The Cranberry Lake Suspension Footbridge represents the economic and transportation histories of the Sussex County area. The area has been rich in iron ore deposits for centuries, and the iron industry has driven the economy of this area since 1640. At that time, the iron industry was quite localized, but was enough to keep the local economy sound. By the start of the 19th century and the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in the United States, the area’s iron industry was needed to support rapidly expanding economies outside Sussex County. In order to benefit from the iron deposits of the area, it became important to move the iron ore to the port cities of Elizabeth and Jersey City. Unfortunately, transportation was a big challenge.
The solution to the transportation problem came in 1831 when the Morris Canal and Banking Company constructed the Morris Canal, a series of waterways with locks to move barges full of iron ore down to the cities. The Morris Canal had a great impact on many parts of Sussex and Morris Counties in New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. In order to be able to control the water level in the canal, the Morris Canal and Banking Company formed several reservoirs by flooding areas of which Cranberry Lake was one. The canal was the most effective way to move the iron ore to the cities for many years until the early 1850s when the railroads came to the region. When the Morris Canal stopped operating around 1868, the state of New Jersey took possession of most of the Morris Canal and Banking Company’s assets although the state retained the company to manage the assets for the state. (The Morris Canal and Banking Company had obtained financing from the state and still owed the state quite a bit of money.)
Soon the railroads were not only moving the iron ore to the cities, they were bringing tourists from the cities to this beautiful rural region. The Morris Canal and Banking Company leased some of its land around Cranberry Lake to the Delaware, Western and Lackawanna Railroad Company in 1903. The Delaware, Western and Lackawanna Railroad Company had a very large depot at Cranberry Lake and capitalized on the beauty of the area by building the Grand Hotel and a recreational center at Cranberry Lake, which mandated the first footbridge in the spot of the current bridge.
The Delaware, Western and Lackawanna Railroad Company built an amusement park, picnic grove, dance pavilion, and boat rental concession on a point of land called Frenche’s Grove. The footbridge provided the train passengers and the hotel patrons the necessary link between the depot and hotel and the recreational park. This combination of transportation, lodging, and entertainment brought many visitors to the area, sometimes as many as a thousand a weekend, and the hotel and the recreational park prospered for several years. The original bridge connecting the two (2) pieces of land was made of wood and rope and was just above the surface of the water. Unfortunately, in 1910, the Grand Hotel burned to the ground, and as the lease was up, the Delaware, Western and Lackawanna Railroad elected not to renew the lease and took down the bridge at Cranberry Lake.
In 1925, the Morris Canal and Banking Company along with a private landowner sold several tracts of land to the Cranberry Lake Development Company for the purpose of constructing summer cabins to continue to attract people to the area and support the local economy of which tourism was now an important part. In order to entice people to buy the cabins in Frenche’s Grove, the site of the former recreational park, the Cranberry Lake Development Company built another wood and rope footbridge that rested on the water where the previous bridge had stood. Most people who came to this area in 1925 continued to arrive by train and needed pedestrian access to their cabins.
In 1929, the Cranberry Lake Development Company requested, per a prior agreement, that the state replace the bridge the development company had constructed in 1925.
In November and December of 1930, the current bridge at Cranberry Lake was constructed. This new bridge was constructed of steel, wood and concrete and was suspended well above the surface of the lake. It was the first such footbridge constructed by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. It is also the longest suspension footbridge entirely within the state of New Jersey. It is a testament to the importance of the Cranberry Lake Suspension Footbridge to the local economy that the State of New Jersey went ahead with the bridge’s construction even after the stock market crash and the start of the Great Depression in October 1929. The Cranberry Lake Suspension Footbridge, now eighty-three (91) years old, and prior to its closure on June 5, 2019 was used by local residents on a daily basis, is recognized by people all over the state of New Jersey.
The history of the Cranberry Lake Bridge reflects changes in available building materials and construction techniques. It is fitting that the third and final version of the bridge was constructed of steel, which is manufactured from iron ore similar to the ore that enriched the economy and lives of the local residents for so many years. From the formation of Cranberry Lake as a vital part of the Morris Canal and iron industry to the Industrial Revolution to the tourist industry that developed with the railroads to the revenue generating summer colony that still exists today, the Cranberry Lake Suspended Footbridge is a symbol of the economic, construction and transportation changes in the region.
To find out more about the bridge, what is being done to save it and how you can help visit @Save Our Bridge