The Milford-Montague Bridge

by Richard Shane

Okay, here goes a story that fits into the category that my daughter Laurel calls “Dad, you often say you don’t have enough time. How could you possibly put so much time into something like this???” While I do work a lot and my work is usually very enjoyable, the research project I describe below was and is pure fun and joy. Here we go…

The Milford-Montague Bridge

I was watching a movie in which the camera was from the perspective of being in the front passenger seat inside a car driving over a bridge with a metal grate bottom, with the tires making the particular humming sound on metal grate. I was instantly thrown back to my family driving from New Jersey to White Lake, we drove over a bridge with metal grating producing that vibration and sound. It was a very old bridge. I remembered that they then built a new bridge. We then drove on the new bridge, but we could see the old bridge less than ¼ mile away, the steel structure on top of huge cement pylons.

I did remember the route number of that road, checked with my older brother Mark and he confirmed the route number was accurate. I then went online and found photos of the newer bridge.

I learned that the new bridge was opened in Dec. 1953. That meant that my memory of going over the old bridge, which would have been that previous summer 1953, was when I was 2 ½ years-old! I only have one other memory from being that young, so now I got even more excited about this research project.

I found the website of the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission. I sent them a contact form asking if they had any photos of the old bridge. No reply. Days later I called them, described what I was seeking, and that person connected me with Jodee Inscho, Director of Community Affairs. She sent me photos of the bridge taken in 1917, along with the comment, “The current Bridge Commission was formed in 1934, so we would have no records of the original bridge construction. I have no idea how we came into possession of those earlier 1917 images.”

Milford-Montague Bridge constructed 1890. This photograph taken in 1917.

Jodee Inscho then sent me a section from the book Bridges over the Delaware River: A History of Crossings, by Frank Dale. Below are excerpts from pp. 78 – 85:

Starting before the Revolutionary War, a ferry had been busy operating between the two thriving villages of Milford, Pennsylvania and Montague in Sussex County, New Jersey. The ferry continued until a wooden bridge was built in 1826. The first toll collector was hired for the lucrative wage of $100… a year. He was also provided with a home to live in... the bridge's tollhouse.

In 1841, there was a flood that destroyed nine bridges spanning the river. The Milford Bridge was damaged slightly but was promptly repaired. The bridge was swept away in the flood of 1846 carrying huge ice floes that destroyed the entire bridge. The old pre-bridge ferry came back into activity. The bridge sat unrepaired and inoperable for more than ten years.

Another bridge was built and "proved to be a worthless and treacherous affair, and, a few years after its construction, it fell into the river from its own weakness." The old, reliable ferry went back into business again.

A suspension bridge was built until March 22, 1888, when the bridge was sept away by huge blocks of ice in the thawing, rushing river. An account in the Milford Dispatch: "The river was filled with ice and the surging waters would swirl it along, crashing and grinding, and occasionally upheaving heavy ice block on the shore or topping others into the seething waters. On both sides of the river, walls of ice were formed, and between them flowed the water on its mad rush to the ocean. The ice rose under the bridge and forced it upward for an instant, knocked some plank loose, and tearing off other small timbers. A detached piece of ice struck a pier, some of the stones were knocked out, and the bridge was visually shaken. A large body of ice soon followed, crashing against the pier; the stonework gave way at the top as the crash came. Finally, the bridge's towers tumbled over, the cables snapped asunder, and the structure went down."

Milford-Montague Bridge constructed 1890. This photograph taken sometime that decade.

The old suspension bridge was swept away, totally destroyed, but because of its years of faithful service, the public insisted upon a replacement—this time, a steel structure.

The bridge was, again, temporarily replaced by a ferry service. By 1890, a new steel bridge was completed. In 1903, the Pumpkin Flood destroyed many bridges on the river. The new Milford Bridge, made of steel, stood the ordeal well. By the mid-20th century, it became obvious that the weight of automobile and truck traffic would soon overwhelm this structure built for the horse-and-buggy age.

The new bridge was opened December 30, 1953

Milford-Montague Bridge opening day December 30, 1953.
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Nearby accommodations and attractions

  • Sterling Hill Mine Tour and Museum
  • Step Into Earth Science! Mining museum with underground mine tour and over 30 acres of indoor & outdoor displays and historical buildings. Recent additions include expanded fluorescent display at Thomas S. Warren Museum and the Million Dollar display at the Oreck Family Mineral Gallery. Gift shop with a collection of world wide minerals.

    30 Plant St., Ogdensburg 07439, 973/209-7212

  • Wilbur's Country Store
  • Wilbur's is the perfect destination on a drive through the New Jersey countryside. British foods and candy, Yankee candles, wind chimes, pet-themed gifts, preserves, much more. Charming location in barn complex between Newton and Blairstown.

    735 Route 94, Newton 07860, 908/362-8833

  • Cranberry Lake
  • The Byram lake is a good kayaking destination.

  • Float the Wild Side on the Wallkill River
  • , Sussex

  • Waterloo Village
  • This early 19th-century restored village, once bustling port along the Morris Canal, contains a working mill complex with gristmills and sawmills, a general store, blacksmith shop and several historic houses, and a re-created seventeenth century Lenape Indian settlement. On Saturdays, June through September, the canal store, gristmill, visitor’s center, Canal Museum, and Highlands Boat Exhibit are open, 10am - 4pm. Summer at Waterloo is a partnership between the Canal Society of New Jersey and the NJ Park Service.

    525 Waterloo Rd, Stanhope 07874, 973/347-1835


This story was first published: Summer, 2023