By, Pam Teel
Did you know that the Kinzua Bridge Viaduct in Pennsylvania was once the highest viaduct in the world? It was constructed as an alternative to laying an additional 8 miles of train track over rough terrain along the line leading to McKean County’s coal, lumber, and oil lands.
Built of wrought iron, the original viaduct was approximately 301 feet high, 2,053 feet long, and weighed 3,105,000 pounds. The towers were a patented design called Phoenix columns. Construction began in 1881 when the stone pillars were laid on the valley floor. The whole project was completed in 1882. It was a big task for such a big structure to be completed in so short a time.
As years went by and trains got longer and heavier, it became necessary to rebuild the entire bridge with steel to accommodate the extra weight from the loader train cars. It took 150 men working 10 hour shifts to complete the makeover in just 105 days but they neglected to change over one important thing. They didn’t change the wrought iron couplers over to steel on the stone piers on the ground and during a tornado in 2003, the anchor belts snapped in two and the bridge was picked up and moved around by the wind. They lost more than half of the bridge. If they only replaced every component with steel, the bridge might have had a chance.
Freight travel had already stopped on the bridge in 1953. In 1963 Governor Scanton created the Kinzua Bridge State Park, which officially opened seven years later. Excursion trains were allowed to go back and forth over the bridge from Marienville Pa. through the Allegheny Mountains for some time but all trains were barred in 2001 when engineers found that parts of the steel structures were rusted through.
In 2003, work began to restore the bridge but Mother Nature intervened. 11 towers from the center of the bridge were torn from their concrete bases and twisted by the winds. They still remain today on the valley floor for all to see the destructive force of Mother Nature.
A skywalk was built in 2011 using the remaining part of the viaduct, allowing park visitors to walk a portion of the Kinzua Bridge. The pedestrian walk- way leads to an observation deck that gives a towering view of the Kinzua Creek Valley and a glimpse of the twisted steel at the valley floor. It also has a n area where there is a glass floor.
The Kinzua State Park has picnic areas, hiking trails, educational programs, tent camping, hike/bike areas and many scenic overlooks. It’s located at 296 Viaduct Rd., Mt. Jewett, Pa.
The name Kinzua comes from the Iroquois. It means Fish on a Spear. Kinzua Bridge State Park is close to three state parks, where visitors can enjoy recreation, education, and other activities. Elk State Park -The 3,192-acre Elk State Park offers a short hiking trail, picnic tables, hunting, and camping. Bendigo State Park and Chapman State Park are also close by.