Stone Arch Bridges: Spanning the Past and Still Standing Strong

In Washington County, the stone arch style bridge, like the one at Antietam National Battlefield is a work of fine craftsmanship. Many of the bridges date to the early 1800’s, primarily the 1820’s and 1830’s. The stone arch bridge seemed to be more popular than covered bridges. The total number of stone bridges that stand today in Washington County alone is twenty-eight. Seventeen of them span the Antietam Creek, two span Beaver Creek, two smaller bridges span Marsh Run and five span over the Conocoheague Creek. The last stone arch bridge spans a tributary of Antietam Creek known as Israel Creek.

The popularity of the stone bridge in Washington County was due to the problems that plank bridges posed when heavy traffic traveled through them. They found that with this traffic, the plank bridges were in need of repairs every couple of years. I found a quote on the Washington County Tourism web site that sums this up nicely. “Why build temporary wooden bridges when we have so much limestone, rugged granite, sandstone, slate, and even beautiful marble in our own quarries?” The result was the popular stone arch bridge.

Upon researching the Battle of Antietam, one will quickly find out that a portion of the battle was fought surrounding what is now known as Burnside Bridge. My goal in this blog posting is to summarize the major aspects of the Civil War and what transpired there. To be honest, I think that the Burnside Bridge at Antietam has been written about numerous times and one does not need to go into great detail here. But what about the other stone arch bridges that stand over the tributaries in Washington County? What Civil War history do they have?

Washington County has been considered by many to be the crossroads of the American Civil War. Many troops marched across the vast Cumberland Valley during the various campaigns and raids. If these bridges could talk, what stories would they tell? Unknown to the average Civil War buff, a lot of these bridges witnessed skirmishes, troop movements and encampments. Some of these stone bridges are located in view of South Mountain. Today, Washington County Tourism has even designed a brochure for those interested in seeing these bridges. I highly suggest downloading a copy of the tour. Judging by the Historical Marker Database, many of these stone bridges do include some sort of interpretive markers. This blog posting is to help promote tourism to these bridges by bringing Civil War enthusiasts off the highway and explore the back roads and experience the Civil War history that is often written about, but seldom explored.

The Antietam Creek begins in Pennsylvania where the East and West Branches come together to form the larger Antietam Creek that flows to the Potomac River. Marching off of South Mountain after the Battle of Gettysburg, several thousand Confederate troops, wagons, and some artillery marched through Waynesboro, Pennsylvania and crossed the Mason Dixon Line near Leitersburg. The Leitersburg Bridge was visible to Confederate troops as they sloshed through the muddy country side. The Leitersburg Bridge was first built in 1829 and spans the Antietam Creek. There is no definitive documentation that any Confederate soldiers crossed the Leitersburg Bridge.

A few miles to the southeast of Leitersburg is the Old Forge Bridge. On July 6th, General Robert E. Lee ordered the destruction of Old Forge Bridge to slow down the advancing Union cavalry. Pressed against time, the Confederate army could not afford to use its resources for such a task. The Old Forge Bridge was just built in 1863 and spans over the Antietam Creek.

To the south of Hagerstown there are several stone bridges. Two of them span the Antietam Creek in Funkstown. Funkstown witnessed a battle that was fought on July 10th, 1863 as the Confederate army was concentrated in Hagerstown. Located on the National Pike is the Funkstown Turnpike Bridge that was built in 1823. The second bridge, which was built in 1833, is located on East Oak Ridge Road just east of the National Road.

Located to the south of Funkstown there are three more bridges that span over the Antietam Creek. Claggett’s Mill Bridge built in 1840, Claggett’s Mill Race Bridge built in 1841, and Rose’s Mill Bridge that was built 1839. Although there is no documentation of any major actions occurring near these stone bridges, it wouldn’t surprise me if Union cavalry or Confederate cavalry patrols made their way over these bridges following the Battle of Gettysburg.

Located near Boonsboro, Maryland are three other bridges that span over the Antietam Creek. The Devil’s Backbone Bridge, where Union General George Meade encamped at is only a few miles from the site of the Jones’ Crossroads skirmish site. Devil’s Backbone Bridge was built in 1824 and is a regional Washington County Park. Booth’s Mill Bridge was built in 1833, and is located near the Devil’s Backbone Bridge. Also located in this vicinity is Roxbury Mills Bridge that was built in 1824.

Keedysville, located south of Boonsboro, is home to three bridges that span the Antietam Creek and were used during the Maryland Campaign of 1862. Many of the grist mills and saw mills were used as make-shift hospitals after the Battle of Antietam. The Hitt Bridge, known as the upper bridge, was built in 1830, and is located just west of Keedysville. The Pry’s Mill Bridge was built in 1858, and the Felfoot Bridge was built in 1854, both are located in Keedysville.

Two bridges near Sharpsburg soon saw the wrath of the Civil War battle known as the bloodiest single day of the Civil War, the Battle of Antietam. The Burnside Bridge as it is known today, was called the Rohersbach Bridge that was built in 1834. Outside of Sharpsburg on the Harper’s Ferry Road is Antietam Ironworks Bridge that was built in 1832. South of Antietam Iron Works is the Antietam Aqueduct that was built in 1834.

Located west of the Antietam Creek is Conococheague Creek. This creek comes down from Pennsylvania and enters Maryland where is flows under five stone bridges in Washington County Maryland. Just as those stone bridges where the Antietam Creek flows, these five bridges also bare witness to Civil War activity. Located on the Greencastle Turnpike near Cearfoss is the Price’s Ford, or Greencastle Bridge that was built in 1822. It was reported that Confederate soldiers marched across this bridge on July 5th with General John Imboden’s wagon train of wounded. However, this bridge is located a short distance from the turnpike that many Confederate soldiers marched upon as they were preparing to enter Pennsylvania.

Although too far from the line of the Confederate Retreat from Gettysburg, Broadfording Bridge built in 1829, and Wilson’s Bridge built in 1819 may have witnessed troops moving over them during other times of the Civil War. The last two bridges I want to briefly go over are located near Williamsport, Maryland.

The Conococheague Bridge built in 1829, was one of the most strategic bridges in Washington County during the Civil War. From here one can clearly see the city of Williamsport. From here the Potomac River is about one mile away. The Conococheague Aqueduct Bridge was built in 1834. This bridge has overcome many odds including a Confederate bombardment.

Sometimes to fully experience Civil War history, you need to leave the battlefield and see those sites and areas that so many soldiers vividly describe in their letters. Bridges do just that. Listen to the creek flow, enjoy the peace that the scenery has to offer, and imagine for one minute that there were several hundred troops marching across that same bridge.

Before these bridges were built, and fords were used, these areas also hold roots in the French and Indian War. The areas where the Devils Backbone Bridge and Hitt Bridge are located at were where General Edward Braddock and Colonel George Washington crossed the Antietam and the ford located near Felfoot Bridge was a staging area for supplies for Braddock’s Army.

Images courtesy of the LOC

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