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Rock Run or Port Deposit Covered Bridge

Cecil & Harford MD-07-15x & MD-12-09x Susquehanna River Burr 18 4170' 1818 1857

Early History

Rock Run Covered Bridge crossed the Susquehanna River from Rock Run on the Harford County side to Port Deposit in Cecil County. It is one of the most celebrated bridges in Maryland because it was one of the first covered bridges in Maryland and, by far, the longest.
Around 1815 the Maryland Legislature authorized the building of a turnpike from Baltimore to Rock Run. The Rock Run Bridge and Banking Company was incorporated to build a toll bridge across the Susquehanna at Rock Run.¹
Theodore Burr, perhaps the most famous and well-known of all the early bridge builders, was busy constructing bridges across the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania when he seized the opportunity to also build one in Maryland. Rock Run was his fifth and last bridge built acrosss the Susquehanna River. Burr completed the construction of the Rock Run Covered Bridge in 1818. The 18 span super structure stretched 4,170 feet across the Susquehanna River.
The Eastern shore end of the bridge was located near the presently abandoned site of McClenahan's Quarry at Port Deposit. Stretching west it crossed to Steel's Island, then to Kerr's Island, on to Wood's Island and then across the Susquehanna to the Harford County shore.²
An interesting segment in a Susquehanna State Park flyer details the tolls charged to cross Rock Run Bridge:
The toll keeper house collected the fee charged to cross the bridge. Sample tolls: one score of sheep=6 pennies; a score of cattle=12 pennies; a horse and rider=4 pennies; a chaise with one horse=6 pennies; a coach, or stagecoach with two horses=12 pennies; with each additional horse charged 5 cents, etc. Weary travelers could also find a meal at the toll house and space on the floor to spend the night.

Floods and Fires

Six Susquehanna Bridge Crossings: Thirteen Bridges published by The Historical Society of Harford County, Inc., provides detailed information about the fires and floods that plagued the Rock run crossing:

On January 1, 1823, the eastern half of Rock Run Bridge was consumed by fire when runners on a sleigh sparked on a nail head in the bridge flooring igniting some hay. Lewis Wernwag, builder of the Conowingo Covered Bridge north of Rock Run, floated timber downstream to help rebuild damaged spans. (Theodore Burr died in 1822.) The bridge took on fire again on January 3, 1829. A news item in the Baltimore American of January 6, 1829 stated, "The extensive bridge across the Susquehanna, at Port Deposit, was injured by fire on Saturday last. The damage, we understand, was confined to that part of the structure between the island and the western shore."
Since the Rock Run crossing was mostly used by local farmers and the main crossing over the Susquehanna was over the Conowingo Bridge, there was no immediate need to repair the bridge. Finally, on December 29, 1829, negotiations began with Lewis Wernwag to rebuild the Rock Run Bridge. In August 1831, Wernwag requested the Rock Run Bridge and Banking Company to "take the bridge off his hands, and settle his account." The Baltimore Gazette reported that Wernwag had completed the repairs to Rock Run Bridge in four months using 60 workers. The bridge opened on September 3, 1831. Repairs also included the stone piers and abutments. In all, 1,240 feet of bridge were rebuilt, or six spans of 210 feet each.
The Baltimore Sun reported on October 27, 1854; "This morning about 10 o'clock, a drove of cattle passing over the Port Deposit Bridge caused the structure to give way in such a manner to render it impassable. The first span on the Harford side was shattered in such a manner that it is expected to fall. The second and third spans are broken to atoms and the further span is shattered almost as bad as the first."
The bridge was never repaired from the damages in 1854 and fell to an ice gorge in 1857. From the Baltimore Sun on February 11, 1857: "A large portion of the Port Deposit Bridge passed down this morning showing that above this place, great damage has been done."³
Today, the old toll house on the Harford side is used as a welcome center for the Rock Run Mill. The piers that supported the covered bridge are still visible across the Susquehanna River. (Readers can return to the Bygone Covered Bridges page, click on location of Rock Run Bridge for mapquest view, click on aerial view at upper corner of map, and zoom in to see Rock Run bridge piers still in the Susquehanna River.)

¹ Christopher Weeks An Architectural History of Harford County, Maryland, (Johns Hopkins University Press: 1996), p. 260.

² Fred Kelso Steam, Stone, and Wood: 19th Century Commerce in Port Deposit, Maryland (Hengwrt Publishing Company: 2007), p. 14.

³ Harford Historical Bulletin, Six Susquehanna Bridge Crossings: Thirteen Bridges (The Historical Society of Harford County, Inc.: Number 92, Spring 2002), p. 20-26.

Rock Run Visitor Center Rock Run Piers
Rock Run Bridge Old Toll House, now a Visitor Center. Photo taken 2005. Rock Run Bridge Piers. Photo taken 2005.

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