Prior to the early 19th century, it seems that the easiest and most common way to get across the Susquehanna River was simply to walk through the shallow water. It was easy to find locations where fording was possible with water from bank to bank less than two or three feet deep, and in some seasons, even shallower. Because the water was so shallow, it froze quickly in winter, enabling people, wagons, etc. to cross on the ice.
Interest in building Owego's first bridge across the River began in early 1816 when a group of prominent and powerful Owego businessmen formed a stock company for the purpose of putting a bridge across the river. The act incorporating the company passed the New York State Legislature and became a law on April 17, 1816. The name of the corporation was The Owego Bridge Company. After several extensions were granted, it wasn't until May 7, 1828 that the stock was finally sold and the bridge could be built.
From the time it had opened, the Owego bridge had been a toll bridge with charges ranging from a few cents for a single walker to about a half dallar for a large heavy wagon pulled by four or more animals.
Over the years, there have been five bridges built in the village of Owego: 1828-1867, 1868-1892, 1893-1933, 1933-2001, and 2003-present.
There are, of course, lots of
stories about our bridges, but one of the more interesting ones is about a ritual that took place every spring when word would be excitedly passed that the ice broke at the island. That meant the ice jam at Hiawatha Island gave way, and reminiscent of the early raftsmen, people rushed to the river. Only this wasn't for rafting. It was to get on the bridge (and the riverbanks) and watch the mammoth chunks of ice crunch and gore their downstream. The piers on the older bridges were slanted on the upstream side way (as shown at left), so the ice floes climbed way up into the air toward the floor of the bridge before crashing down in a fury to be swept under the bridge with a roar. It must have taken nerve to stand there and wonder which one would win, the bridge or the ice.
For additional information, go to: www.villageofowego.com or www.visittioga.com
First Iron Bridge, 1893-1933
First Owego Bridge, 1828-68 (note slanted piers)
Grand Opening of Current Owego Bridge, 2003.