McCalls Ferry Covered Bridge
Theodore Burrs Greatest
"I can inform you now, with a considerable degree of
satisfaction, that I have at length succeeded in getting
up the long arch at McCalls Ferry. This arch is, without
doubt, the greatest in the world."

Theodore Burr Febuary 26 1815
McCalls Ferry Bridge crossed the Susquehanna Martic Township Lancaster County Pa
And now I too can say, with a considerable degree
of satisfaction, that I have at length succeeded in
getting my portrait to same point of completion. I'll
continue to update this page as progress is made.
McCalls Ferry Covered Bridge
McCalls Ferry Covered Bridge
April 2, 1811, the Pennsylvania legislature
approved an act to that appropriated money to
companies thereafter to be formed, to build
five bridges across the Susquehanna River at
Berwick, Northumberland, Harrisburg,
Columbia, and McCalls Ferry. All four were
ferry crossings on major routes at the time,
though one would hardly know it from the
seemingly remote location that McCalls Ferry
is today. Theodore Burr bid on all five
projects and secured contracts on all but the
Columbia Wrightsville crossing.
McCalls Ferry Covered Bridge
Theodore Burr was born in Torrington CT, August 16, 1772. No
relation to Aaron Burr, he was the son of John Burr & Jael
Markam. John Burr served as a lieutenant in the revolution.
After the war he became a millwright and went on to build many
dams and water powered mills. Theodore followed his father
into the millwright and building trades, and in 1793 he moved to
Oxford NY. Over the next two years, he & a partner built the
Fort Hill Mills and a dam across the Chenango River. Fort Hill
Mills consisted of a grist mill, a planing mill, and a sawmill.
Following this, in true Burr fashion, he began to contract the
building mills & dams through out the area. As all good millers
of the day knew, a successful mill must have a good crossing, so
in 1800, he built one. And once again, in true Burr fashion, he
began building bridges as a professional endeavor. In 1804,
Burr built a toll bridge across the Hudson River at Waterford.
This bridge consisted of multiple king post trusses sandwiched
between two great arches that started below the road deck on
each end and rose to even with the top cords in the center of
the span. This gave a very rigid structure and minimized the
rise in the road deck.
The Burr Arch was born.
McCalls Ferry Covered Bridge
The Susquehanna is normaly a shallow river, over a
mile wide in many places. But at McCalls Ferry,
mountains on either side of the river and a shallow
shelf on the York county side pinch it so that the
whole of the river flowed through a channel 609 feet
in width in high water and 348 feet at common low
water. Burr had soundings done, and found the water
in the channel to be 150 feet deep at common low
water. Obviously no piers could be placed in such deep
water, so Burrs plan was to place a single pier on the
eastern most edge of the York county shelf and cross
it with two spans, one of 360 feet clear span and a
second of 240 feet clear span. Since no falseworks
could be placed in such deep water, Burr planned to
build the framework on floats paralel to the Lancaster
County shore, and when complete, float it into place.
McCalls Ferry Covered Bridge
In the summer months of 1814, Burr contracted masons to
build the pier & abutments as he sawed the timbers at his mill
in Oxford. The timbers were then tied into rafts and floated
down the Susquehanna to the bridge site. October 1, 1814 Burr
began the construction of the long arch , and on December 7,
was ready to move it up to the abutment. Unfortunately, ice
began to run the same day. By the next morning, ice was
starting to block the channel, and continued to amass, until
there was no hope of clear water without flood that would
surely destroy the bridge. Burr decided to take the structure
off the floats, on to the ice, and skid it into place. Atempts to
move the entire structure were lessons in futility, Burr finaly
separated the arch into halfs, laid plank roads over the ice,
placed rollers under the framework, and with 8 capstans, two
men on each handle, tied to four folded block & tackles, they
were able to move the halfs into position and key them
together on Febuary 1, 1815. The next morning the ice had
fallen some and the arch stood on its own. The whole of that
day was spent cutting away the scaffolding. At nightfall they
stopped for an hour of refreshment, built bonfires and got
back to work. By 8 oclock, the remaining scaffold was
removed, and in Burrs own words "It was a joyful moment to
my brave fellows; and you may well suppose they gave way to
impulse, in loud and repeated hurras. The next day was set
apart as a day of rejoicing".
(or day of hangover)
McCalls Ferry Covered Bridge
McCalls Ferry Covered Bridge
Burr completed the bridge enough to permit travel in
December 1815, completed it by November 1817, and
formally opened it November 18, 1817. At the dedication
he proudly declared, "Here stands a bridge God almighty
himself could not move!". March 3, 1818, the same river
ice that helped Burr place the bridge there, returned and
took it away. No replacement was built until the Norman
Wood bridge opened in 1968. The site of the old bridge is
now submerged in Lake Aldred about a mile north of the
Holtwood dam.
McCalls Ferry Covered Bridge
The bridge was a two lane, 32 feet wide. The long span was a
32 panel, 367 feet total length, and was a double arch with 7
ft kingposts separating the arches, further strengthened with
truss braces & counteracting braces. There were 6 of these
structures and they sandwiched three kigpost structures, the
center being somewhat taller than the outer two. Both spans
were arched slightly overall to allow for shrinkage & settling.
The western span was a 22 panel, 247 feet total length, and in
my opinion was most likely a triple arch span much like the
Camelback in Harrisburg. The butts of the arches were 32
feet above common low water, and the roadway 52 feet above.
McCalls Ferry Covered Bridge
To my knowledge, no pictures, sketches, blueprints, or
drawings made at the time of this bridge exist today. I've
created this portrait from a letter Theodore Burr wrote to
Ruben Field, a fellow bridge builder from NY, in which he
describes the site and the bridge in fair detail, including
dimensions & layout of the long arch & trusses, and from
pictures & descriptions of the Camelback Bridge in
Harrisburg, which Mr. Burr built at the same time and had
three spans of similar length as the short arch. This was the
longest wooden span ever built, and has not been surpassed
to this day. It's been said that Mr. Burr intended this bridge
to demonstrate the versatility of his design, and it certainly
does that. Having eaned his degrees at the School Of Hard
Knocks, the man was a practical mechanical genius. This
bridge is his crowning achievment, and this portrait is my
tribute to him.

Click Here to read Mr Burrs entire letter
McCalls Ferry Covered Bridge
McCalls Ferry Covered Bridge
Click here to read Burrs
entire letter to Ruben
field describing building
and setting the main arch,
and the hardships endured.
Mike & Jackie - 2011 - All Rights Reserved
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