Building a better bridge: Maynard Street span constructed 4 times

Maynard Street span constructed 4 times

SUN-GAZETTE FILE PHOTO The first two spans of the 97-year-old iron-truss bridge over the Susquehanna River at Maynard Street are brought down in this photo that was published on June 7, 1986. The iron-truss bridge was not the original at the site but had been built to replace a wooden structure after the Great Flood of 1889. The iron version was described by its builders in 1889 as the “most perfect and lasting (bridge design) available.” The original bridge on Maynard Street was built by lumber baron Peter Herdic to serve people to whom he sold lots on the other side of the river.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Today the Sun-Gazette offers the next installment in a weekly history series that tells the stories of those who came before us.)

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Today the Sun-Gazette offers the next installment in a weekly history series that tells the stories of those who came before us.)

Three of the four bridges stretching across the Susquehanna River at Maynard Street have been damaged or swept away by historic floods, but despite the history of destruction and damage, work toward the fourth bridge united residents of Lycoming County in impressive numbers in the 1980s.

The first structure to cross the Susquehanna at what is now Maynard Street was a toll-bridge built in the 1860s, according to Sun-Gazette archives.

By that time, Peter Herdic had business investments on both sides of the river.

When selling land on the South Side started to suffer because of the high cost of tolls when crossing the Market Street bridge, Herdic simply decided to build his own bridge.

And instead of charging the high toll, he offered life-time crossing passes to people buying lots from him.

The wooden bridge, named after his father in-law J.W. Maynard, was first swept away in the high waters of the St. Patrick’s Day Flood of 1865.

It was rebuilt only to be swept away in the Great Flood of 1889, 24 years later.

After the 1889 flood, an iron truss-type bridge described by builders as “the most perfect and lasting that was available” took its place.

The $5 million bridge would last 97 years, despite significant wind-gust damage before it was demolished in 1986.

Through the years

The iron bridge survived many floods and some high winds, serving the county through most of the quickly modernizing 20th century.

In 1891, the bridge became an official public thoroughfare.

The county first lit the bridge with six oil lanterns in 1903. At the same time, automobiles were becoming a common site, and a sidewalk was added in the 1920s. In 1959, the bridge was widened and given to the state Department of Transportation.

The bridge was in need of significant repair by the 1970s, so PennDOT placed it on its $1.8 billion bridge replacement program, starting the process to build the current bridge.


Hundreds of people waited on the banks and on boats upstream to watch the demolition of the first two chunks of the old Maynard Street bridge in June of 1986.

“Entire families and the work forces of a number of nearby businesses lined the river banks as pockets of spectators grouped in openings in the thick growth of brush that covers the river bank,” the Williamsport Sun-Gazette reported on June 7, 1986. “Others waiting along the railroad track at South Williamsport that parallels the river or gathered at both the Market Street bridge and Arch Street bridge for a glimpse.”

Kayaks, canoes, jet-skis, cruisers and houseboats surrounded the Hiawatha that held state and local officials during the demolition.

People counted down along with a broadcast over the scanner.

Drivers stopped on the Beltway and left their cars.

All watched the bridge come down together.

The 100 pounds of plastic explosives were supposed to break the two major sections of the bridge into five pieces each, but the spans fell intact and rested at the base of where they stood moments before.

Crews continued to clean up the mess and take down the rest of the bridge, along with its pillars, for the next few months.

Ahead of schedule

Less than one year later, more than 500 people gathered for the opening of the new bridge months ahead of schedule.

“The new bridge was slated to open in November, but mild winter temperatures, longer working days and extra workmen combined to advance that schedule,” the Sun-Gazette reported on May 21, 1987.

The opening was a unifying and patriotic event. People stood in spots where, a year later, they watched the old bridge come down.

Honoring veterans

Members of local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts from all over the county marched and met halfway across the bridge, which would be designated Veterans Memorial Bridge.

Six riflemen fired a salute and a trumpeter from the South Williamsport High School band played taps.

American flags were suspended from flagpoles along the bridge and Gov. Robert P. Casey cut the ribbon that allowed the first cars to cross at about 6:40 p.m.

The bridge built in 1987 has a design life of 100 years, according to PennDOT spokesman David Thompson.

Although there have been no major treatments or work done to the bridge since its construction, PennDOT plans to pave the concrete deck’s driving surface and replace the rubber seals that prevent moisture from reaching the substructure within the next five years.