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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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To the Other Side: 1865

To the Other Side: 1865

The Chain Bridge over the Potomac River circa 1865, with the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal in the foreground. View full size. Wet collodion glass plate negative by William Morris Smith. From negatives compiled by Milhollen and Mugridge.

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Chain Bridge

The entire structure is actually within the limits of the District of Columbia. The boundary line between Arlington, Virginia and Washington, D.C. is the high tide line on the Virginia side.

Chain Bridge

The C&O Canal and its towpath are still there also. The towpath is now a bicycling/walking trail from Georgetown to Cumberland, Md. 180 miles of history, scenery and good exercise!

Many "Chain Bridges"

The bridge in the photograph is one of many that have stood at this location, between Georgetown and Cabin John, north of McLean Virginia and spanning the Potomac. The "Chain Bridge" name itself dates from the 1810 incarnation, a suspension bridge designed by Judge James Finley. In 1801 Judge Finley designed & built the first modern suspension bridge, utilising iron chains and a level deck. This pioneering bridge is known as "The Jacobs Creek Bridge" and stood in Fayette County Pennsylvania.

No one really knows how old the modern Chain Bridge's piers are. Their footings date to sometime in the 19th century.

Chain Bridge

Where is the Chain Bridge? Is this the one north of McClean, VA?

[It's this one. - Dave]


to build something like this out of wood? fantastic! commonplace at the time, but they're all gone now. happy for the picture(s)!

Bending timber

It was done with a steam box - of the same type as for bentwood for furniture or for carriage or sleigh pieces, just much larger. In the case of such large arch pieces, I imagine you would usually use superheated (pressurized) steam in the steam box.

But it would have been essentially muscle power - suitably magnified with old-fashioned mechanical advantage - that bent those massive beams and timbers. Amazing, eh?

Chain Bridge

The Chain Bridge was a real piece of work! Some very skillful carpentry work in the construction. This side view gives a good look at the pedestrian walkway that could be seen from the bridge interior in a previous photo.

I would like to have observed the process for bending large timbers for arches and ships' hulls. Presumably it was done with steam, but I'm unfamiliar with the procedures involved.

SHORPY OLD PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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