Also known as the “People’s Bridge,” the Walnut Street Bridge connects Harrisburg’s Riverfront Park with City Island which sits in the middle of the Susquehanna River. For most of its existence, the bridge spanned the entire river. This wrought iron thru truss bridge dates back to 1890 and has been a pedestrian-only span since it was damaged during flooding in 1972. In addition, three of the bridge's spans collapsed into the river during severe flooding in early 1996. Despite the flood-related damage, the Walnut Street Bridge is thought to be the oldest existing bridge on the Susquehanna. The bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and was also recognized as a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1998.
Street Bridge was first considered to break the toll monopoly held by the
Camelback Bridge (now known as the Market Street Bridge) in 1889. Local residents were outraged as the toll to
cross the Camelback continued to rise.
As a result, the city contracted with the Phoenix Bridge Company to
build a competitor and the Walnut Street Bridge was the result. Completed in 1890, the bridge connected
Harrisburg, on the east side of the river, with Wormleysburg on the west, via
City Island. The bridge features spans
that vary in length from 175 feet & 240 feet, with the wider spans
permitting passage of river traffic below.
only accessible to horse-drawn traffic and pedestrians, the bridge opened to
street car traffic in 1894 and the last one crossed the span in 1936. By that time, the automobile had surpassed
the street car as the primary mode of transportation across the bridge and the
toll was finally removed in 1957. By
1971, the bridge handled over 8,000 vehicles per day. However, that came to an end in 1972 when the
bridge was so severely damaged by flooding associated with Hurricane Agnes that
the bridge was closed for two years while repairs were conducted. It has been a pedestrian-only bridge ever
of 1996 the Harrisburg area suffered through blizzard-like conditions, complete
with excessive snowfall. Mild temperatures
and rain followed soon after and the ice and snow on the rapidly rising river
began to push upward against the spans of the bridge. Two spans were eventually lifted off their stone
piers and proceeded to float down river
A third span on the western side later collapsed and that is how you
will find the Walnut Street Bridge today; incomplete.
span, soon after the 1996 flood, went through a $5 million rehabilitation project
during which concrete was added to the stone piers, supports were added to the
trusses and some were replaced with steel versions. As a result, the eastern half of the bridge
still permits pedestrians access to City Island from Harrisburg. Lights were added to “Old Shakey” in 1990,
but were removed in late 2016 as they were deemed too expensive and time
consuming to maintain, although there are plans to add new LED lights in late 2017. Today, the People’s
Bridge Coalition, which formed following the collapse of the western spans,
continues to work and lobby to gain the necessary funds to make the Walnut
Street Bridge a complete span once again.