On this Day in History: Columbia’s first bridge across the Susquehanna destroyed

On February 5, 1832, the first bridge to span the Susquehanna River between Columbia and Wrightsville was destroyed by flooding water and ice.

Possible painting of the first bridge across the Susquehanna by W. H. Bartlett.

The winter of 1832 proved to be bitterly cold, creating thick ice that stacked up to great heights along the shallow sections of the river. When the ice began to break up during a sudden February thaw, it flowed down the river raising the water 30 feet in places. The torrent swept up homes, barns, and even cattle who had wandered too close to the banks.

When the ice became jammed up just south of Columbia, it created a natural dam. Water and ice immediately rose, eventually lifting the first bridge that spanned the Susquehanna off its piers and eventually destroyed it.

Life for the bridge began 14 years earlier when construction of the first Columbia–Wrightsville Bridge started in 1812 and was completed on December 5, 1814, by J. Wolcott, H. Slaymaker and S. Slaymaker. The entire project cost $231,771 (equivalent to $3,408,240 in 2020). The newly formed Columbia Bank and Bridge Company underwrote the project.

The bridge was 5,690 feet long and 30 feet wide and had 54 piers and twin carriageways constructed of wood and stone. The covered bridge also included a wooden roof, a whitewashed interior, and openings in its wooden sides to admit light and allow a view of the river and surrounding areas. It stood immediately south of the present-day Wright’s Ferry Bridge along Route 30.

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Tolls were $1.50 (equivalent to $18.52 in 2020) for a wagon and six horses and six cents for pedestrians (equivalent to $0.74 in 2020).

It was considered the longest covered bridge in the world at the time. The bridge accommodated east-west traffic across the Susquehanna River for 14 years before being destroyed by ice, high water, and severe weather.

Learn More

Ice on the Susquehanna is a femme fatale—mysteriously beautiful and potentially dangerous. More than once, this naturally occurring phenomenon has had catastrophic effects on the Susquehanna Valley. Here are six unique ice on the Susquehanna short stories.

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