One of the more impressive stone-arch bridges to ever be built in the United States was the Erie Railroad's Starrucca Viaduct, which spanned a small creek and valley in northeast Pennsylvania. At the time of the bridge's construction, in the mid-19th century, railroads were still in their infancy and were not only just beginning to fan out from east coast cities but also were still developing the engineering techniques and skills required to build complicated and difficult projects like bridges and tunnels. As such, it became no easy task for the Erie to span the valley located near what is now the small town of Lanesboro. However, with the help of a brilliant engineer and an unbelievable sum of money the bridge was completed in just over a year. Today, as is so often the case with stone-arch viaducts, it remains in regular use by the New York, Susquehanna & Western Railway (although the bridge is owned by Norfolk Southern).
The Erie Railroad has its beginnings dating all of the way back to 1832, just five years after the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, when it was chartered that year by the Governor of New York, De Witt Clinton as the New York & Erie Railroad (NY&E) to build a rail line in the southern part of the state linking Piermont, New York with Dunkirk on Lake Erie. It was finally able to complete this main line by 1851. Over the years it acquired, leased, or built new lines and by the late 19th century it had reached points such as Buffalo, Rochester, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis. Having said that, gaining access to these new markets was a very labor intensive and difficult task because of two reorganizations (as the Erie Railway in 1859 and Erie Railroad in 1895) and a proxy fight by Cornelius Vanderbilt (of New York Central fame) to take over the Erie in the mid 1860s (which ultimately failed and the Commodore lost all of his holdings in the railroad).
Building its way northwest from New York City the then NY&E came across Starrucca Creek, which lay in a wide valley that spanned about a quarter-mile. At the time the New York & Erie had a near limitless supply of funds as it was being financed by several wealthy British investors. So, while money was not an issue, finding a way to practically cross the valley was a concern. At the time, and because railroad engineering was still in its youth, few engineers knew of a way to span the crossing. At first the railroad discussed simply creating a giant fill across the valley but decided against it due to the cost and time involved (remember, at that time, there was no heavy machinery to move rock and dirt). Then, the idea of using a bridge was discussed but it also became an issue since there simply wasn't anyone who knew how to design a structure with such height and length.
However, the NY&E's chief contractor and bridge engineer of the time, Julien W. Adams, suggested that the railroad contact James P. Kirkwood (coincidentally who was also Adams' brother-in-law) who was a civil engineer working for the Boston & Albany Railroad during its construction. Kirkwood was a Scottish who had immigrated to the United States in 1834 and not only worked for the B&A but also helped to survey western railroads as well. Upon learning of the NY&E's dilemma and visiting the area Kirkwood concluded that he could indeed build the bridge, which would be a cut-stone arch design, as long as the railroad did not have an issue with what the ultimate cost would be.
Almost immediately work began on what became known as Starrucca Viaduct (it gained its name, of course, from the creek bed it crossed) in 1847. The stone for the bridge was ashlar bluestone, locally quarried about three miles from the site and a temporary railroad was built from the mine to the site to transport the rock. Overall it took 800 workers (mostly of Irish descent) a little over a year to complete the bridge which priced out at $335,000, a staggering amount of money and the most expensive ever built up to that time.
Starrucca Viaduct Specifications
Length - 1,040 Feet
Height - 100 Feet
Deck - 25 Feet To Accommodate Two Tracks
17 Arches At 50 Feet In Length
The double-tracked bridge remained in regular use through the Erie's merger with the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western to form the Erie Lackawanna. When the EL became part of Conrail the new company continued to use the bridge until it came under Norfolk Southern control in June, 1999. NS has since leased this section of the former Erie to the New York, Susquehanna & Western Railway and the bridge continues to see regular use today, more than 160 years since it was completed.
For more information about Starrucca Viaduct please click here. For more reading on the Erie Railroad consider Mike Schafer's Classic American Railroads Volume III. This book, the latest in the series, was published in 2003 and follows up on his original titles, Classic American Railroads and More Classic American Railroads, both of which cover several fabled and well remembered fallen flags (of which the Erie is covered in the third volume). I own all three in this series and can attest to their high quality, so I am sure you won't be disappointed if you decide to purchase one. If you're interested in perhaps purchasing this book please visit the link below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com, the trusted online shopping network.