Joseph George Johnson Built Covered Bridge That Stood Test of Time

Builder of the Gilpin Falls Covered Bridge, Joseph G. Johnson

 

Cecil County got its money worth out of the bridge crossing the North East Creek, about a mile north of Bay View.  Built at the top of the 1860s to give farmers and residents of that area access to North East, the centuries old covered bridge has stood the test of time, struggling against floods, centuries of aging, and a lack of concern about the preservation of the past.       

Since the area was growing as the nation edged toward the Civil War, a span across the waterway was important to improve travel and commerce in the area.  So the commissioners advertised for a contractor to build one across the creek. After the work was completed the public treasury handed over $2,000. That valued Cecil County relic, spanning time and the stream, still survives in the 21st century.       

The master bridge builder who undertook the project was Joseph George Johnson. A widely known contractor, he was born in Cecil County in 1830. During his lifetime he built Elkton’s first water works and a number of stations for the Western Maryland Railroad. In 1860, when the county commissioners advertised to build a covered bridge at Gilpin Falls, he won the contract.  In the later years of his life, he went to Baltimore where he managed the Walbrook Coal and Supply Company.   

The county awarded at least three additional contracts to Johnson.  In June 1860, he was hired to build the Reynolds Bridge in the northeastern part of the county at a cost of $450.  in 1865 the contract for building the bridge at Mitchell’s Mill in Elkton was awarded for $3,460; and finally in August 1867 he built a bridge over Principio Creek at Whitaker’s Furnace for $2,950.  

Although he died at his home in Baltimore in September 1900, the work of this master bridge builder, having stood the test of time, still stands as one of the few remaining covered bridges in Maryland, a state that once had many of them spanning streams and rivers.       

Stony Run Covered Bridge, one of many in the area during the early 1900s.

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15 responses to “Joseph George Johnson Built Covered Bridge That Stood Test of Time

  1. I’m one of the bridgewrights who have just completed the restoration of the Gilpin’s, had been for many months trying to find information about Mr. Johnson.

    Do you have more information not in your piece, such as what other bridges he may have worked on, Cecil County was once home to some of histories longest bridges, bridges built by some of the most well known bridgewrights of the 19th ca. – Now that we possess an intimate knowledge off his abilities and methods, we’re super curious about where the man got his chops !

  2. Will:

    Thanks for posting and thanks for the great work on that old Cecil County treasure. I do have more info on him and on the contract he was involved in. There are things I still don’t know, but I’ll pass along what I have.

    Please post any info you come up with too.

  3. Mike –

    I am particularly interested in the contract, I’ve been priveledged to read a number of contracts / proposals in the past and, some of them quite specific as to construction details. I am curious to find if assumptions based on evidence found during the restoration process might be backed up by details in the contract.

    I am also contemplating writing an article about the project for a professional trade journal and the contract would prove quite useful towards that end.

    How do we hand of shared information?

  4. I’ll get a copy of the original contract to you. It would be interesting to see your comparison.

    If you publish something let me know. I’d like to see a copy. Also if you need any other background info, I’ll see if I can help.

    I’ll try to email you off-the-public blog to see if I have the right address.

  5. I would also be interested in knowing what other bridges Mr. Johnson built. I maintain the Covered Spans of Yesteryear website (www.lostbridges.org) where we are gathering information on former covered bridges in the US and Canada.

  6. Bill:

    Let me see if I can do a survey of the contracts and see where else his name shows up. We have the road books and most of the contracts.

  7. Pingback: Cecil County’s Bridge to the Past: Ready for a Run Through the 21st Century « Window on Cecil County's Past

  8. Hey Bill, Mike and Will.
    I’m pretty sure Joseph George Johnson had his hands into Delaware Ave-Vinsinger’s-MD-07-04x and Principio Creek MD-07-17x. Maybe more, just have ifo on these two besides Gilpin’s Falls.

  9. Thanks Jim. I’ll see if I can dig those up through Sarah Boyle’s work and county commissioners books.

    Sarah did such great work researching those old covered bridges, so it’s a valuable research resource.

  10. It appears that Joseph Johnson was awarded the contract for Reynolds Bridge on June 19, 1860 for $450.

  11. Thanks for the info Jim. We’ll have to get you to write something for the Historical Society newsletter someday on Cecil Co’s covered bridges.

  12. Jim:

    When you say Reynolds Bridge where was that? Also where was Buckweat Bridge?

  13. Mike, Reynolds Bridge was just south of Blueball on Blue Ball Road over Little Northeast Creek. I’m not familiar with Buckweat Bridge. Maybe Jim knows.

  14. Based on info provided by Bill, Jim & others I went back through the excellent research done by Sarah Boyle and Chuck Lawrence (probabily in the mid-90s) to get info on the bridges Johnson built here.

    Here’s what I came up with:

    The county awarded at least three additional contacts to Johnson, In June 1860, he was hired to build the Reynolds Bridge in the northeastern part of the county at a cost of $450. in 1865 the contract for building the bridge at Mitchell’s Mill in Elkton was awarded for $3460; and finally in August 1867 he built a bridge over Principio Creek at Whitaker’s Furnace for $2,950.

  15. Pingback: Gilpin’s Falls Covered Bridge Dedication Slide Show « Window on Cecil County's Past

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