Even in today’s high-tech world of digital memory, local legends and historical lore are still passed on by word of mouth. Stories and anecdotes seem to gain a life of their own as they grow and are embellished with each telling.
In past issues, the Chronicle has been guilty of perpetuating a Maspeth myth by erroneously calling the Andrews Avenue bridge the “penny bridge.” Although some community members mistakenly call it that, it is not and never has been the “penny bridge.”
Local Maspeth residents who are 40-something or more and have lived in the area since their youth have always known the Andrews Avenue bridge as the Welbilt Bridge. The building adjacent to the bridge was built by the Welbilt Company decades ago.
Straddling the railroad tracks, the machinery manufacturer built the bridge to facilitate the truck traffic that moved goods in and out of its warehouse. It’s been years since Welbilt left Maspeth to move its operation to the southeastern states. Several years ago, the company was purchased by an international conglomerate.
Ray Beirsdorfer, president of the West Maspeth Civic Association, knew all about the Welbilt Bridge. When told that some people referred to it as the “penny bridge,” he said, “Naah. That’s the penny bridge,” pointing a block or so to where 60th Street spans the Long Island Rail Road tracks.
Unfortunately, another Maspeth myth must be dispelled. Beirsdorfer is just not old enough to remember the original Penny Bridge. The real bridge, named for the one-cent-toll pedestrians paid to cross it, was torn down in 1914.
Known officially as the Meeker Avenue Bridge, it crossed Newtown Creek from Meeker Avenue on the Brooklyn side to Laurel Hill Boulevard in Queens.
Built before the Revolutionary War, according to a publication by Vincent Seyfried, the Penny Bridge was used by British troops in 1783 to evacuate the Loyalists from Queens. After the British were defeated, they helped their supporters escape over the Penny Bridge into Bushwick.
For the next century, the bridge was mainly used as a means for funeral corteges and cemetery visitors to get from Brooklyn to Calvary Cemetery. By 1848, however, steamboat service across Newtown Creek provided a more sophisticated mode of travel.
Twenty-five years later, legislation regulating the collection of tolls on the Penny Bridge was hotly debated. A letter in the June 15th, 1876, edition of the Newtown Register outlines the argument of whether or not to abolish the penny toll for pedestrians.
It seems that vehicular tolls more than adequately financed the operation of the bridge.
At one point, the LIRR established the Penny Bridge Station just west of the bridge in Queens. Sam Zambuto, spokesperson for the railroad, said that the station had fallen into disuse and was torn down in the mid-1990s.
The Penny Bridge was not torn down in 1914 because of disuse. It was demolished to make way for a larger structure only a few hundred feet to the south. Today the bridge that replaced the Penny Bridge nearly 90 years ago is known as the Kosciuszko Bridge.
The May 26th edition of the 1914 Flushing Evening Journal announced the demise of the Penny Bridge. The new and larger arch to span Newtown Creek cost $300,000 at that time.