Residents are reassured bridge will remain intact

1919 structure won't be destroyed for ramps to U.S. 29, officials say


February 26, 2003|By Deitrich Curry | Deitrich Curry,SUN STAFF

State and Howard County officials are offering reassurance to people worried about the fate of the historic Pushpin Bridge near new access ramps being built to connect South Entrance Road in Columbia's Town Center with U.S. 29 South.

After hearing about the ramps intended to relieve Town Center traffic backups, Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a former Howard County executive, was concerned that the bridge, which has been around longer than Columbia has existed, might be destroyed.

The current bridge, which was built in 1919, is a concrete arch structure that served as part of the Columbia Turnpike, an important route between Ellicott City and Washington.

Bobo, who has lived within two miles of the bridge for almost 40 years, remembers taking family walks over the bridge and riding over it to attend concerts at Merriweather Post Pavilion.

"I can remember when the `little stone bridge' in the vicinity was the complete southern access to what is now Town Center," Bobo wrote in a letter sent to County Executive James N. Robey, Preservation Howard County and other county organizations in a bid to protect the bridge.

"I'm not sure that taking this bridge down is part of this current project, but if it is, I hope that part is canceled," Bobo wrote.

According to James M. Irvin, Howard's director of public works, the road leading to the bridge will be destroyed, but the bridge will remain intact.

Instead of putting the bridge in danger, the $1.38 million ramp project drew attention to the Pushpin Bridge, according to Rita Suffness, cultural resources manager for the State Highway Administration.

"State law states that whenever a project is considered, the State Highway Administration has to be concerned about whether there are historical sites that are on or eligible to be on" the National Register of Historic Places, Suffness explained.

Although the bridge has been around since the early 20th century, it was not included on Maryland's inventory of historic properties until March last year, as a result of research preceding work on the new ramps.

The historic inventory form for the Pushpin Bridge indicates that a crossing of the Little Patuxent River existed at that site long before 1919.

A bridge at that location was noted in the journal entries made in the 1830s by George Cooke, an agent of Columbia Turnpike Co., who lived on an adjacent property called Hazelwood.

Joetta Cramm's 1987 book Howard County: A Pictorial History shows the bridge by name on an 1867 survey of Oakland when owned by Philip Tabb.

Eventually, that original Pushpin Bridge needed replacement. By 1919, Columbia Turnpike Co. had transferred the stretch of the road under its control to Howard County, which rebuilt sections of the bridge.

A plaque imbedded in the bridge parapet said the 1919 concrete structure was ordered to be built by "Commissioners of Howard County (A. Howard Earp, President)."

August M. Mayer was listed as the contractor in the Commissioners Proceedings on Feb. 25, 1919.

The historic properties form also states that replacement of the Pushpin Bridge might have been the result of the original Good Roads movement, which was aimed at improving the primary routes throughout the state as well as connector roads such as Old Columbia Road.

In 1962, when U.S. 29 was converted to a four-lane highway, access to Old Columbia Pike and the Pushpin Bridge was retained for local use only.

About 1963, in a number of land transactions, the land and bridge was acquired by Howard Research and Development (HRD), which constructed Merriweather Post Pavilion and additional pipe culvert crossings of the Little Patuxent to increase access to the facility.

In 1989, the State Highway Administration agreed to assume responsibility for the Pushpin Bridge and Old Columbia Pike, and in 1996 ownership of the bridge was transferred by deed from HRD and the state.

"Whatever happens to the bridge in the future is anyone's guess," said Irvin.

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