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Isaac Crouse

Isaac Crouse
Plaque no. 59
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More than 95 years after his death, the memory of Isaac Crouse, London’s pioneer bridge builder, lives on through the daily use of the structures he constructed.

Isaac Brock Crouse was born in 1825 in a log farmhouse on the second concession of Westminster Township, in present-day London, Ontario. As a young boy, he attended school with twenty other students in a log cabin near Pond Mills. To reach the little schoolhouse, Crouse had to trudge through the Township’s thick brush. His two main textbooks were an English reader and the Bible.

As a teenager Isaac Crouse had many encounters with the abundant local wildlife. Often he would be called to protect the family farm from the many bears that were present in the area at the time. Local legend also told that he chased a bear out of a King Street tavern and through downtown London.  Crouse commonly hunted deer and wild turkeys and fished the plentiful Thames River.

As an adult, Isaac Crouse went on to be a farmer, millwright, contractor and, most importantly, bridge builder. He learned the trade of bridge building while working for the Central Pacific Railroad in Nevada in the late 1860s. Upon his return to Canada, he built London’s first iron bridge in 1875, the Blackfriars Bridge.

This reinforced wrought-iron bowstring bridge spans the North Branch of the Thames River at Blackfriars Street.  During this period, the bridge was the primary link between the City of London and its surroundings. Other wooden bridges had preceded the iron Blackfriars Bridge, but none could withstand the frequent spring flooding. The wrought-iron structure was designed and fabricated by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company of Ohio, shipped to London and assembled under the supervision of Isaac Crouse.

Soon after its construction, the bridge became a landmark in the city of London, inspiring local artists and photographers. Its low parabolic chord enables the 212 feet bridge to be unsupported, giving the illusion that it floats above the Thames River. It is one of the few remaining bowstring bridges in Canada and is the oldest wrought-iron bridge in North America still used for vehicular traffic.

In addition to the Blackfriars Bridge, Isaac Crouse constructed other bridges and mills throughout London. He built the first dam at Springbank, and the superstructures and abutments for the Dundas, King, Oxford and Wellington Street bridges. He also constructed the first Meadowlilly bridge, then known as Meadow Lily, in southeast London. A second bridge, built by his son, Levi Crouse, later replaced this bridge.

After a successful career and having watched London grow from a small town to a city of 60,000 people, Isaac Crouse passed away on March 16, 1915. His many contributions as a London-area pioneer, contractor and bridge builder have led the London Public Library Board to recognize him by erecting an historic plaque in his honour in 2003.

Other historic plaques related to Isaac Crouse have been erected in the city, one at the site of the Blackfriars Bridge to commemorate the historical significance of London’s first iron bridge, and another at his last home, located on 77 Price Street.