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The National Road - Pennsylvania - Great Crossings Bridge and Somerfield

West of Addison, US 40 crosses the Youghiogheny River at what once was the town of Somerfield.  When crossing the current modern two lane bridge, you many not realize that it is actually the third to cross the Yough at this site.  The first - a stone arch bridge - was known as the Great Crossings Bridge.  Built in 1818, this three arch bridge was part of the original National Road.  The name Great Crossings comes from the men who forded the Youghiogheny here - George Washington and George Braddock. (1)  If you cross the bridge at the right time, this historic bridge and what was once the town of Somerfield will appear out from underneath this massive man-made lake.

Historical Postcard showing the 'Big Crossings' bridge and Somerfield.  Image submitted by Vince Ferrari.
The Great Crossings Bridge was located in the town of Somerfield.  Somerfield, originally named Smythfield until 1827, would develop as a result of the National Road. (1)  Somerfield would go through various stages of growth and decline throughout the 19th century.  In the early 20th century, Somerfield would develop as a resort area for sportsmen.  However, by the 1930s, concerns about flood control along the Yough would grow and the Army Corps of Engineers would begin a process of damming the river.  The result of this is that the soon to be formed Youghiogheny Lake would flood over the Somerfield and the Great Crossings Bridge.

The town of Somerfield - Image courtesy of
In order to carry US 40 over the soon to be formed Yough Lake, a brand new high level two lane bridge was constructed.  The new bridge would see construction start in 1939 - halt temporarily as a result of World War II - and completed in 1946. (2)  Somerfield and nine other villages would be torn down and then submerged under the newly formed lake. (3)  In total, all 142 residents of Somerfield would be forced to relocate.  Many moved to nearby Addison or Confluence or as far as Uniontown and Connellsville. (1)

The second Great Crossings bridge and Youghiogheny Lake - image courtesy of
Although the town was torn down, the Great Crossings Bridge was not.  It still sits submerged under Yough Lake.  Every few years when there is an extended period of dry weather in the area, the water levels at Yough Lake begin to fall and the now nearly 200 year old piece of American history appears.  This phenomenon attracts new visitors to what was once Somerfield.   A mix of history buffs, curiosity seekers, and more will wind their way down the old National Road to check out the remnants of the town and the old bridge.

A wide range view of the original Yough River 'Great Crossings' bridge.  Somerfield was along the banks to the right. (Vince Ferrari)

The 1946 replacement bridge didn't have as long as a life as the first Great Crossing Bridge.  Considered obsolete by modern standards - a replacement bridge was built immediately north and parallel of the bridge.  The new modern bridge opened in 2006 and the second Great Crossings Bridge was then torn down.   And even with the new bridge, if the water level is low enough and you look to the North and down below, that first Great Crossings Bridge will be there offering a brief glimpse into the past.

A close up of the sandstone bridge shows how amazingly excellent shape it is in after being underwater for over 70 years. (Vince Ferrari)
Since 1999, the remnants of both Somerfield and the Great Crossings Bridge have been visible more often including 2011, 2015 and 2016.  In 2015, Brian Powell checked out the remnants of both the town and the bridge.

What was once Bridge Street and the National Road through Somerfield towards the Great Crossings Bridge (Brian Powell)
Somerfield was laid out like many other National Road towns with a "Main Street" that saw many inns, homes, and other businesses line along.  Somerfield's Main Street was named Bridge Street which carried the National Road to the Great Crossings Bridge. (1)  Somerfield would be incorporated into a Borough in 1893 and would remain a town until it was raised in the early 1940s. (2)

The newest bridge carrying US 40 (2006) towers above what was once the town of Somerfield (Brian Powell)
What is left of Somerfield today is a marina and boat launch.  In the years that Somerfield and the bridge are visible, the foundations of some buildings and sidewalks can be found in the mud.  Over the years, the Great Crossings Bridge has begun to deteriorate, but it is still in solid shape.

A closer view of the Great Crossings bridge shows that though still intact it had deteriorated. (Brian Powell)
As always, Brian does great work with his photos from his travels.  You can find his flickr set from Somerville and the Youghiogheny Lake here.

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