In 1909, Edward W. Redfield spent several months in New York City, painting a series of large, moody, atmospheric cityscapes at twilight that portrayed a vibrant urban environment and sharply contrasted with the more harsh views of city life painted contemporaneously by the realist school of American painters known as the Ashcan school. It was not until 1923 that he created another nocturnal scene that would be recognized as one of his most important works. The Burning of Center Bridge depicts the 1923 fire that destroyed the bridge connecting Center Bridge, Pennsylvania, with Stockton, New Jersey. Although Redfield took notes on an envelope as he observed the scene, he departed from his practice of capturing a landscape en plein air and painted the scene when he returned to his studio.
Within two days, Redfield created this canvas, which captures the heroic efforts of firemen trying to extinguish the fire as spectators stand by helplessly watching the burning wooden structure glow against a black sky filled with plumes of smoke. The destruction of the region’s oldest Delaware River covered bridge was a monumental event for local residents. News of the incident appeared in the Washington Post and in the headlines of the local Bucks County Intelligencer, which recounted the drama of 25 firemen falling into the river as they fought the fire while “the banks of the river were lined with a crowd aggregating thousands of spectators.”