Today, Polly #5 visited the C&O Canal in Oldtown, Md. and spotted a peculiar sign. She thought it said “troll bridge,” but it turned out to be a toll bridge instead. So much for meeting the Billy Goats Gruff and the troll underneath the bridge. As she walked down to the banks of the North Branch of the Potomac River, she got her first look at a rickety low water bridge built in the late 1930s. One part was literally being held together with piled up 8″x8″ lumber and a rope!

Toll car at a time!


You must be kidding me! That's what's holding up the bridge?



The bridge itself consists of several concrete piers and wood slats that span its length. It is a single-lane construction that sits a few feet above the river in low water, and it’s closed when the river is too high.

This past March we observed the Potomac at flood stage, and it’s absolutely amazing that this bridge could survive such devastation. Since Polly is a travel frog, she definitely wanted to check it out, and insisted that I buy a round-trip excursion across the river. She claimed that she didn’t have any pockets for carrying change, so she couldn’t pay. Oh, well, it was a small price to pay for a mini-adventure!

I wonder how many times the bridge has flooded out.





The tollbooth is occupied when the water allows for crossing the bridge, and it costs fifty cents to go across or a dollar if you’re making the return trip. When crossing over, one leaves Maryland and enters West Virginia near Green Springs. It’s only a mile or two downstream that the North and South Branches of the Potomac meet and form the Potomac River.

In all, the Oldtown toll bridge is a fun side trip for those who aren’t too weak of heart, but, then again, a little adventure brings out the travel frog in everybody!


One Lane Bridge Ahead!

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27 Responses to “Troll Bridge…Ummm, I mean toll bridge (Polly #5)”

  1. That is one rickety looking bridge! Polly, I hope you didn’t jump too hard while you crossed it. I know you’re not a bridge inspector, but why isn’t that thing shut down for construction? Somebody would have to PAY ME to cross it!

  2. Jeff,

    Fortunately, the water is really shallow, and it’s not too far of a drop. I’m sure the bridge is safe enough to handle the local traffic–one car at a time, but I wouldn’t want to test it under bad conditions.

  3. Great post, Polly #5!

  4. The Bridge Historian Guy
    September 20th, 2010 at 10:33 pm

    This is supposed to be the last privately owned toll bridge in the country. The Oldtown Toll Bridge LLC is owned by John F. Teter, who bought the bridge for $66,000 in 2004. Currently, a monthly pass may be purchased for $14.00. There was a brief period in the 1990s when the bridge was open to foot traffic only, and its current condition and possible rate increase is a topic of local debate. The other closest places for Oldtown and Green Springs residents to cross the river are in Cumberland, Md. (upstream) and Paw Paw, WV (downstream). Both are about twelve miles away. This is a very significant piece of Americana!

  5. Wow! That’s pretty amazing–the last privately owned toll bridge in America! I wonder if that’s true! Regardless, it’s definitely a little bit of American history, not too far from home!

  6. I can’t believe that they can change money to go over something that is held up with sticks and string! Interesting post…I like reading your stuff.

  7. Anonymous,

    I know what you mean, but it is an interesting place with an interesting story. It has been closed to car traffic at least once in the past. If you’ve ever seen the Potomac during flood stage, you’d be amazed that the bridge has survived over seventy years. I’ve only crossed it in low water, but I hear it’s pretty frightening when the river level gets up close to the bridge. Yikes! There’s the river!

  8. As a Professional Structural Engineer and Certified Bridge Inspector in Pennsylvania, that bridge looks shaky as best. Not to mention there are no guiderails or barriers to keep vehicles from going off the bridge. It’s safe to say we don’t have anything like that in PA.

    Did they have any load posting signs?

  9. Jeff,

    I don’t recall seeing any signs pertaining to weight limits. I’m pretty sure that some larger trucks do cross the bridge, but it would be impossible–or nearly so–for a semi because of a sharp turn on the West Virginia side. This bridge is something of an anomaly, and I’m not sure how its private ownership jibes with state regulations. Actually, I’d have to defend Maryland’s diligence in regard to their infrastructure. They spent MONTHS rustproofing under the bridge across the Potomac on US Route 522. I do know that the PSC regulates the tolls in Oldtown, but beyond that, the state’s involvement is a bit of a mystery. If you’re ever close to Oldtown, MD., I’d highly recommend a detour to see the bridge. It’s a sight!

  10. Is that the bridge where the lady has the cup on a stick? She puts it out there for the money and never says a word? I used to go hunting over at Westvaco on the West Virginia side. That is one scary bridge!

  11. Anonymous,

    Yeah, she held out a tin cup welded on a metal rod. It was kind of spooky at first, but in the end crossing the bridge was quite a novelty. I would do it again–as long as the water wasn’t high.

  12. That second picture is a little bit frightening. I think I’d prefer seeing a troll!

  13. You must be crazy!

  14. Al,

    I felt a little bit crazy while we were crossing the bridge. Sometimes when the water is really high, the bridge is closed. If you’re ever in Oldtown, Md., I would suggest taking a look at the bridge. I’m not going to suggest that you cross it! You saw that second picture: it’s pretty scary!
    Polly #5

  15. Jonathan & Thomas
    March 8th, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    Would it be scary to drive on the bridge? Was Polly scared? Why do they charge money? The bridge looks cool. Did the wood fall?

    Jonathan & Thomas (Mrs. Schneider’s students)


  16. J & T,

    Crossing the bridge wasn’t scary on the day that we took the pictures. However, when the water is up close to the bridge, it can be intimidating. People who live on both sides of the river use the bridge all of the time. The reason is that the next closest bridges are really far away.

    The reason why people have to pay to cross the river in Oldtown is because it’s a private bridge. A man built it in the 1930s, and he paid for the supplies and land with his own money. Later, somebody bought it from him, and now a man named John Teter owns the bridge. He hired a woman to collect money from people at the toll booth because he owns the bridge.

    We don’t pay to cross other bridges because the government built them with our tax dollars. That’s how taxes work! Next time you cross a bridge–unless it’s a private one–your mom and dad are really part-owners, so you get to cross for free. Isn’t that cool?

    Polly #5

  17. I live in Cumberland, which isn’t far from this bridge, and yes, the locals do cross it all the time. I work for the railroad in the track department and our railroad pretty much follows the Potomac River a good ways. We cross this bridge all the time with our big trucks. It’s a lot more sturdy than it appears. Also, right across the bridge on the WV side is a factory where cross ties are manufactured for the railroad. It’s called Koppers. They have these huge stacks of ties piled up everywhere outside. It’s pretty neat to see. I guess it takes a long time for the wood to dry out before they are ready to be soaked in creosote. But I can verify that many large trucks do use this bridge in order to get to the tie plant. Oh and yes they do have a sign up for the weight limit. It’s 28,000 lbs for combination vehicles and I forget what it was for single vehicles but I want to say 14,000 lbs!

  18. Randy,

    Thanks for the excellent comment. I have crossed the bridge since this was posted. The water was within 3′ of the planks, but everything went pretty well. I’ve heard about the factory in Green Springs, but I’ve never really gotten to see it up close. It also looked like the “bad spot” underneath the bridge has been fixed–as I didn’t see any stcked lumber. BTW…you don’t suppose I could do a post about the railroad sometime, do you? That would be great!

    Polly #5

  19. Yeah that would be awesome! You should make a post about the railroad. Railroad history is kind of cool, especially when you consider how much it revolutionized the transportation of goods all across the country.

  20. Oh and I forgot to ask if you took those pictures. Because I noticed a sign at the tollhouse yesterday that read “Caution: Gates coming soon.” So either the picture was taken when it had gates and they took them down for some reason or you traveled into the future to take these pictures after they installed the gates lol.

  21. Hi Randy~
    I thought that you might be interested in seeing this post…
    Polly #5 Rides a Train!

    Polly #5 does a great job with posts in the local area! Thanks for your comments!

  22. The picture was taken September 19, 2010. We did cross it again on March 20th of this year, and sure enough–no gates. Back around the beginning of the year, I was fortunate enough to meet a woman whose brother works at the factory in WV. She explained about the extra driving involved when the river is flooding. She said that going to Paw Paw to cross the river is a problem because the backroads lead to Green Springs in a roundabout way. She said he had to leave for work about 45 minutes earlier in high water (from Cumberland or thereabouts). I do wish I had the power to travel into the future. I think I would write down all of the lottery numbers I could find and retire a billionaire! My posts are mainly about colorful local places, and I have to say that this bridge might be my favorite.

  23. Polly #3 and/or Randy,

    That’s an interesting thought. If Randy lives or works in the area, it would be great to get an expert’s opinion on the Schoolhouse Kitchen, Puccini Restaurant, Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, etc. Anyway, great comments. I’m always up for learning more about places that I’ve been, and if there’s something I’ve missed in the area, I’d like to write it up and get some pictures.

  24. I agree with Randy…the bridge is safe to cross…my family owned a farm outside of Green Spring on the South Branch of the Potomac…we had a house in Cumberland and the only way we went was to cross the bridge…we moved away in 1972 but I still go to visit people that has a camp that is on the farm and I cross that bridge every time…at one time it was shut down due to need in repairs…it made the Washington Post newspaper…I do believe they inspect that bridge every so often for safety purposes….when I was a kid there was not boards on the bridge that ran long ways only across and I love the clickly clack sound that it makes… can be scary looking but safe

  25. Terri,

    I have been across the bridge a few times since making this post and have come to the same conclusion. It’s a very interesting piece of local Americana. I love the Oldtown/Green Spring area, and the bridge makes everything in that part of the country even better. Thanks for your comment. I’m really looking forward to crossing the bridge again sometime soon!

  26. Polly,
    I just found this page today (May 26, 2012) and found the comments very interesting, because my grandfather, M.R. Carpenter, is the man who built this bridge, along with his sons, my uncles. He had to get an Act of Congress passed to build it, and bought the land and paid for the bridge with his own money. Our family has always been very proud of his accomplishment and have since read many stories and heard interviews with people from the area who tell how much the bridge has helped people in the community through the years. He built it with low sides so that when ice or debris flowed down the river during higher water stages, it would flow over the bridge without getting stuck on the sides and tearing the bridge up. The pilings are built on bedrock which helps with the strength of the bridge and explains how it has held up for this many years. We hope people will continue to be able to benefit from it for many more years to come.

  27. Nora,

    This is some amazing information! There have been a few locals who have chimed in regarding the value of the bridge. Without it, Green Spring would be a long haul from civilization. Backtracking through Springfield and Fort Ashby would leave people (and the business there) with a lengthy and time-consuming drive to Cumberland. I never gave the low edges much thought, but a wall along the sides of the bridge wouldn’t last long. Your family has a lot to be proud of. Your grandfather’s idea and workmanship has lasted nearly eighty years. Thanks for the wonderful comment.