Spanning Herring Run, the old Harford Road Bridge weathered a rough start

The old Harford Road Bridge over Herring Run finally disappeared this spring. A construction crew demolished the 1911-1912 concrete span that connected the Mayfield and Arcadia-Lauraville neighborhoods. Neighborhood groups had long been asking that the well-worn bridge be replaced.

The venerable bridge was considered a fine example of its type when new. A series of three parabolic arches, it was designed and constructed by engineer Daniel Benjamin Luten, a specialist in the construction of concrete spans. He lived in Indianapolis and held numerous bridge-building patents. He was an accomplished businessman and owned a construction company in York, Pa. The state of Maryland contracted with him to do the Harford Road job.

The state paid for the bridge based upon a funding bill that had been passed in the 1908 legislature. Work didn’t begin until 1911 under the auspices of the old Maryland Good Road Commission, which later became the State Roads Commission.

Harford Road was a busy Maryland thoroughfare used by Baltimore County and Harford County farmers and people who lived in the rapidly developing neighborhoods of Northeast Baltimore. There had been a number of earlier spans over Herring Run, including an 1889 iron span. The city’s streetcars also had their own Herring Run-Harford Road trestle.

Baltimore, which had not constructed a subway system, was caught up in a road-paving frenzy. The Sun, in a 1910 report that announced that the road would be getting a new bridge over Herring Run, listed the main streets (North and Wilkens avenues and Washington Boulevard) that were being covered with asphalt. The city’s unofficial paving czar was Robert J. Padgett, a politically connected contractor who is memorialized by a tombstone in Loudon Park Cemetery.

Bridge designer Luten and his crew picked a terrible year to span the Herring Run Valley. Work was underway in the summer of 1911 when Baltimore was slammed by two vicious summer storms that turned the normally quiet Herring Run and its bucolic valley into a roaring torrent.

A violent downpour Aug. 4, 1911, broke a summer drought. Herring Run washed away the wagon bridge and the streetcar trestle. Wooden forms, concrete mixers and stockpiles of sand and gravel that a small army of carpenters and laborers had assembled for the bridge building project also were washed downstream.

A second storm at the end of the month repeated the bridge-busting scenario. The 1912 winter was no more helpful. A February thaw and rain again washed out the temporary wagon bridge.

“It looked as if the heavens had opened up and would never close again,” said Katherine Armstrong, a secretary who was on a Harford Road streetcar on her way home to Hamilton when the second August storm struck.

After the washout — a temporary setback — passengers on the streetcar line rode a car northward from downtown Baltimore, and were forced to get off, cross a makeshift temporary plank bridge, and then board another trolley to get to Lauraville or Hamilton.

“The streetcar rails that crossed the stream were pulled from their ties … and the force of the water twisted those rails as if they were wheat straws,” Armstrong said in The Sun.

The rains and floods proved only delays. Construction continued and the new bridge was completed July 12, 1912. Streetcars soon began to traverse it. The Sun said the bridge “is considered the best in the state.” A few weeks later, real estate agents were selling home lots for bungalows in Montebello Park, a name for a section of Lauraville not far from the new bridge.

“The lights on the new concrete bridge over the Herring Run on Harford Road were turned on for the first time Friday evening and are very attractive,” The Sun said Oct. 5, 1913. “During the summer months many young couples found it a splendid place to spoon. Now another will have to be found.”

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