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Shelter Island footbridge placed on national registry

The 113-year-old span, which was once part of the Presdeleau estate, is likely the first constructed out of reinforced concrete on Long Island, experts say.

The concrete Ransome Japanese Bridge, seen on Feb.

The concrete Ransome Japanese Bridge, seen on Feb. 26, 2018, was named to the National Register of Historic Places. Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

A 113-year-old secluded Shelter Island footbridge noted for its innovative engineering has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The Ransome Japanese Bridge, once part of Borax tycoon Francis Smith’s Shelter Island estate Presdeleau, was designed by architect Ernest Ransome. Built around 1905, the curved 60-foot span is 6 feet wide and travels over a lagoon off Smith Cove.

The bridge was unusual for its time as Ransome was one of the first architects to incorporate reinforced concrete in his designs. Ransome previously had designed a Bayonne, New Jersey, Borax factory for Smith, who was impressed when the concrete building was only slightly damaged in a 1902 fire.

For the bridge, the architect used a cross-section of twisted iron rebars known as “Ransome bars,” set in hand-mixed concrete and cast in place. The surface of the bridge deck is cast concrete impressed with a brick pattern.

“Its engineering has a kind of importance in history,” said David Lichtenstein, president of South Ferry Hills Association, which owns the bridge and its surrounding property. The bridge is likely the first span constructed out of reinforced concrete in Long Island history, he said.

The organization recently had the bridge evaluated by an engineer, who said it was structurally sound, though the railing and baluster need some repair, he said.

It was used by Smith to access his yacht.

“They used it to walk from his mansion to the beach, to a wharf where his yacht was moored,” said Edward Shillingburg, a Shelter Island historian.

The 1938 hurricane known as the Long Island Express destroyed the home, but the bridge remained intact, according to Shillingburg.

The bridge is located on private property off Merkel Lane, although the recently created nonprofit Smith-Ransome Japanese Bridge Conservancy may organize public visits in the future.

The bridge was added to the New York State Register of Historic Places in December.

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