By Wayne T. McCabe, History Columnist
In 1925, the Morris Canal and Banking Company, along with a private landowner, sold several tracts of land to the Cranberry Lake Development Company. The purpose of the sale was to construct summer cabins to continue to attract people to the area. This would also support tourism, which had by then become an important part of the local economy. In order to entice people to buy the cabins in Frenche’s Grove, the site of a former recreational park, the Cranberry Lake Development Company built a wooden footbridge where the previous bridge had stood 15 years previously. 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.
On June 18, 1930, Dr. Henry B. Kummel, General Manager of the Morris Canal and Banking Company, sent a letter to Cornelius C. Vermeule, Jr., requesting him to submit a proposal for the development of plans and specifications for a new foot bridge to be built at Cranberry Lake in Byram Township. Vermeule, a very well-known consulting civil and structural engineer, responded the same day with a proposal that was simple and straightforward.
Vermeule said the following in his letter, dated the 18th, back to Kummel:
“I shall be very glad to design this bridge and supervise the construction thereof."
“I shall consider the matter of compensation. Of course, small jobs of this character cannot profitably be handled for the customary eight or ten percent fees. The service required is the same as for bridge costing many times the amount we contemplate spending, and the superintendence of underwater foundation work requires closer attention than practically any other form of construction. I should be willing to undertake the work for a flat fee of $1,500, to include blueprints, specifications, design and supervision. If you desire to work it on a per diem basis, together with the salary and expenses of necessary assistants, we can do so.”
One of the stipulations that the Morris Canal and Banking Company had for this project was the maximum amount that could be spent on the construction work. Vermeule had agreed in his proposal to keep the total cost under the maximum stipulated amount of $12,000. One of the ways Vermeule anticipated keeping costs down was to keep the alignment of the new bridge close to that of the existing wooden bridge. He also used that structure for construction purposes, particularly for the installation of the required false-work and for pouring the concrete for the bases of both supporting steel towers.
The following day, Kummel wrote back to Vermeule saying that he spoke with members of his board and that the proposed contract had been approved. He also stressed to Vermeule that it was of great importance that the cooperation of the Lackawanna Railroad be secured prior to development of the engineering plans going too far.
In just under two months, Vermeule sent to the Morris Canal and Banking Company the completed plans, specifications, public proposal statement, contract and form of bid and performance bonds that would be required from the bidders.
In his letter to the board, dated August 15, Vermeule noted:
“The bridge has been as economically designed as is consistent with safety, in order to meet the conditions of the small appropriation. It has been found necessary, however, to provide for a live load of 100 pounds per square foot of floor. For this reason, that it will undoubtedly be loaded to that extent during boat races and other events of public interest. This is added to a dead load of 200 pounds per linear foot of the bridge. The bridge is consequently considerably heavier than an ordinary footbridge."
“Piers are carried upon stone-filled timber cribs, a construction that is not unusual, but no timber comes within three feet of the water surface so that it will not be exposed and decay."
He went on to inform the Board that, because of the smallness of the project, he does not expect many companies to bid, given the amount of money involved. He also reiterated his hope to still bring in the project at or below the budgeted amount.
The bid packages were officially release to the public around August 15th. On Wednesday, September 3rd, the bids that had been submitted were opened by Vermeule. On September 8th, he provided a written summary of the bids to the Board, along with his recommendation for award of contract. He noted the following four companies who submitted bids:
A. K. More, Inc., Belleville, N.J., $10,109.
Arthur E. Smith, Plainfield, N.J., $10,389.
Arnolt-More, Inc., 40 Clinton Street, Newark, N.J., $11,300.
Joseph W. Rogers, Succasunna, N.J., $15,193.
A fifth bidder came to submit their bid package but arrived after the cut-off time on September 3, and so had to be turned-away. The engineer’s estimate was $10,453, so two of the companies came in below that figure, and two above.
Vermeule noted that A.K. More, Inc. had certified that they had just completed concrete bridges for the Pennsylvania State Highway Commission, two bridges for Essex County, N.J. and the foundation work to a standpipe in Montclair, N.J. Each of these projects came in under $15,000. More ended up receiving approval to proceed with the project.
On October 6th, Vermeule issued a progress report to the Board stating the following about the suspension bridge:
“A. K. More, Inc., the contractor, moved onto this job the latter part of last month. They have erected a Derek for excavation of the Western Pier. This Derek is operated by a hoisting engine on the East Shore. The excavation for this pier is nearly complete. The West Anchorage has been excavated to rock, and forms will shortly be set for the pouring of concrete. The heavy crib for the western pier is being built on the shore and will be launched early this week. The work has not proceeded sufficiently to warrant the rendering of a monthly estimate, but considerable progress was made the latter part of last week.”
On December 12th, Vermeule wrote to the Board of the Morris Canal and Banking Company the following letter:
“I have to report the satisfactory completion of the bridge which was under contract to A. K. More, Inc., of Belleville, N. J. The bridge has been opened to foot traffic. General appearance of the work is excellent, and all of the permanent and summer residents of Cranberry Lake with whom I have talked, are pleased with the result.
“The bridge is 340 feet long, with concrete cap piers, steel towers and a wooden deck, the entire bridge being completed for $10,466.20. As an extra work item, I have had two coats of white paint applied to the woodwork other than the deck. This has helped the appearance of the bridge very materially.
“The final estimate has been rendered by A. K. More, Inc. today.”
In just six months, the State of New Jersey, through the Morris Canal and Banking Company, authorized the professional services contract to a qualified structural engineer, had the plans and support documents prepared, went out to public bid, received the bids and awarded the contract and erected a completely new steel, concrete and wood suspension bridge. AND, had the project come in under the original cost estimate.
SAVE OUR BRIDGE, INC.
Save Our Bridge, Inc. was formed in the Spring of 2018 and was granted a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation status by the IRS. The organization was established to advocate for the restoration, reopening and routine maintenance of the Cranberry Lake footbridge. The Board of Directors of Save Our Bridge Inc. include: Susan Canning, President; Brian Lanci, Vice President; Paul Tracy, Treasurer; Cindy Lisk, Secretary; Michael Francios, Trustee; and, William Collins, Trustee.
Susan Canning, President of the organization, stated “we intend to ensure the preservation of the Cranberry Lake footbridge for future generations. This organization will raise funds to develop public awareness campaigns, approach state agency administrators and elected civic leaders to repair the state's bridge. In addition, we will support the development of appropriate historical designation status and help seek out grants to augment the costs of anticipated repair and maintenance expenses by the State of New Jersey. "
Sussex County Historical Society President Wayne T. McCabe is the history columnist for the New Jersey Herald and may be contacted at email@example.com