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Then and Now: Answer Edition

A weekly history lesson on the Phoenixville-area.

Another week, another terrific demonstration of Phoenixville-area knowledge by Then and Now readers.

Our winner was Peter C. Brown, who was the first one to correctly identify the photo shown in last week's Then and Now as the Mary Snowden Bridge.

Below, courtesy of the Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area, is some background information on the old covered bridge:

This bridge crosses the French Creek at Township Line Road between Schuylkill and East Pikeland Townships. It was originally built as a stone arch bridge in 1771 by a committee headed up by a young Anthony Wayne. It was mainly built for the benefit of transporting iron products from the Reading and Warwick furnaces to Philadelphia. Samuel Nutt, an ironmaster, devised a shortcut trail through Phoenixville; therefore the road was named in his honor, Nutt’s Road. In 1777, after the Battle of the Clouds, creeks were swollen from the rain and gun powder was wet. In order to get their arms in order and secure ammunition, George Washington and his army marched from Yellow Springs to the iron furnace of Reading and Warwick by way of the small stone arch bridge and Nutt’s Road. It was the only stone bridge anywhere in the area. The stone bridge washed away in 1889 and a covered bridge was built in its place. Eventually it became known as the Mary Snowden bridge named for the woman who lived near the bridge. In 1922 a concrete bridge was built and in 1982 the current bridge was constructed. A plaque still remains on the bridge identifying it as the Mary Snowden Bridge. This bridge still stands but has been bypassed by a relocation of Nutt Rd. where a much larger structure replaced it.

In the historical photograph, trolley tracks crossed the creek on an open bridge adjacent to the covered bridge.

But who was Mary Snowden?  Historic records indicate she lived in the last house before the bridge. There are indications that she may have been an escaped slave from the Baltimore area in 1849. She is listed in the 1850 census as 35 years of age, born in Delaware, black, and unable to read or write. The 1860 census lists her age as 55 years. But in the 1870 census she was 67 years old, and then in the census of 1880 she was 75.  The census records of that time are confusing in the identification of birthplace, age, and family relationships.

Two memoirs reference Mary Snowden. From the ‘Excerpts from childhood Memories’ by Elizabeth Alice Cornett (1860 – 1961): “Often Uncle would come to our house in town for dinner. Then he would say ‘Well, anybody going up today?’ It didn’t take us long to decide which one or both would go, quickly getting together a few clothes tied in a newspaper we were soon jogging through the streets & along the road. Just as we came to the French Creek Bridge, there was an old colored woman – Mary Snowden … who lived there with her husband in a little house or shack. She would be outside feeding her chickens with a red bandana about her head, & as we came past, spreading her skirts & making a curtsey with a ‘How do do, Mr. Cornett’.  She gave the name to this section & bridge, & I don’t suppose there was a boy in Phoenixville in those days who didn’t know the old swimming hole up by ‘Mary Snowden’s bridge’.

“Then old Mike entered the covered bridge, with his ‘flip flop’ over the wooden floor boards; I loved to watch the water between the wide cracks of the floor as it flowed underneath. This old covered wood bridge has long since been replaced by a fine cement structure, but even to this day one hears it called ‘Mary Snowden’s bridge’.” 

The second reference is from Miss Anne Dunlap, a long time Schuylkill Township resident.

“There is the French creek, for a half mile, perhaps, lending its beauty on the north, the Indians named it SanKanack, we regret the change for so beautiful a stream is worthy of a more romantic name.

“For many, many years a covered wooden bridge gave passage over this creek via Nutt road, a worthy couple named Snowden lived in the small stone house at the south end. We may safely surmise that Mary Snowden was the Master mind of the house for though the husband possessed the good substantial name of Josiah, he and his name have passed to oblivion but the title “Mary Snowden’s Bridge” happily survives, the old wooden bridge however is gone replaced by modern concrete and the road straightened. If Mary were here now, her glass jars filled with red and white stick candy she kept on display in her window would probably be unnoticed in the whirl of speeding humanity now passing.” 

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