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CENTRAL JERSEY: Historic Stony Brook bridge reopened

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The Stony Brook Bridge was constructed in 1792, and is believed to be the oldest bridge in continuous use on a state highway in New Jersey and possibly the country.

Five months after being closed for safety reasons, U.S. Route 206 and the historic Stony Brook bridge were reopened to motorists Nov. 2, following extensive repairs to the stone arch bridge that crosses Stony Brook.

U.S. Route 206 was closed between Lovers Lane in Princeton and Carter Road in Lawrence Township while repairs were being made to the bridge. The $7.4 million project, which also included replacing the bridge over the Stony Brook flood plain, was completed on time and on budget, said David Lambert of the state Department of Transportation.

An array of government officials and representatives from the project's contractors and engineers gathered on the bridge shortly before noon Thursday to officially reopen the bridge - although the first cars and trucks did not pass over it until later in the day.

Lambert said that while he looks forward to ribbon-cutting ceremonies for DOT projects, this one is special. The Stony Brook bridge is the oldest bridge on a state highway in New Jersey.

The bridge, which is a successor to an earlier wooden bridge that crossed Stony Brook, was built in 1792 and widened in 1916. It was closed temporarily for emergency repairs in February 2016 after part of the parapet collapsed. It was subsequently decided to close the bridge to make permanent repairs.

The project involved strengthening the bridge infrastructure atop the three stone arches, which were preserved for aesthetic - but not functional - reasons. Field stones from the 1792 bridge also were reused along the sides of the bridge. The remaining stone wall of the former Worth's Mill also was stabilized.

"Rehabilitating the oldest bridge on a state highway in New Jersey is no easy task," Lambert said. But the project, done in coordination with the Princeton Historic Preservation Commission, provided an opportunity to document 18th-century bridge-building methods while also improving and strengthening the bridge by using 21st-century techniques, he said.

Mayor Liz Lempert, who also attended the bridge reopening ceremony, said she was "so happy to be here" as she stood on the Stony Brook bridge. She thanked all who had worked on the project.

Noting the bridge's historic significance, Mayor Lempert said it "serves as a physical reminder of Princeton's important role in the early years of our republic. Long live the new Stony Brook bridge."

British and American troops crossed the bridge as they clashed with each other, including on the morning of Jan. 3, 1777 - the date of the Battle of Princeton, and a turning point in the Revolutionary War.

Elizabeth Kim, Princeton's historic preservation officer, also praised the collaboration between the State Historic Preservation Office, the state Department of Transportation officials and Princeton officials.

Then, Mayor Lempert and DOT Assistant Commissioner Lambert pulled aside a red cloth that covered a stone plaque. The stone plaque, which was salvaged from the old bridge, stated its 1792 construction date and noted that Princeton is 40 miles from Philadelphia and 56 miles from New York City.

Behind the plaque is an informal time capsule - the brainchild of two masons who worked on the project - that contains old photographs and a short history of the Stony Brook bridge.

The time capsule also contains detailed entries from old diaries from the mid-1800s, kept by the miller who lived in the fieldstone house to the south of Worth's Mill.

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