A couple of years ago I wrote about the first 11th Street Bridge. Today, as we get much closer to the completion of the project that is replacing it, I want to look a little more closely at the original structures demise, as well as the bridge that replaced it.
On April 23, 1874, the Senate was given a petition signed by about 300 District residents, in which they requested that the Navy Yard Bridge, which extended southeast from the end of 11th Street SE, be replaced. While 300 signatures from a population of well over 130,000 was not that much, the facts they laid out were quite compelling.
After mentioning that the bridge was over 50 years old, and that the “present frail and disgraceful structure” had “cost the government a large amount of money – nearly enough to build a new and permanent bridge.” Furthermore, it was not just the word of these citizens that testified to the poor state of the bridge, but the fact that numerous fatal accidents had occurred on the bridge. For instance, “in the summer of 1870 two ladies were precipitated into the river by the breaking iof a rotten railing, and one was drowned.” Not only that, in 1873, “a section of the bridge gave way under a government team, and two men and four horses fell in into the water.” While the men both survived, two of the horses were not so lucky. It had gotten to the point where people were forced to rely on ferries to cross the Eastern Branch, while repairs were being done to the bridge.
As it turned out, a bill had been introduced to the Senate just three days earlier which would have appropriated no more than $150,000 to do exactly as the petitioners requested. While it demanded that 1/3 of the cost be paid by the District, it was still quite similar to a bill that had previously died in the House of Representatives, leading to some fear that this bill would suffer a similar fate.
As it turned out, the fears were groundless. While most other bills appropriating money to the District did, indeed, not make it out of the Senate, the bridge bill was one of the few that did. Thus, on September 3, bids were opened for the work on the bridge. There was considerable interest from builders around the country, and dozens of bids were entered (some companies entered up to four bids)
By the beginning of 1875, work was well underway on the bridge.
The next question was one of street cars. A set of tracks had recently been laid down 11th Street, with the idea that the line would be extended across the bridge at that time when a new one – one capable of handling the load – was built. This was obviously now the case, though, remarkably, it still took some time after the completion of the bridge to add this feature – along with gas lines to light the way.
That the bridge was still not entirely free of danger became clear in 1876, when a Mrs. J. F. Sharp was thrown from her buggy while crossing it, sustaining a fracture to her leg. Nonetheless, the bridge represented a major improvement over the old one, and – particularly with the addition of the street car – opened up the lands south of the Anacostia river to those who wished to work in downtown D.C.