Long Bridge (Potomac River)
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Long Bridge Potomac River
Long Bridge
The Long bridge in Washington, DC
The Long Bridge in 1861 seen from the Virginia shore
Carries1809-1904: Pedestrians, horses, vehicles, railroad, streetcars
1904-Present: Railroad only (Amtrak/VRE/CSX)
CrossesPotomac River
LocaleWashington, D.C.
Official nameLong Bridge
Other name(s)Potomac Bridge (early 1800s)
Material1809-1904: Timber
1904-Present: Steel and timber
Rail characteristics
No. of tracks2
Rebuilt1863, 1884, and 1904
Long Bridge is located in Washington, D.C.
Long Bridge
Long Bridge
Location in Washington, D.C.

Long Bridge and previously known as the Potomac Bridge connects Washington, D.C. to Arlington, Virginia over the Potomac River. Originally built in 1808 for foot, horse and stagecoach traffic, it was repaired and replaced several times in the 19th century. The current bridge was built in 1904 using ten recycled truss spans from the old Delaware River bridge in Trenton, one new truss span and a swing draw. It is today used only for railroad traffic.


Original bridge

The building of the Long Bridge by The Washington Bridge Company was authorized on February 5, 1808 by an Act of Congress.[1] President Thomas Jefferson signed it into law soon after. It was named after its size and not after a person. It was built to provide foot, horse and stagecoach traffic an access route to Washington City.[2]

Built as a timber pile structure with two draw spans, it connected the City of Washington to Alexandria County. On the City of Washington side, it landed at the end of Maryland Avenue SW near 14th Street SW. Before the bridge was built, only a ferryboat connected the City of Washington and Alexandria County. The ferryboat ride could have been a treacherous crossing when the river froze as the river was very wide.[2]

A board of commissioners would oversee the subscription of stocks to raise capital for the build, not to exceed $200,000. It was to be built between Maryland Avenue and Alexander's island, be at least 36-feet wide, able to withstand foot, horses, cattle and carriages. A secure railing at least four feet high was required on both sides of the bridge. A 6-foot wide section on one side was to be reserved for pedestrians, separated from other traffic with a 4-foot high railing.[1]

Over the main channel, a 35-foot draw was to remain open to allow boats to pass through. Each draw leaf was to be 20 feet wide (instead of the 36 feet for the rest of the bridge). The bridge was illuminated by twenty oil lamps. Four lamps were to remain on all night at the draw, while the others were to remain on until midnight. Over the Maryland Channel, a draw at least 15-feet wide is to also be in place with the same restriction as for the other one.[1]

A toll was put in place with prices set by Congress and posted at the bridge for up to 60 years after opening:

  • Foot passenger: 6 1/4 cents (equivalent to $1 in 2018)
  • Person and horse: 18 3/4 cents (equivalent to $3 in 2018)
  • Chaise, sulky or riding chair: 37 1/2 cents (equivalent to $6.01 in 2018)
  • Coach, coachee, stage-wagon, chariot, phaeton or curricle or other riding carriage: 100 cents with an additional 12 1/2 cents for each horse or other animal (more than two) pulling the carriage (equivalent to $16.02 with an additional $2 each in 2018)
  • Four-wheeled cart, dray or other two-wheeled carriage of burthen: 18 3/4 cents with an additional 12 1/2 cents for each horse or other animal (more than one) pulling the cart (equivalent to $3 with an additional $2 each in 2018)
  • Sheep or swine: 3 cents each (Only one person per team or drove passes for free) (equivalent to $0.48 in 2018)
  • Horse or neat cattle not pulling a coach or cart or with a rider: 6 1/4 cents (Only one person per team or drove passes for free)[1](equivalent to $1 in 2018)

No toll was to be collected for:

  • Vehicles and passengers with property of the United States
  • Troops of the United States, Militia, state, or District of Columbia marching in a body, any cannon or equipment belonging to the United States[1]

The bridge opened to traffic on May 20, 1809. On August 25, 1814, one day after the Battle of Bladensburg during the War of 1812, the British troops burned the north end of the bridge as they entered the City of Washington. The American troops had retreated to Virginia and burnt the south end of the bridge. It was restored to service after the war, in 1816.[2]

Purchase by the United States

On February 22, 1831, high water and ice carried away several spans of the bridge.[3] The following year, Congress purchased the bridge for $20,000 and appropriated $60,000 to repair it. However, more funds would be needed to complete the project.[2]

On October 30, 1835, the bridge was reopened with President Andrew Jackson and his Cabinet present. It was to remain in its current state until the mid-1850s. On September 7, 1846, President James K. Polk retroceded Alexandria to the State of Virginia on fears that slavery would be abolished in the Capital.[2]

Since 1835, the B&O Railroad had been provided access to Washington City through the Northeast quadrant. There were several attempts to bring the railroad to Alexandria City.[2] The A&W Railroad connected the B&O Railroad New Jersey Avenue Station located on Capitol Hill to the Long Bridge on the north shore by 1855 and in Alexandria by the end of 1857. However, the Virginia legislature had banned any other connections and tracks were not placed on the bridge. Goods were offloaded, transported over the bridge in omnibuses over the bridge and reloaded on the other side.[2]'

Civil War

Fort Jackson and Long Bridge on an 1865 map

Congress approved none of the requests from the President of the B&O company for permission to reinforce or replace the bridge.[4] With the beginning of the civil War in 1861, and the secession of the state of Virginia on May 23, 1861, the value of the bridge was made evident. On May 25, 1861, 13,000 Union troops moved in to take control of the bridge along with Alexandria and its railroad. Under the command of Colonel John G. Barnard, Fort Jackson (Virginia) was built to guard the bridge to avoid the passage of spies and invasion by the Confederates with four cannons present in the fort.[2][5]

On February 11, 1862, Daniel McCallum was appointed Military Director and Superintendent of the Union railroads, with the staff rank of colonel, by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. McCallum had authority to "enter upon, take possession of, hold and use all railroads, engines, cars, locomotives, and equipment that may be required for the transport of troops, arms, ammunition, and military supplies of the United States, and to do and perform all acts... that may be necessary and proper... for the safe and speedy transport aforesaid," he wrote in an 1866 report.[6]

Rails were placed on the decades-old bridge. It quickly became obvious the structure would not be able to withstand heavy loads. Lightly loaded railroad cars were transshipped over the bridge and pulled by horses.

Finally, in 1863, a new bridge was built to carry heavier locomotives and wagons. It was built about 100 feet downriver and had two draw spans. Both structures were used during the Civil War under the control of the Union Army.[2][7]

Wounded Union soldiers were carried across the bridge to hospitals set up all over the city. The closest was Armory Square Hospital, a few blocks from the bridge.

Post-Civil War

With the end of the war in 1865, the bridge was handed over back to B&O by the Union Army.

Competition between railroads became sharper in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia, as the Pennsylvania Railroad sought to break B&O's monopoly in the District. Local and federal politics along with personal interests of politicians made it possible for the newcomer to gain access to the city. Pennsylvania Senator Simon Cameron, a stockholder in the PRR-owned Northern Central Railroad, served as Secretary of War from 1861 to 1862, when he was fired due to charges of payoffs and other irregularities helped the railroad gain control of the bridge. The PRR was financing the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad (B&P) to get in the District. On June 21, 1870, Congress approved the B&P to use the Long Bridge in perpetuity free of cost, though it is required to keep the bridge in good repair and allow other railroads on the bridge.[2][8]

In Virginia, the B&P gained control of the Alexandria & Fredericksburg Railroad and connected Alexandria to Richmond and Fredericksburg in 1872. A new Long Bridge was built with 18 fixed and two draw truss, replacing the Civil War bridge.[9] In 1873, it was connected to the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station on the National Mall at the corner of 6th Street NW and B Street NW (now Constitution Avenue).[2] On May 10, 1874, the B&O Railroad regained access to the Alexandria between Shepherds Point and Washington City, Virginia Midland & Great Southern Railroad at Alexandria using tugs and car floats.[10] On February 13, 1876, the B&O began running cars via the (Potomac Junction between the Alexandria Branch and the B&P near Bennings Station[11]

On February 12, 1881, ice freshets damaged the bridge by taking out three spans. It re-opened for traffic on February 19, 1881[12] In 1884, the bridge was rebuilt and strengthened.[13][14]

On June 30, 1891, the B&P Railroad granted the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway trackage rights over the bridge to its Washington station[15] On August 1, 1895, the B&P Railroad granted the use of the bridge to the Washington, Alexandria, and Mount Vernon Electric Railway (streetcars). Power cables were hung and the rent set to $25,000 a year in the beginning.[16]

On February 7, 1895, the Evening Star reported that the Potomac was frozen near the docks. The ice was five inches thick with an extra two inches of snow on top. The ice was being blocked by the Long Bridge. The bridge acted as a sort of dam and created conditions that could lead to a flood. It had cost the District Government $5,000 to clear the ice in 1893.[17]

On February 19, 1898, the Washington Terminal Railway Company incorporated in Virginia, a joint venture of the PRR, RF&P, ACL, Southern Railway and C&O but not the B&O. It acquired the property of the Washington Southern Railway, the B&P Railroad terminals in Washington and Long Bridge.[18] Two years later, on July 31, 1900, a New Jersey holding company was formed between PRR, ACL, Southern Railway, C&O, Seaboard Air Line Railway and B&O to control the line between Richmond, VA and the Long Bridge.[19]

20th Century

Long Bridge (right) with the Metrorail bridge (center) and the Arland D. Williams, Jr., Memorial Bridge (left) in 1992

In the early 20th Century, a general movement swept the capital regarding railroads. The population wanted at-grade railroad crossings eliminated and the Mall was seen as needing to be overhauled. This was accomplished by an act of Congress on February 12, 1901. It also called for the replacement of the aging Long Bridge with a two-track rail bridge and a separate highway bridge.[20] This led to the creation of the McMillan Plan of 1902 and Union Station completed in 1907.[21]

On August 25, 1904, a new double-track Long Bridge opened west of the old single track rail/road bridge of 1884 using ten recycled truss spans from the old Delaware River bridge in Trenton, one new truss span and a swing draw. The old Long Bridge remained in use for vehicles and trolley cars until the 14th Street road bridge is complete.[22] On January 11, 1906, the first streetcars used the 14th Street Bridge southbound, while the northbound cars remain on the old bridge. Both switched completely on February 12, when the bridge was officially opened as the Highway Bridge. Vehicles continued to use the old bridge until December 15 when it was closed and abandoned two days later.[23]

21st century

The 1904 Long Bridge has carried rail traffic exclusively since its construction and is owned by CSX Transportation. It is used by CSXT freight trains, Amtrak and the Virginia Railway Express trains. Norfolk Southern Railway has tracking rights on the bridge but does not exercise those rights.[24]

Around 2010, District of Columbia Department of Transportation (DDOT) began work on the Long Bridge Project, a set of potential improvements to bridge and related railroad infrastructure between the Virginia Railway Express' Crystal City Station in Arlington and Control Point Virginia in Washington, D.C. While the project is focused on the railway traffic of the bridge, it may also alter or expand ways for cyclists and pedestrians can move between the District of Columbia to Arlington.[25]

In 2011, DDOT received a High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail grant from the Federal Railroad Administration for a two-phase study in the feasibility of rehabilitating or replacing the Long Bridge.[24] Phase I of the study (preliminary pre-NEPA investigation) was completed in winter 2015.

In 2016, DDOT received an FRA grant to prepare an environmental impact statement under NEPA rules. This Phase II of the Long Bridge Project ran from fall 2015 to spring 2017, including public meetings on February 10, 2016, and September 14, 2016, to determine initial scoping, purpose, and need; and to select conceptual alternatives to be discussed in the impact statement.

The project's Phase III is set to run from spring 2017 to fall 2020. Its public meetings took place on December 14, 2017 and November 29, 2018.[26][27] On September 5, 2019, the draft EIS was published, and the public is being consulted for comments, with a public hearing scheduled for October 22, 2019.[28] The FRA's Record of Decision on the impact statement is expected in spring 2020. If approved, the project may proceed to construction.


Today, a public park, Long Bridge Park, is named after the Long Bridge and stands close to the original landing near Crystal City, Arlington, Virginia and a short distance from the Pentagon. Long Bridge Park is managed by Arlington County and covers over 30 acres with sports fields, walkways and playgrounds for children. It is accessible via Long Bridge Drive located between Interstate 395 and the George Washington Memorial Parkway.[29]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e An Act authorizing the erection of a bridge over the river Potomac within the District of Columbia - 10th Congress Session I - Chapter 15 - 1808.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k National Railway Historical Society - Washington DC Chapter - History of the Long Railroad Bridge Crossing Across the Potomac River by Robert Cohen - http://www.dcnrhs.org/learn/washington-d-c-railroad-history/history-of-the-long-bridge
  3. ^ Additional damage occurred due to high water and/or ice in 1836, 1841, 1856, 1860, 1863, 1866 and 1887
  4. ^ Extension of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad across the Long Bridge - The Evening Star - Tuesday, May 22, 1860
  5. ^ Cooling III, Benjamin Franklin; Owen II, Walton H. (2010). Touring the Forts South of the Potomac: Fort Runyan and Fort Jackson. Mr. Lincoln's Forts: A Guide to the Civil War Defenses of Washington (New ed.). Scarecrow Press. p. 92. ISBN 978-0-8108-6307-1. LCCN 2009018392. OCLC 665840182. Retrieved – via Google Books.
  6. ^ David A. Pfeiffer "Working Magic with Cornstalks and Beanpoles: Records Relating to the U.S. Military Railroads during the Civil WarSummer" in: Prologue 2011, Vol. 43, No. 2.
  7. ^ Norfolk Southern Railway History, "Orange and Alexandria Railroad" Piedmont Railroaders, Spring 2002. Accessed June 19, 2008.
  8. ^ 41st Congress - Session II - Chapter 142 - June 21, 1870 An Act supplementary to an Act entitled "An Act to authorize the Construction, Extension [Extension, Construction] and Use of a lateral Branch of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Company into and within the District of Columbia," approved February five, eighteen hundred and seventy [sixty-seven]
  9. ^ The Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society - 1872 - http://www.prrths.com/newprr_files/Hagley/PRR1872.pdf
  10. ^ http://www.prrths.com/newprr_files/Hagley/PRR1874%20Mar%2005.pdf PRR Chronology: Mar. 10, 1874
  11. ^ http://www.prrths.com/newprr_files/Hagley/PRR1876%20April%2006.pdf PRR Chronology: Feb. 13, 1876
  12. ^ http://www.prrths.com/newprr_files/Hagley/PRR1881.pdf PRR Chronology: 1881
  13. ^ http://www.prrths.com/newprr_files/Hagley/PRR1884.pdf PRR Chronology: 1884
  14. ^ http://www.prrths.com/newprr_files/Hagley/PRR1894.pdf PRR Chronology: 1884
  15. ^ http://www.prrths.com/newprr_files/Hagley/PRR1891.pdf PRR Chronology: 1891
  16. ^ http://www.prrths.com/newprr_files/Hagley/PRR1895.pdf PRR Chronology: 1895
  17. ^ Fears of Flood - The Evening Star - February 7, 1895 - page 2
  18. ^ http://www.prrths.com/newprr_files/Hagley/PRR1898.pdf PRR Chronology: 1898
  19. ^ http://www.prrths.com/newprr_files/Hagley/PRR1900.pdf PRR Chronology: 1900
  20. ^ 56th Congress - Session II - Chapter 354 - February 12, 1901
  21. ^ http://www.prrths.com/newprr_files/Hagley/PRR1901.pdf PRR Chronology: 1904
  22. ^ http://www.prrths.com/newprr_files/Hagley/PRR1904.pdf PRR Chronology: 1904
  23. ^ http://www.prrths.com/newprr_files/Hagley/PRR1906.pdf PRR Chronology: 1906
  24. ^ a b The Long Bridge Project - Notice of Intent No. 166 http://longbridgeproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/noi916.pdf
  25. ^ The Long Bridge Project - http://longbridgeproject.com/
  26. ^ The Long Bridge Project - Project Schedule - http://longbridgeproject.com/project-schedule/
  27. ^ The Long Bridge Project - Past Meetings - http://longbridgeproject.com/past-meetings/
  28. ^ The Long Bridge Project - Upcoming Meetings - http://longbridgeproject.com/upcoming-meetings/
  29. ^ Arlington County Website - Long Bridge Park

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