Eastern Boulevard, The Bronx, with Pelham road, fell yesterday afternoon into fifty feet of mud and water.  Representatives of the construction companies who investigated the break after the accident said yesterday afternoon that the draw could not have fallen if the bolts at its base had not been tampered with.

The bridge is being constructed by the American Bridge Company and the Goodwin Construction Company, under the supervision of John G. Theban, the engineer representing the city.  It is designed to replace the old Pelham Bay bridge which stands just above the new structure.  May 30 was the contract date for its completion, but because of constant labor troubles the contractors recently announced their inability to complete the job by that time.

The draw spans in the centre of the bridge, two in number, swing upward instead of around as in the old style draw bridges.  One of these 'jackknife draw' spans on the south side of the middle water way had already been completed and the other was nearing completion.  The completed span was 50 feet long and about 30 feet in height.  

When the workmen quit on Saturday this span was left standing with its nose in the air.  It had been fully completed and tested.  Nobody was seen on the new structure yesterday, when without any evident cause this span pitched off its buttresses and dropped almost out of sight in the water and mud.

Mr. Theban and officers of the construction company made a close examination of the place where the span had stood, after which the construction people announced definitely that they believed that the span had been caused to fall by some one drawing bolts in the supporting mechanism.  Mr. Theban said that the circumstances were suspicious, but that he could not make any charge of wilful mischief until he had made further investigation."

Source:  SPAN OF NEW BRIDGE FALLS, The Sun [NY, NY], Feb. 3, 1908, Vol. LXXV, No. 156, p. 1, col. 4.

Formally opened yesterday.
Source:  NEW BRIDGE OPENED, New-York Daily Tribune
Oct. 16, 1908, p. 12, cols. 2-3.

Big Automobile Parade in Celebration of Four Cities.

More than two hundred automobiles and as many carriages were in the parade yesterday which celebrated the formal opening of the new bridge over East Chester Bay, known as the Pelham Park Bridge, because it connects the halves of that park.  The bridge is on the famous old Pelham Road through Bronx Park and Pelham Park, which is a favorite for automobilists going to New Rochelle and Connecticut towns.

At 9 o'clock yesterday morning the formal reception to the three Mayors of New Rochelle, Mount Vernon and Yonkers and other officials and citizens of the three municipalities bordering on The Bronx began.  Fifty-four automobiles were drawn up in the square at the intersection of Third, Lincoln and Morris avenues and 138th street.

Starting from the headquarters of the Board of Trade, the procession wound its way to St. Jerome's Church, 138th street and Alexander avenue, where the children of the church sang songs of welcome.  Taking a course that included every point of interest in The Bronx, the constantly increasing line of automobiles finally arrived at Pelham Bay Park, where the new bridge was to be declared open by Mayor McClellan.

This structure is said to be one of the finest examples of engineering art within the city limits.  It was erected by the Godwin Construction Company after designs drawn by the regular engineering force of the Bridge Department.  It has been the object of the architects to make the bridge harmonize with the system of beautiful parkways of which it will form an important link.  The bridge consists of two series of three arches built of reinforced concrete, connected in the centre by a double leaf bascule, or lift bridge, to permit of the passage of vessels.  It allows a road space for four lines of vehicles, and in addition there are two broad walks for foot passengers.  

The hour set for the opening was 2 o'clock in the afternoon, and at that hour Mayor McClellan, accompanied by Bridge Commissioner James W. Stevenson, H. A. La Chicotte, principal assistant engineer, and other men prominent in the city administration, arrived in automobiles.  After formally declaring the bridge open for traffic, Mayor McClellan stood in the centre of the draw, where he was joined by Mayors George Gillespie Raymond of New Rochelle, Benjamin Howe of Mount Vernon and Nathan A. Warren of Yonkers.  Here the Mayor of New York clasped hands with his three brother officials.  

After the exercises Mayor McClellan hurried back to the city, while the North Side Board of Trade and its guests continued on their tour of inspection.  At the old Van Cortlandt mansion, in Van Cortlandt Park, the visitors were welcomed by a body of citizens who composed a guard of honor from the 1st Battalion of Minute Men.  The next stopping place was New York University, where the visitors were escorted into the Hall of Fame and addressed there by Chancellor MacCracken.

A quick run down Jerome avenue brought the cavalcade to Huber's Casino, at 162d street and Jerome avenue, where tables were laid for over two hundred guests.  This closed the celebration."

Source:  NEW BRIDGE OPENED, New-York Daily Tribune, Oct. 16, 1908, p. 12, col. 3.

*           *          *           *          *

Below are examples of previous postings that address the histories of the various Pelham Bridges that have spanned Eastchester Bay for the last two centuries. 

Tue., Jun. 10, 2014:  Construction of the Concrete Arch Pelham Bridge.

Mon., May 12, 2014:  The March 6, 1812 New York Statute Authorizing Construction of the Pelham Bridge.

Tue., Sep. 22, 2009:  Names of Early "Keepers of Pelham Bridge" Appointed by Westchester County.   

Thu., Jan. 08, 2009:  Another Brief History of The Pelham Bridge

Thu., Jan. 1, 2009:  A Brief History of Pelham Bridge

Wed., Jan. 2, 2008:  New York State Senate Report on Petition by Inhabitants of Westchester to Allow Construction of Toll Bridge Across Eastchester Creek in 1834

Tue., Aug. 28, 2007:  The Laying Out of Pelham Avenue From Fordham to Pelham Bridge in 1869

Wed., Jul. 4, 2007:  1857 Real Estate Advertisement for Sale of the Pelham Bridge

Fri., Jul. 22, 2007:  1857 Real Estate Advertisement for Sale of "Country Seat" at Pelham Bridge

Fri., May 18, 2007:   Celebration at Pelham Bridge in 1872

Wed., May 16, 2007:  Board of Supervisors of Westchester County Vote to Build New Iron Bridge to Replace Pelham Bridge in 1869

Tue., May 15, 2007:  The Owner of the Pelham Bridge Hotel Sold it for the Princely Sum of $22,000 in 1869

Mon., May 14, 2007:  Plans to Widen Shore Road in the Town of Pelham in 1869

Fri., May 11, 2007:  A Sad Attempted Suicide at Pelham Bridge in 1869

Thu., Dec. 08, 2005:  The First Stone Bridge Built Across Eastchester Creek in Pelham, 1814-1815

Thu., Aug. 18, 2005:  The Opening of the New Iron "Pelham Bridge" in 1871

Tue., Aug. 9, 2005:  Cock Fighting at Pelham Bridge in the 19th Century

Thu., Jul. 21, 2005:  Today's Remnants of the Bartow Station on the Branch Line Near City Island

Tue., Jun. 28, 2005:  The Hotel and Bar Room at Pelham Bridge

Thu., Mar. 24, 2005:  The Bartow Area of Pelham in the 19th Century: Where Was It? 

Wed., Mar. 23, 2005:  Prize Fighting at Pelham Bridge in 1884

For more about the Pelham Bridge and its history, see Pelham Bridge, Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia, available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pelham_Bridge (visited May 6, 2014). 

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