Chain Bridge, Pennsylvania

How did Chain Bridge, Pennsylvania get it’s name? This page provides a brief history about the naming of Chain Bridge, Pennsylvania, the people who settled it, and the industry rising within it.

Hamlet of Colonial age in Wrightstown and Northampton Townships on both sides of Neshaminy Creek at a point where Second Street Pike (Route 232) crosses that stream. Its name is derived from a chain bridge, the only one ever built in the county, erected over the Neshaminy in the year 1809 at the expense of $5,500 to replace a ford used since pioneer days.

Chain bridges, forerunners of the suspension bridge, were not common. One was erected across Jacobs Creek about 1820 on the great road leading from Uniontown to Greensburgh, Pa. 1)Described in Thomas Cooper’s Domestic Encyclopaedia, 1821, Vol. I, p. 317.

The famous bridge at Easton, Pa., over Lehigh River at the foot of Third Street, was built in 1811 and removed twenty years later because it was thought to be unsafe. The chains from which the Bucks County bridge was suspended passed over a frame tower built on a stone pier in the center of the stream, the ends of the chains being securely anchored in the creek banks. Links varied in length from three to twelve feet, wrought from 2 3/4-inch bar iron. Perpendicular iron rods secured to the chains supported the bridge floor. This bridge was taken down after it was wrecked by a flood in mid-March, 1832. The same year it was replaced by an oak-timbered covered bridge 218 feet long at a cost of $2,583.20. The great flood of July 15 and 16, 1865, swept away this second bridge. It was reported at the time that the Richboro and Pineville Turnpike Road Company, owners of that part of Second Street Pike since their incorporation in 1847 and users but not owners of the bridge, decided at a meeting a few days following the flood to abandon their turnpike on the ground that they could not afford to rebuild the bridge. However that may be, Jesse P. Carver, a citizen and taxpayer of the county, presented a petition in July, 1865, to the Court of Common Pleas praying for a mandamus to the County Commissioners commanding them to rebuild the bridge. The case was heard by Judge Henry Chapman, who in December of the same year filed an opinion in which he dismissed the petition and refused the mandamus 2)Because of the importance of Judge Chapman’s opinion, covering as it did a theretofore undecided question, the Legal Intelligence, published it verbatim. The law point decided was that where a turnpike road is laid upon the bed of an old public road upon which there is a county bridge, so that no access can be had to the bridge by the public except by passing over the turnpike road, the county is thereby relieved from the duty of rebuilding such bridge when destroyed, even though it be not included by the turnpike company in its survey of the road. The turnpike company was therefore obliged to rebuild the bridge.

The old Chain Bridge mill on the Northampton side of the creek was built by John Thompson in 1759 and operated by him during the Revolutionary War. He was the first High Sheriff of Bucks County under Congress government (1776-1778) and was appointed January 9, 1778, wagonmaster for the Continental Army. William Thompson, for many years Doylestown’s leading merchant, was a grandson of John Thompson. The old mill is still standing in good condition. Amos Patterson, its genial miller for many years, is well remembered by the present generation. Watermarks on the mill show that the flood of 1865 was four and a half feet higher than in any flood in the Neshaminy before or since that date. The mill darn backs up Neshaminy’s water for more than a mile, affording splendid canoeing and fishing in the shadow of a steep heavily-timbered hill. Bungalows are scattered along its banks and a large island at the dam breast is used by the Pennsylvania Fish and Game Association of Philadelphia for their outings. Camp Onas, a summer recreation project for boys and girls under auspices of Philadelphia Friends, is located on the Wrightstown bank of the creek.

Source: MacReynolds, George. Place Names in Bucks County Pennsylvania, 2nd Edition. Doylestown, PA: The Bucks County Historical Society, 1955.

Footnotes:   [ + ]

1.Described in Thomas Cooper’s Domestic Encyclopaedia, 1821, Vol. I, p. 317.
2.Because of the importance of Judge Chapman’s opinion, covering as it did a theretofore undecided question, the Legal Intelligence, published it verbatim. The law point decided was that where a turnpike road is laid upon the bed of an old public road upon which there is a county bridge, so that no access can be had to the bridge by the public except by passing over the turnpike road, the county is thereby relieved from the duty of rebuilding such bridge when destroyed, even though it be not included by the turnpike company in its survey of the road.

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