Kinzua Bridge: Pennsylvania’s “Eighth Wonder of the World”

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PHOTO: Kinzue Bridge prior to collapse, Courtesy of Pennsylvania Bureau of State Parks
PHOTO: Kinzue Bridge prior to collapse, Courtesy of Pennsylvania Bureau of State Parks

For more than 2,000 years, man has searched for an eighth wonder of the world to be placed alongside the likes of the Great Pyramid of Giza and Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Sadly, what was briefly hailed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” the Kinzua Bridge in rural northcentral Pennsylvania barely stood for a century before succumbing to the forces of nature.

Built in 1882 by a crew of only 40 in just 94 working days, the original bridge made it possible for Pennsylvania coal to find its way into New York State — allowing passage over the wide Kinzua Valley.

PHOTO: Original bridge, shortly after construction. Notice the man standing in the span.
PHOTO: Original bridge, shortly after construction. Notice the man standing in the span.

When built, the bridge was larger than any that had been attempted, and over twice as large as the largest similar structure at the time: the Portage Bridge over the Genesee River in western New York.

In 1900, the bridge was dismantled and simultaneously rebuilt out of steel in order to allow it to accommodate heavier trains. The bridge remained as a commercial service until 1963 when it was sold to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and became the centerpiece of the Kinzua Valley Bridge State Park which opened in 1970.

In the years ahead, excursion trains of the Knox and Kane Railroad began running on the bridge, offering tourists a view from the structure second to none.

In June 2002, however, state officials closed the bridge in order to begin restoration efforts.

Sadly, those efforts were in vain, as a year later, at approximately 3:20 p.m., July 21, 2003, a tornado from the east touched down at the park. The storm, classified as F-1 on the Fujita scale, tore down 11 of the 20 structure spans.

PHOTO: Kinzua Bridge after tornado, courtesy of "Nicholas from Pennsylvania".
PHOTO: Kinzua Bridge after tornado, courtesy of “Nicholas from Pennsylvania”.

Engineers say the failure was caused by badly rusted bolts holding the bases of the towers. The investigation reckoned that the whole structure oscillated laterally 4-5 times before fatigue broke the base bolts. The towers fell intact in sections, and they suffered impact damage with the ground.

What had stood for over a century, claiming to be the Eighth Wonder of the World, having carried millions of tons of heavy train loads of coal, passengers and freight, was wiped out by the weakest of tornados. An ominous reminder of man’s frailty compared to the forces of heaven.

It was later estimated that it would cost the state $45-million to safely rebuild the structure, a price few in Harrisburg were willing to pay.

Park officials left the wreckage where it fell, intending to allow the ruins to serve as a reminder of the forces of nature at work.

The 339-acre Kinzua Bridge State Park, located in McKean County, is now home to the reinvented Kinzua Skywalk, as visitors can stroll 600 feet out on the remaining support towers, peer miles out into the Kinzua Gorge, and gaze down through the partial glass platform at the end of the walkway.

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