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Smith's or Patapsco at Elkridge Landing Covered Bridge

Baltimore & Howard MD-03-24 #1x & MD-13-07 #1x Patapsco River Unk Unk Unk 1817 1857
Baltimore & Howard MD-03-24 #2x & MD-13-07 2x Patapsco River Unk Unk Unk 1858 1873
In the 1800s the Washington & Baltimore Turnpike connected the two major cities. Today, the route is known as US-1, Washington Boulevard.
The history of bridges crossing the Patapsco River at Elkridge Landing is a bit confusing, to say the least. Crossing the Patapsco was made via Norwood's Ferry before the first bridge was built to connect the turnpike. The first indication of a bridge at this site comes from an 1817 poster detailing the cost of tolls to cross Dennis A. Smith's bridge, which replaced the ferry. On August 19, 1934 an illustration appeared in the Baltimore Sun of a covered bridge with a caption that included "a design for an old-time covered bridge over the Patapsco at Norwood's Ferry." The illustration was done by self-educated engineer John Davis and depicts the first bridge at this crossing.¹ The first bridge appears to have lasted until the mid-1800s.
First Bridge Crossing at Elkridge Landing
Illustration appearing in the Baltimore Sun on August 19, 1934 under the title "Before The Steel Bridge's Day." The caption under the illustration read "A design for the old-time covered bridge over the Patapsco at Norwood's Ferry, with the elliptical windows only party indicated.
Another indication of the existence of Smith's Bridge comes from the 1833 Seventh Annual Report of the President and Directors to the Stockholders of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company. Various references were made to Smith's Bridge while the railroad company was planning the route from Baltimore to Washington. The 1833 "Annual Report" discusses the cost to route the railroad near Smith's Bridge for each of the first divisions of the railroad. They referred to it as "Upper Route by Smith's Bridge." The railroad also considered an upper route near Hockley Mill which was cheaper than the Smith's Bridge route. On page 131 of the same report, the B&O compares the total cost of both routes and refers to Smith's Bridge as "D.A. Smith's Bridge," although it never directly referred to the bridge as a covered one. The railroad concluded the Hockley Mill route would be a better choice based on cost alone.
The first bridge was still standing in 1851 as evidenced by an article in the Baltimore Sun at that time about cattle falling through the bridge. The bridge was referred to as "Smith's Bridge." A map of the area by J.C. Sidney in 1850 shows a bridge crossing at this location, but the drawing does not specifically state the bridge was a covered one. Not all maps of that era indicated whether or not the bridge was a covered one. An article in the same newspaper on October 30, 1854 reported citizens building a bridge at the viaduct across the Patapsco River to avoid high tolls at Smith's Bridge. The bridge was completed by February 10, 1855 at a cost of $1,400. The expense for this bridge at this time in history would indicate that it was probably a covered bridge but we have no evidence that it was. This would place two bridges close to each other on, or very near, the Washington Turnpike. Smith's Bridge still existed in October of 1856 when a man committed suicide by jumping off the bridge.
An article appeared in the newspaper on July 17, 1858: "Some two years ago the bridge over the Patapsco, on the Washington turnpike road, at Elkridge Landing, was carried away by a freshet. A new covered structure has been erected in its stead, which, says the Patapsco Enterprise, is far superior to the old one. It was constructed by Mr. Henry J. Fairbank, of this city." This leads us to believe that Smith's Bridge may have been washed away in the freshet of February 1857. The article on July 17, 1858 is the first hard evidence that a "covered" bridge existed at this location and the reference that it was "far superior to the old one" pretty much confirms that the first bridge was also covered.
The fate of the bridge built by citizens to avoid the tolls of Smith's Bridge is unknown but it was probably washed away in the freshet of February 1857.
Patapsco Bridge Crossing at Elkridge Landing 1850 Patapsco Bridge Crossing at Elkridge Landing 1850 Patapsco Covered Bridge Crossing at Elkridge Landing 1860
Elkridge Landing in Howard County. 1850 J.C.Sidney Map shows Smith's Bridge crossing the Patapsco River. In 1850 this area was still a part of Anne Arundel County Elkridge Landing in Howard County. 1860 J. Martenet Map shows the Toll House for Smith's Bridge. 1860 Simon J. Martenet detailed map of Elkridge Landing shows Smith Bridge crossing.
There was no charge to travel the turnpike, but the covered bridge that connected Baltimore County to Howard County over the Patapsco River did incur a toll.²
More evidence that the citizens bridge built in 1855 was washed away comes from an interesting ad appearing in the Baltimore Sun on November 1, 1861, again about the unpopular tolls charged to cross Smith's Bridge:
To residents of Elkridge Landing and its vicinity. Those of us who use the covered bridge across the Patapsco are subject to a very heavy toll for these hard times.
If its Managers do not materially reduce the rates it will become us to take action in the matter.
Either petition for removal of so excessive a monopoly or build another Bridge and throw it open to the public. Anything rather than suffer such an uncharitable tax. (signed)Yours in Earnest.
The wording of that ad would lead us to believe that only one bridge remained across the Patapsco at this location in 1861.
The controversy over the tolls prompted the Maryland General Assembly to approve an act to incorporate the Elkridge Landing Bridge Company. The Session Laws of 1862, Chapter 273, also authorized the building of a bridge of "substantial materials with suitable abutments and secure railings on each side thereof." The bridge width was set at 16 feet. Tolls would be charged, supposedly at a reasonable rate, lower that the covered bridge built by Fairbank. The Act declared the tolls: "For every horse and rider, three cents; for every cart, wagon or pleasure carriage, with one or two horses, six cents; for every cart, wagon, or pleasure carriage with more than two horses, three cents per horse additional; for every led horse, three cents; for each horse, mule, or cattle, two cents; sheep and swine, one cent." The new bridge was not to be built on the Washington Turnpike, for the covered bridge was still at that location. But the Act called for the building of a roadway to connect to the turnpike on both sides of the river.
The bridge approved by the 1862 Session Law was not built, for in 1865, The Session Laws of Maryland, Chapter 84, amended the law of 1862 by saying, "That if said bridge shall not be commenced before the first day of March, eighteen hundred and sixty-seven, and completed within three years from the passage of this act, that then and in that case all provileges of said act shall cease." The Act was passed on March 23, 1865.
Townspeople were still outraged about the toll charges for the turnpike bridge and it may have precipitated a tragic event on June 10, 1866. From the Baltimore Sun on June 12, 1866, an article titled Shocking Murder at Patapsco Bridge - Escape of the Murderers:
Yesterday the residents of Elkridge Landing and vicinity were in a high state of excitement over the perpetration of a shocking murder, committed at Patapsco bridge, within a half mile of the Relay House, on the Washington turnpike road. The victim was an aged man named David H. White, 76 years old, whose name has been for nearly half a century familiar as a toll gate keeper on the Washington turnpike, within a few miles of the city. A visit to the spot elicited the following facts: On Sunday night, about a quarter past 10 o'clock Mr. White, who was a gate-keeper of the covered bridge spanning the Patapsco, a short distance above Elkridge Landing, was about retiring for the night with his family, when, hearing a noise in the cellar where his chickens were kept, he went out the front door to the road to discover the cause of the noise. He was immediately struck with a club, and, shrieking murder, fell. His married daughter, Susan Mooney, who resides in the house, partially dressed, ran down with her little son, Alexander Mooney, aged about nine years, both of whom were struck senseless by the murderers. The villians then searched the bodies of their victims, getting but a small amount. The only thing missing from the house was a package of fifty coppers. Mrs. Mooney came to her senses in a short time and crying murder several times, some of the neighbors were attracted to the spot. On examination, Mr. White was found to be dead, the back part of his skull crushed in.
Early yesterday morning Marshal Carmichael, with Capt. Cassell and Detective Wallis, visited the scene of the murder, to obtain, if possible, additional data to enable them to ferret out the murderers. It is alleged that a very bitter state of feeling has existed in that section for a long time past, regarding the payment of tolls, first on the turnpike and more latterly on the bridge, the charter of the turnpike company having been vacated. At different times previously acts of outlawry and violence had occurred, and at one time Mr. White himself was tried on charges made, and convicted in one of these cases. He was soon, however, pardoned by the Governor, in view of the alleged circumstances.
The turnpike gate, it will be recollected, was several times cut down, the charge being that as the road was not kept in order, no tolls were properly collectable, and finally, in a case of the State against the company, the charter was declared vacated, but the county commissioners had declined to take possession of the road on account of its bad condition. Meantime, to such a degree had the bad spirit attained in the vicinity, that with some, appeals to the law were thought useless, and quiet submission was the rule. On account of these several feuds, it is believed now that the object was not robbery, but revenge.
A gentleman by the name of George Mattingly offered a $500 reward, which was a large sum of money in 1866, for "the apprehension and conviction of the murderer or murderers of David H. White, which murder was committed at Patapsco Bridge, Baltimore county, Md, on Sunday night, 10th of June, 1866."
It appears that the bridge intended to be built by the Elkridge Landing Bridge Company, based on the Session Laws Acts of 1862 and 1865, still was not built by 1868, for another Sessions Law Act of 1868 authorized Anne Arundel County "to contribute one thousand dollars to aid the commissioners of Baltimore and Howard counties in the purchase and construction of a bridge on the Patapsco River, at Elkridge Landing, with a view to making the same a free bridge thereafter." So far we have no evidence that a free bridge was built.
The covered bridge built in 1858 was lost in the flood of August 1873. The Baltimore Sun on August 15, 1873 reported the damages caused by the flood:
...........During the morning it was ascertained that much of the timber [floating near the Ferry Bar Bridge] belonged to the magnificent bridge which had been erected in 1858 over the Patapsco River, a short distance east of Elkridge Landing, and which had been swept away on Wednesday night. The bridge had been erected at a cost of several thousand dollars and was thought to have been proof against freshets.
A new iron Pratt Truss bridge bridge was built at the covered bridge location in 1883. The bridge was two spans, one of 109 feet, one of 107 feet, with a center pier, was 16 feet wide, with a wood flooring.
Updated 01/02/2014. Information added from the 1833 "Annual Report" of the B&O referencing D.A. Smith's Bridge.
Updated 05/05/2012. On an 1850 J.C. Sidney map I posted I incorrectly showed the Smith Bridge crossing the Gwynns Falls. The correct location is now shown. Another map has been added showing the Smith's Bridge Toll House location.
Updated 04/08/2011. Significant rewrite of the history of bridge including an illustration of the first bridge show in the Baltimore Sun in 1934.
Updated 07/12/2010 for information about the various bridges built across the Pataspco River at Elkridge Landing, the date the covered bridge was built, date it was lost and builders name.
¹Information about the first covered bridge, the tolls poster and illustration courtesy of John McGrain, Baltimore Historian.
²William Hollifield, Difficulties made easy: History of the turnpikes of Baltimore City and County. (Baltimore County Historical Society, 1978), p. 14.

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