Maurice River Recollections Project
River Reaches

The Maurice River Reaches Project
Bridges: The Future with a Past - Part I

There's not even a shadow of a ghost town to remember the Maurice River community of "Stratton Burrough" and the bridge that was planned to bring it to prosperity. In 1793, a Methodist preacher, Fithian Stratton, purchased the tract of land near the confluence of Menantico Creek and Maurice River, just one mile below where the railroad crosses the stream. Stratton plotted out the borough and gave it his name. By 1800, Stratton drew up plans for a bridge over the Maurice River, connecting to a direct road to Bridgeton. Historian Lucius Elmer wrote that Stratton had hoped to "get ahead of Millville," where development led to its official establishment in 1801.

Even though a dozen houses had been constructed in Stratton Burrough, and a road from Millville to Port Elizabeth brought travelers and tradesmen through the area,
county and state officials did not support Stratton's plans for his Maurice River crossing.
Instead, they constructed a bridge over the Menantico River near its mouth. Stratton's plans for a thriving community fell apart. According to Elmer, even the little bridge that crossed over the Menantico in Stratton Borrough "was abandoned and sold, and the road vacated." 

By 1820, a new road by-passed Stratton's settlement. According to map collector Charles Hartman, a new name for the locale, Schooner Landing, showed up on surveys as early as 1831. By the early 1900's, traffic traveled through the area on a gravel road that led from Millville to Port Elizabeth, skirting Schooner Landing. Eventually a geared bridge was added, the road was improved and the throughway became a stretch of the state highway known as the Delaware-to-the-Sea or Delsea Drive. Today, the state's super highway, Route 55, exits at Schooner Landing Road, in the shadows of Stratton Borrough, the village that has faded into oblivion. 

Mauricetown Bridge

The Library of Congress has created an archive to help preserve colorful and informative slices of history that might fade away like this little Maurice River town. In fact, the history of one Maurice River crossing is preserved in the Library of Congress American Folklife Project. In that collection, the "Old Iron Bridge of Mauricetown" is documented in a series of 20 photographs. An "Historic American Engineering Record" identifies the span as the Maurice River Pratt-Terough-Truss Swing Bridge.

Mauricetown bridgeIn 1970, when these images were added to the American Folklife Project, the iron bridge was "a rare surviving example of a human-powered swing bridge." By the 1970's, technology had modernized most of the hand-operated swing bridges that were common in rural areas a century earlier. The vintage1888 hand-operated bridge in Mauricetown became an icon. Several images capture bridge operator Albert Reeves and one of the young "assistants" who helped insert and manually turn the large metal key that opened the swing span. For 22 years, Reeves responded to the three blasts of ships' horns and used the key to swing the bridge open for their passing. Reeves was, by many accounts, one of the colorful characters of the Maurice River.

Not long after the bridge became part of the American Folklife Project, a new bridge was built to replace the aging span. A section of Mauricetown's Iron Bridge was preserved as a historic marker. It is positioned on the west bank of the Maurice River at the site of Mauricetown’s very first span - a wooden bridge that was built by the Maurice River Bridge Company in 1867.

The expense of maintaining that wooden span, and the cost of its replacement a decade later, led to a proposal for the erection of the iron bridge in 1886. In 1888, construction began on a 165-foot iron bridge with a swing span that was "wide enough for two teams to pass and with a minimum horizontal clearance of 60 feet for boats." (Untitled news article, 4/3/1972). Mauricetown's Iron Bridge was completed in 1889, 75 years after the Compton brothers established the village of Mauricetown and a century after the location was a ferry crossing known as Mattox Landing.

bridge wreckOn August 30th, 1909, the Mauricetown Bridge was struck by the Lizzie D; a tugboat at the time, and later, a Prohibition rum-runner. At the time of the collision, the tugboat, which was operated by the J.W. Paxson Company of Philadelphia, was towing the barge, Mildred McNally, downriver. Although the tugboat and barge were undamaged, the barge�s steering failure caused massive amounts of damage to the bridge. (see photos of bridge wreck)

On September 2nd, 1909, The Cumberland County Board of Chosen Freeholders met in Mauricetown to discover the extent of the bridge�s damage. Following the inspection, the Freeholders planned a series of meetings in order to replace the wrecked bridge. They eventually gave the contract to the Owego Bridge Company of New York State, who offered to complete the project for $9,590.

wreckAccording to a local editorial, "It is to be hoped that the county will be able to recover at least a part of what the new bridge will cost. If the county should recover substantial damages, perhaps it would have a tendency to make boatman exceedingly careful in the future when they are going through the draw. It is said by people living in that neighborhood that much of the damage to the bridge has been the result of lack of care upon the part of boatmen as they went through the draw. The barges are heavily loaded with sand for glassworks and for filter purposes. They carry tons and tons of the sand and when one bumps against a bridge or pier something is likely to give way."

Before work on the new bridge could start, however, the Army Corps of Engineers held a hearing based on complaints from shippers. The hearing, which took place on January 20th, 1910, was based on complaints was that the clear channel between the swing span was not wide enough for boats to safely pass through. Although Cumberland County won the suit, they were ordered to spend an extra $3000 to buy a fendering system. Because of this, the bridge was not completed until November, 1910. In 1912, Cumberland County won another lawsuit, this one against Paxson. The company was forced to pay almost $9800 in damages for the previously wrecked bridge.

As early as 1964, there were discussions to erect a new bridge to replace the historic Iron Bridge, but it wasn't until March 1971 that work on the modern 1385-foot span was started. One interesting news article (Philadelphia Inquirer, March 21, 1971) titled "Cumberland's Lonesome Span Stuck in the Mud," reported that the delays that plagued the construction could be blamed on "that famous lower Cumberland County black mud, 50 feet deep in places, sediment from the salt marshes that old-timers claim would swallow up horses and people without a trace."

Local residents Ralph DiPalma and his partner Lou Miller were consulted at one point during the bridge building.  DiPalma and Miller owned the oysterboat, the Lindbergh, at the time. DiPalma recalled that they got a letter asking how high the Lindbergh's mast was. "We were the only ones with a mast that high," he said, explaining that it measured about 25 feet. "And that determined how high the new bridge was going to have to be."

In her research of the Maurice River, Citizens United President Jane Morton Galetto discovered that the bridge was designed with a section that could be converted into a drawbridge if the need arose.

Despite the delays, the bridge was completed. The first boater to pass under the new span was another local resident, Russell Burcham, piloting his cruiser Concordia.

In a subsequent news article (April 1972) it was reported that this bridge was the "the longest, highest and most costly bridge" of the 170 bridges under the jurisdiction of the Cumberland County Board of Freeholders.

As it approaches its 40th anniversary, the Mauricetown Bridge remains one of only two crossings over the Maurice River.


Barsotti, Debra - Research Journalist
Cumberland County Historical Society Staff
Galetto, Jane Morton - Photos, Citizens United to Protect the Maurice River & Its Tributaries, Inc.
Scagnelli, Kristen - CU Volunteer
Schopp, Paul - Historian
Wettstein, Dale - Photos, Steelmans Photos


A Future with a Past
Part I
Part II