Philadelphia Landmark Spotlight: the Benjamin Franklin Bridge
One of Philadelphia’s most iconic views is of the one and only Benjamin Franklin Bridge. Connecting Philadelphia to Camden, NJ, the Ben Franklin Bridge is not just a lifeline for commuters – it’s also full of the city’s history and hidden works of art. Today, the bridge also houses the PATCO Speedline. Some of Philly’s best real estate features coveted views of the Ben Franklin – like the apartments at One Water Street, and the homes in Old City or along the Penn’s Landing waterfront. Read on to learn more about this Philly landmark.
Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Bridge begins in historic Old City and stretch over the Delaware River to Camden, New Jersey. It was completed in 1926 for the U.S. Sesquicentennial (150 years) Exhibition, attended by President Calvin Coolidge. Formally known as the Delaware River Port Authority Bridge, the name was changed in 1956, to honor Benjamin Franklin, and to differentiate a new nearby connection to New Jersey, crossing the Delaware, The Walt Whitman Bridge. Once regarded as the longest suspension bridge in the world, The Ben Franklin Bridge’s historic surroundings, legacy, and its beauty is admired by all: drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, train passengers, Society Hill, Old City, and Delaware River Waterfront residents, alike.
The Ben Franklin Bridge: A feat of modern engineering
All of the luxuries that The Ben Franklin Bridge facilitates today is a result of careful planning. The Bridge’s purpose was obvious: to create an efficient means of transport between Philadelphia and New Jersey. Philadelphian markets were eager to have business with New Jersey farmers, and vice versa. In 1918, a consulting-engineering study suggested that a suspension bridge be constructed from Vine Street and Race Street in Philadelphia, to Linden Street in Camden; this was considered the probable plan. On December 12, 1919, the Delaware River Bridge Joint Commission was established and Rudolphe Modjeski, who oversaw the completion of the Manhattan Bridge, was appointed chief bridge engineer. Modjeski’s suspension bridge design was ultimately approved in 1922; the main length was to be 1,750 feet, edged by side spans of 719½ feet. As for its construction, three-quarters of an acre granite anchorages on either side host The Ben Franklin Bridge’s steel cables. Carved seals of the state of Pennsylvania and the city of Philadelphia are on the western anchorage; and carved seals of the state of New Jersey and the city of Camden on the eastern anchorage. The Bridge took 4 years to build and had a hiccup in 1925: New Jersey and Pennsylvania disagreed on the toll fee. New Jersey wanted to charge a toll and Pennsylvania wanted to incorporate the fee into residents’ taxation. The disagreement was so strong that construction was halted and there were threats of tearing down the bridge! All was resolved, and The Ben Franklin Bridge was completed ahead of the projected completion date.
A secret art museum
The Ben Franklin Bridge’s beauty does not only exist on its exterior; the bridge is full of hidden works of art, including statues, sculptures, murals, and tiles. French architect Paul Phillipe Cret (also designer of The Ben Franklin Parkway and Rodin museum) designed the bridge so that it would carry pedestrians, cars, trains, and trolley cars. Trolley tracks were laid, areas were purposed for merchants and vendors, and elevators were built to service passengers’ ascendance to waiting rooms atop the Bridge’s anchorages. Murals and tiling by Enfield Pottery and Tile Works filled these waiting rooms, depicting different modes of transportation: a horse and buggy; the first American-built steam locomotive, “Tom Thumb;” the USS Constitution; Columbus’ Santa Maria; and a futuristic airship. A painted mural of Ben Franklin and the Ben Franklin Bridge’s history can be found in its pedestrian underpass.
Unknown to many, The Ben Franklin Bridge was once decorated with four bronzed, “Winged Victory” statues on its gateways to greet its passengers. Designed by French-born Leon Harmant, these hellenestic statues were removed in the 1940s, when the bridge was expanded, and then they were stored for 50 years. A walk, run, bike, drive, or train ride across the Bridge to Camden offers a chance to see these beauties; The Delaware River Port Authority had them restored and now displays them in its own headquarters’ lobby in Camden. In Old City, a 102-foot sculpture, “Bolt of Lightning,” commemorates Ben Franklin’s kite and sits on Monument Plaza, greeting drivers as they enter and exit.
Philly history meets modern life
The Ben Franklin Bridge is surrounded by history. It’s base is encompassed by Old City’s historical St. Augustine and St. George’s churches, the latter being the oldest Methodist church in the United States, built in 1769. Christ Church, the first episcopal church in the United States, was built in 1695 and had members such as Ben Franklin, Betsy Ross, and Robert Morris, to name a few. America’s oldest residential street, Elfreth’s Alley, has the Ben Franklin Bridge in its own backyard. This historic gem of a neighborhood offers its residents historical and luxury views of the Delaware River and the Ben Franklin Bridge in its designer transformed building and newly erected condominiums.
Today, local residents often opt to use the PATCO Speedline, an elevated train that spans across the bridge, affording more time to relish in the views. The bridge connects Philadelphia to Camden, where Walt Whitman resided, RCA records began, and where Campbell Soup Company still exists. The bridge also offers elevated access paths for Old City, Delaware River Waterfront, and Society Hill pedestrians, runners, and cyclists that may be used from dawn to dusk.
Exercise enthusiasts — runners, cyclists, pedestrians rave about crossing The Ben Franklin Bridge. Those who do, and who are nearby neighbors, are often devout, and instantly pledge a commitment. The paths along the bridge create a wonderful opportunity for this, and they also connect both sides to recreational paths that offer desirable views, as well. On the Delaware River’s west bank, the trail ends steps away from Franklin Square Park, shared by Olde City and Society Hill neighborhoods. This park hosts its own 18-hole miniature golf, depicting miniature versions of Elfreth’s Alley, The Liberty Bell, and our own Ben Franklin Bridge, to name a few. There is also the city’s only carousel in this very park. The east bank leads into the Ulysses Wiggins Waterfront Park Promenade to travel a mile along the river. On summer nights, converts can be heard from the BB&T Pavilion music venue. These trails are part of the Circuit Trails, a developing regional system of interconnected trails comprising 800 miles. Both parks are frequented by those who enjoy their daily exercise with views of the bridge, or who may desire a picnic with a guaranteed panoramic view.
Philadelphia apartments offer the best views of the Ben Franklin Bridge
Old City and Penn’s Landing Waterfront condominium residents get to have “the best seat in the house” for Philadelphia’s highly praised New Year and Fourth of July fireworks, to name a few. In addition to fireworks, The Ben Franklin Bridge is lit on a nightly basis, and as trains travel along the bridge, each cable is illuminated. Depending on the holiday, tribute, or the events, the Bridge’s lighting changes accordingly. A night view of the Ben Franklin Bridge is as noteworthy as its view when it basks in the sun. Residents lucky enough to live near the bridge have stunning views all year round.
The Ben Franklin Bridge is a site to be seen by day or night, come fireworks or night lights, by car, by foot, by bike, or by relishing its views from the windows or balcony of an Old City or Delaware River Waterfront luxury condominium.