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.
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 further reading about the bridge's history please click here.
Length - 1,040 Feet
Height - 100 Feet
Deck - 25 Feet To Accommodate Two Tracks
17 Arches At 50 Feet In Length
When the Jefferson Railroad opened in 1872, connecting Carbondale, Pennsylvania with the Erie's main line at Lanesboro, operations here become much more interesting. The little road had been chartered in 1864 and was entirely funded by the Erie. Delaware & Hudson gained trackage rights over the route as an important through connection to Wilkes-Barre and Scranton. While it was difficult to operate with stiff grades and sharp curves it provided interchanged with many of the fabled anthracite roads. The line became part of the the D&H's famous Penn Division and Lanesboro offered a fabulous location to catch meets between Erie/Erie Lackawanna and D&H trains, as the latter passed beneath the former's Starrucca Viaduct. Unfortunately, this all ended in the 1980s when the D&H purchased the former Lackawanna's Scranton-to-Binghamton mainline and diverted all traffic off the Penn in 1982.
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