IN NORTHERN PENNSYLVANIA IS ONE OF THE WORLD’S WONDERS
The view up the Susquehanna River valley is one of surpassing beauty. It has been an inspiration to painter and poet alike through the years. The Starrucca Viaduct stands as a monument to the instinctive artistry of its builders. Constructed of native stone it nestles in the Starrucca Valley between the foothills of the Blue Ridge and Catskill Mountains; and looks as if it belongs.
This structure is a historic landmark bridge, 1040 feet long, comprised of 17 Roman arches and constructed of blocks of cut sandstone. Begun in 1847, it was completed in record time in November, 1848. It is in active use today, over which many trains run on a regular, daily basis.
The building of the Starrucca Viaduct and the history of the building of the Erie Railroad in this vicinity has been an interesting one.
Beginning in 1831, Governor Marcy appointed James Seymour to survey a rail route in southern New York and through Pennsylvania. The surveying parties, trying to locate a way for the railroad, found the nine miles from Gulf Summit PA to Susquehanna PA, most forbidding. The obstacles of nature appeared insurmountable to everyone.
Various routes were tried and given up. In 1840 a survey party discovered the remarkable glen at Gulf Summit, between the waters of the Cascade Creek, going to the Susquehanna, and McClure Brook, going to the Delaware. An engineer named John Anderson traced a line from Deposit NY to Lanesboro PA passing through the rocks and just wide enough for the road. Finding a way through this rocky glen enabled them to get over on the Susquehanna River side, which would allow them a good grade to Elmira and west. The grade of this route was 66 feet on the Delaware side and 70 feet on the Susquehanna side, a distance of 16 miles.
The 1834 survey was also unsatisfactory in that the line missed Binghamton. The 1840 survey passed directly through the village. Legislation was passed and it was decided to overcome the obstacles of nature and build the road over the Randolph hills to Susquehanna. This was the most difficult and expensive nine miles of railroad ever built up to that time. A monument still stands in Deposit where ground was broken for the line.
The cost to carve a roadbed (wide enough for one track) through the glen of rocks at Gulf Summit was the then-enormous sum of $200,000. A strong current of air was constantly sweeping through it, and the temperature on the hottest days was uncomfortably cool. Winter snow blockages resulted whenever a wintry storm swept over the mountain. The cut ended up 150 feet deep.
Nearby a gulf 184 feet deep and 250 feet wide over the Cascade Creek had to be bridged. Three miles beyond, at Lanesboro, a bridge over the Starrucca Creek was needed. This proved to be especially difficult as the distance was over a quarter of a mile and more than 110 feet deep. The Canawacta Creek valley at the lower end of Lanesboro also required bridging.
The first contract for building the Starrucca viaduct was let in 1847 for $375,000. The builders went belly up. Two other contractors failed. A proposition was submitted to James P. Kirkwood, a Scotchman. He visited the site and carefully investigated it before telling the Erie he could do it provided cost was no object. He got the go-ahead.
Three miles up the Starrucca Creek he opened quarries to get the stone. Next he constructed a wooden track on each side of the stream which brought the material to the work in cars. Stone was also brought from a quarry near Cascade. A city of tents arose to house the 800 workers he hired. A half million feet of lumber was used in the false work which was extended across the valley. Operations were conducted both day and night and the viaduct was completed ahead of schedule. Laborers received a wage of $1.00 a day.
The historic bridge appears to be everlasting and proved the Erie motto “Old Reliable”. It even outlasted the Erie! Sometimes called the “Stone Bridge”, it stands today as a monument to the engineering science and stone masons of that day.
Some statistics on the viaduct:
Built to accommodate only one track (broad gauge) and the 1848 engines of 100,000 pounds, it has long carried two tracks and engines of over 800,000 pounds. Only lime and sand mortar were used in building the bridge. The more weight running over it, the more compact and solid it becomes. Every pier stands today just as it did when completed, and the gigantic top stones on top of the bridge are a tribute to the skill of the builders.
After completing the bridge, there was another worthwhile spectacle in the job of removing the falsework. It had to be done in the winter because of the danger of fire which would have ruined the whole bridge. Men were suspended 100 feet above the valley prying out beams and timbers and lowering them to the ground.
Brawls were quite common outside of working hours, as would be expected of any army composed of so many nationalities. Remarkably, no man was killed or injured until the removal of the temporary false work when one man was injured. It is thought he died afterwards.
The first engine to cross the viaduct was named “Orange”. Nobody dared ride it so everybody got off. They gave it enough steam to keep it moving. Men reboarded it on the other side.
Also in northeastern Pennsylvania is the Tunkhannock Viaduct. Inspired by, and modeled after, the incredible ancient Roman aqueduct at what is today Nimes, France, this viaduct is a magnificent, landmark structure which helped propel American engineering skills into a world class. This railroad bridge was completed in 1915; is constructed entirely of formed concrete, displacing 4.5 million cubic feet; is 2,375 feet long and stands 240 feet high.
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