Wish You Were Here reflects the value of postcards as tools for learning about the past, with images drawn from Manuscript Group 213, Postcard Collection, Pennsylvania State Archives.

The Old Stone Arch Bridge over Jack’s Creek in Derry Township, Mifflin County, captured in this c.1937 postcard, has been enhancing travelers’ journeys ever since 1813, when it was built as part of the first turnpike to connect Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. Construction of this segment of the road began in Lewistown and was completed to Harrisburg in 1825.

The single-span, semielliptical stone bridge with curving abutments was built without a keystone but has stood for more than 200 years. Located just southeast of Lewistown at the base of Shade Mountain, it lies close to both the Juniata River and the path of the Main Line Canal (Juniata Division), which operated from 1834 to 1888. Both the Harrisburg-to-Pittsburgh turnpike and the canal ran along the north side of the river and were important early routes of commerce. In the 1850s the Pennsylvania Railroad laid tracks on the south side of the river, further cementing Mifflin County’s role as a transportation hub. As the use of automobiles increased, the old turnpike was designated in 1916 as part of the William Penn Highway, a major east-west road crossing the center of the state.

The Old Stone Arch Bridge has long been viewed as both a beautiful structure and a historic property worthy of preservation. It was included in an 1860 collection of scenic Currier and Ives lithographic drawings and is currently featured on several websites that pinpoint scenic spots and historic bridges in the United States. In 1979 the bridge was formally listed in the National Register of Historic Places, a distinction that grants special consideration for historic properties affected by federal projects.

In 2006 the Federal Highway Agency and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation awarded the bridge a transportation enhancement grant, which resulted in the bridge’s rehabilitation, improved landscaping and pedestrian access, and bank stabilization.

The Old Stone Arch Bridge contributes to an important surrounding natural and cultural landscape. It is part of the Pittsburgh-to-Harrisburg Main Line Canal Greenway, an outdoor recreational tourism route that celebrates the canal’s history and continuing scenic appeal. The bridge is also featured in the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Juniata River Water Trail, which encourages stewardship of this magnificent waterway with abundant opportunities for boating, fishing, birding, camping and enjoyment of nature. A few miles south of the bridge is the Long Narrows, an impressive 6-mile-long river gorge between the steep quartzite ridges of the Shade and Blue mountains. The historic bridge remains a popular stop on visits to the many scenic wonders and recreational opportunities along the Juniata River.

 

Pamela W. Reilly is a historic preservation specialist in PHMC’s State Historic Preservation Office.