The Iron Bridge, spanning the Rio Cobre River on the outskirts of Spanish Town, St. Catherine, is one of Jamaica’s national monuments of quite some historical significance.
The bridge was erected in 1801, from prefabricated cast-iron segments, at a cost of four thousand pounds, which were shipped from England. The abutment of the bridge is constructed with cut stone. It is about 81ft long and 15ft wide.
The historical significance of the Iron Bridge is centred around the following facts:
- It is the oldest bridge of its kind in the Western Hemisphere, being the first prefabricated cast iron bridge erected in the Americas.
- It is the only surviving iron bridge in the New World.
- It is also the only surviving iron bridge in the world using a construction technique called Burdon’s Principle.
The Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) has declared the Iron Bridge a National Monument and was at one time placed on the UNESCO list of endangered world sites (1998-1999) due to its very poor state of preservation. The bridge has been officially closed to vehicular traffic since October 21, 1931, when the nearby Stubbs Bridge was opened. However, as the bridge links the communities of Beacon Hill, Thompson Pen and adjoining communities, it was still being used by pedestrians, despite the progressively worsening state of the bridge. At one point there was a “frightening 13-metre hole in it, resulting from the collapsed brick arch and stonework of the north abutment and approach” (Williams 2000, pg. 11D).
In 2000, a restoration committee, the Spanish Town Iron Bridge Foundation Ltd., established in 1996 to work towards preserving the bridge and enhancing the environment around it, restored its foundation. However, the bridge was later closed to pedestrian traffic to await further restorative work to make the bridge safer for pedestrians and also to save this national treasure.
This further restorative work was carried out by the JNHT, in collaboration with the Spanish Town Iron Bridge Foundation, between 2008 and 2011. This included restoration of the damage to the eastern face of the abutment wall in authentic masonry construction, the reconstruction in brickwork of the archway, and the fixing of the roadway surface (JNHT 2008).
The Iron Bridge is only accessible to pedestrian traffic.
Until next time …
Bolton, Devaro (2012) “Cast Iron Bridge – Spanish Town.” Jamaica Observer, Tuesday, May 15, 2012.
Hakewill, James (1825) A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica from Drawings Made in the Years 1820 and 1821. London: Hurst and Robinson.
Jamaica National Heritage Trust (2008) JNHT signs contract for work to start on Historic Spanish Town Iron Bridge.
Jamaica National Heritage Trust (2011) Historic Cast Iron Bridge (Spanish Town).
Senior, Olive (2003), Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage. St. Andrew: Twin Guinep Publishers, Ltd.
Williams, Lloyd (2000) “New lease on life for 200-year-old bridge.” Sunday Gleaner, April 9, 2000, pg. 11D