Casselman River Bridge, MD

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As you drive through western Maryland, you can hop off Interstate 68 for just a moment, to see a remarkable bridge that’s been around for quite some time.  The Casselman River Bridge was the longest arch bridge in the world, back in 1814, when it was completed.  It helped tie the country together, as part of the old National Road, the first highway across the U.S.  Now, the old stone arch bridge is the centerpiece of a state park.

Location

Casselman River Bridge is located on the north side of old US 40, the National Pike.  Use exit 19 or 22 off Interstate 68.

My Visit

In America, we’re used to things being relatively new–especially when it comes to infrastructure.  Most bridges have only been around a few decades.  But the Casselman River Bridge is different.  It’s quickly approaching its 200th birthday (in 2014), and there’s a good chance that it will be around for another 200 after that.

Most of the people who gathered around the bridge in 1814, to watch the construction framework be removed, thought they were about to see a spectacular collapse.  An arch bridge this large had never been built before.  Obviously, it didn’t fall.

The bridge went into service as part of the National Road, the first cross-country route commissioned by the federal government.  Nowadays, that route is known as US 40.  Despite being narrow…

… and having a sharp hump at its peak, the road served as part of Route 40 until 1933, when a new bridge was built.  You’re allowed to walk across the old bridge, but not drive across it.

This area of the Casselman River is called “Little Crossings”.  George Washington gave it that name in 1755, when he passed through on his way to what is now Pittsburgh, to drive out the French.  The mission didn’t go well, and Washington returned through the same area, as he and the British army retreated in defeat.

The Casselman River Bridge arch was built so high, in hopes that the C&O Canal would eventually pass underneath it.  But, the canal never made it beyond Cumberland, Maryland.

On the east end of the bridge you’ll find the old Pleasant Valley Methodist Church — one of several historic buildings relocated to this area, as part of the Spruce Forest Artisan Village.

The Penn Alps restaurant is also nearby — the restaurant was one of the original inns built during the bridge’s early days. Casselman River Bridge State Park is on the west side of the bridge.

You can follow US 40 into southwest Pennsylvania, and all the way to Interstate 79, which will take you into Pittsburgh.

Note: This trip was first published in 2008.

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