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Saturday, April 4, 2009

Gridlock Comes to New Gretna

The other day I had to make a trip to Northfield. As I left Route 9 in New Gretna to get on the Parkway, I saw the dreaded orange traffic cones funneling the Parkway traffic down to one lane, just before the Mullica River Bridge. Traffic had come almost to a stop. It was just creeping along. Gridlock had come to New Gretna!

My traffic problem was the result of preparations that are just beginning to construct another bridge adjacent to the present bridge that will handle increased traffic loads in the coming decades. As I was sitting in the slowly moving traffic, inching towards the bridge, I got to thinking about the bridges that had spanned the Mullica over the years, linking Burlington and Atlantic Counties. This new bridge will be bridge number 4.

The first bridge over the Mullica River from New Gretna to Port Republic was authorized by the State Legislature on March 14, 1856 but was not completed until December, 1891. It seems that the Atlantic and Burlington County freeholders had a great deal of difficulty agreeing to the financing of the project. And you thought that bureaucracy moves slowly today.

That first bridge was an iron framed, swing bridge with a wooden deck, built close to the water. It allowed a direct route linking Burlington and Atlantic Counties along the New York Highway, now Route 9. Prior to its construction, to go to Atlantic City, you had to travel across the Wading River Bridge at Bridgeport to Lower Bank, then across the Mullica River at the Lower Bank Bridge into Atlantic County. That would be a great inconvenience today; however, back in the days of the horse and wagon, it was a major trip to go from New Gretna to Atlantic City, often taking two days or more for the round trip.

The first Mullica River Bridge from the Port Republic side. (Photo courtesy of Eric Wessler.)

The first bridge across the Mullica River, linking New Gretna with Port Republic, from the New Gretna side, The man in this circa late 1890's photo is believed to be Hezikiah Adams, a bridge tender, from New Gretna. (Photo courtesy of Thomas and Judy Cramer.)

The Mt. Holly Herald reported, on December 19, 1891, that the New Gretna blacksmith was the first to drive a horse across the new Mullica river bridge and that on his return his "colt stumbled, wrecked the harness, and mussed the colt", as the approach roads were not properly finished. While the Herald did not identify the blacksmith, I believe it was Joseph Traux who had the honor of being the first person over the new bridge.

A followup comment appearing in the December 26, 1891 Herald stated that E. Russell Adams, the tender of the new bridge, reported that 90 wagons crossed the bridge on the previous Sunday. Adams said that they were mostly sight seers, and that he didn't bother to count the foot passengers. Clearly, the bridge was well received!

Unfortunately, this first bridge which took so long to plan and build, did not last long. Seems that there were some problems involving shoddy construction materials used in building the foundation. Sounds like a story we might be reading in today's headlines.

A second iron bridge was constructed around 1917. Bids were received in December, 1916, but the successful bidder reneged on the contract and the project had to be rebid. It was gaining the reputation of the "project from hell." I am unsure of the exact date the bridge was finally finished.

The second iron bridge was a draw bridge, also built close to the water. Horatio "Tater" Cramer, seen above standing by the bridge, was the bridge tender for over 30 years. I wonder how many times he opened that old draw bridge. Some of our older Blog readers should remember Tater. It's amazing how much Stan Cramer, Tater's son, looked like his dad. When I first saw this photo I thought it was Stan. (Photo courtesy of the William Augustine Photo collection housed at the Rutgers University Library.)

Tater Cramer's smiling face at the bridge tender's house was a familiar site for many years at the Mullica River Bridge. (Photo courtesy of Esther Cramer Slota, Tater's daughter.)

The second iron bridge served the area well until the mid 1950's when the Garden State Parkway was built with it's new bridge spanning the Mullica between New Gretna and Port Republic. The two bridges stood side by side for a time, until the iron bridge was dismantled and shipped to Chincoteague, Virginia where it served well for many years. It has since been replaced.

The Parkway Bridge spanning the Mullica River between New Gretna and Port Republic, circa 1960. The second iron bridge can be seen under the Parkway Bridge as it had yet to be dismantled. (Photo courtesy of the William Augustine Photo collection housed at the Rutgers University Library.)

The 2nd iron bridge was closed off with it's draw opened when the Parkway Bridge opened in the mid 1950's. (Photo courtesy of the William Augustine Photo collection housed at the Rutgers University Library.)

As I sat in the slow moving traffic, waiting to get across the Mullica, I kept telling myself that it could be worse . . . at least I don't have to drive through Lower Bank to get to Northfield. I wonder if they had more patience in the old days? If they did, I could use some now, as this current bridge project will probably take a few years. That will mean a lot of orange cones with their resulting gridlock. Ugh!

Pete S


  1. Ahhh, yes the old iron bridge over the Mullica River does bring back many memories to me. I remember as a child my family drove over it often to get from our home in Leeds Point to New Gretna in order to visit Mom's sister and brother-in-law, Margaret & Clarence Mathis. They lived over on E. Greenbush Rd.

    Bob and I also drove over part of that 'famed bridge' back around 1998 when we camped at Tom's Cove in Chincoteague, VA. The bridge span connected the mainland to Assateague Island. Every year near the end of July the local fire company holds an event where many ponies are rounded up on Assateague Island and then swim them across to Chincoteague to be auctioned off. The event draws hundreds of people to the area. The event is known as "The Pony Swim". I'm ready to go again. I loved it.
    Elaine M.

  2. Hello, my name is Adam Moss and i am a highway historian. As I write this I am looking into the details about NJ Route 167, which current runs along the old bridge's alignment from Bass River and Port Republic. Two things, do you have some information I could go through and also could I use those pictures of the old US 9/NJ 167 bridge. If you need some details, please send an e-mail at:

    The info would be appreciated.

  3. Adam,

    Just wondering what a highway historian is? I haven't got a clue.

    Pete S

  4. The pictures of Tater Cramer are my Dad. Many a day I helped him when he had to raise the bridge. I would run from one side of the draw to the other closing the gates while Dad raised the the draw to let the boat through. They were the good old days.