On July 3, 1846, James and Eliza McCormick sold a Grist and Clover Mill and 17 acres of land to John K. Heck. Bridgens Map of 1858 locates the Mill directly across from the Conodoguinet Creek from the Oyster Mill, known today as the Oyster Mill Playhouse.
About 1848, Mr. Heck and his neighbors had need for a bridge over the Conodoguinet Creek at the mills of John Heck and Abraham Oyster. They secured a grant from the court, but for twenty years, the commissioners refused to build it. By June 1852, the court-appointed viewers finally agreed that a bridge was necessary, and on August 6, 1868, the commissioners contracted with the Mosely Iron Bridge Company to erect an iron bridge over the creek at Hecks Mill.
In the summer of 1872, it was reported that, “The Iron Bridge at Hecks Mill became defective and one span of 75 feet broke down”. Many repairs were made from 1872 to February 1881, when it was reported that the “Iron Bridge at Hecks Mill was swept from its foundations and destroyed by the ice floods”.
On May 31, 1881, the Commissioners contracted with Samuel Myers to build a wooden bridge. The specifications called for, “a length of 381 feet between abutments of three equal spans, 16 feet roadway, 12 feet high in the clear, and roof to extend 10 feet at each end.” The contract price was $5,240. By November the inspectors approved of said bridge in all respects, except $5 would be deducted from the contract price for some “wing wall” problems. On December 5, 1881, all the approvals were made by the courts and the Hecks, Eyster, or Oyster Mill Bridge was completed.
In February 1999, Patriot News reporter Mary Bradley states:
In their 1954 petition for a new bridge, local residents argued that the bridge was designed for horse and wagon traffic and cannot hold up under [the] present increased demands, in spite of excessive maintenance costs to taxpayers.
The bridge was maintained by the county commissioners until 1936, when the state Highways Department assumed that responsibility. The early 1950’s were not kind to the Oyster Mill Bridge; it was pummeled by nature and man. In 1953, a new floor was laid atop the old supports after the bridge was damaged by a heavy truck. Large sections of the bridge’s corrugated metal roof and pieces of its wooden sides were ripped off in October 1954 as winds from Hurricane Hazel roared through the area.
The straw that broke the camel’s back, however, came on November 17, 1954, when an 8-ton milk truck – twice the posted weight limit – crossed the bridge, cracking nearly a dozen crosspieces supporting the floor. The truck driver crossed safely. The bridge’s condition had long been a concern to officials of East Pennsboro School District, the township, and fire companies. School bus drivers routinely unloaded pupils at one end of the bridge and proceeded across the bridge empty, pupils walked across the bridge and boarded at the opposite side.
By December 1954, Oyster Mill Bridge was reopened to traffic. However, school officials continued to ban school buses from using the structure. Fire fighters from Enola companies also refrained from crossing the bridge. Township officials were afraid to run road equipment across it. Lobbying efforts for a new bridge moved into high gear. Residents petitioned the state Highways Department, noting that at any stage of approaching flood waters, the bridge must be closed because of the time-weakened condition of piers and abutments. This is tacit admission that the bridge was fundamentally weak and unsound.
In October 1957, the state announced that another bridge would be constructed, but not at the same site. The state said it would no longer maintain the covered bridge and offered it to county commissioners. The commissioners declined, saying that the county lacked the money to maintain it. At the time, the county had 18 covered bridges.
On March 17, 1958, a motorist discovered a blaze at 10:15 p.m. and called fire-fighters, but it was too late. The bridge was a mass of flames and in less than one hour, it dropped, piece by piece, into the Conodoguinet Creek.
This old rickety span had lasted some 77 years. To the young residents of East Pennsboro Township in the 1940’s and 1950’s, it was a path to Gross’ Celery Farm and the West Shore Country Club, and more many of us, our first jobs. The old bridge also gave us a fishing spot, and a spring board for swimming. It was a favorite destination for Sunday afternoon walks and summer evening picnics.
Fond memories of the old bridge are held by many residents of East Pennsboro Township. We were proud to have this fine old bridge in our town.