a history & pictorial
The First Suspension Bridge
historic view drawing of the First Suspension Bridge
In 1846, permission was received from the Governments of Upper Canada and the State of New York for the formation of two companies with the ability to construct a bridge at or near the Falls. They were the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge Company of Canada and the International Bridge Company of New York. Both companies would build and own the bridge jointly.
In the Fall of 1847, the bridge companies commissioned Charles Ellet Jr. to construct a bridge at a site selected along the Niagara River. This site was located along the Niagara Gorge above the beginning of the Whirlpool Rapids and was the narrowest point from shoreline to shoreline. This bridge would connect the site of what would become the Village of Elgin (now Niagara Falls).
The first obstacle was to create a line of communication followed by a solid line order to establish a link to the American side. The width of the gorge was 800 feet (244m) apart. It was too dangerous to attempt to establish this link by water. It occurred to someone that kite-flying might be the answer to this difficult problem.
A contest was held with a five dollar prize being offered to the person who could fly a kite across the Niagara Gorge. A young American boy named Homan Walsh won the contest on the second day of the competition flying his kite from the Canadian shoreline. The string of his kite was fastened to a tree on the American shoreline and a light cord attached to it pulled across. Next came a heavier cord, then a rope and finally a wire cable composed of a number of strands of number ten wire which was the beginning of the new bridge.
A fifty (50) foot (15.2m) wooden tower was erected on each bank and wire cable measuring 1,190 feet (359.6m) was passed over the top of the towers and anchored. Initially a metal basket was pulled from side to side. The metal basket designed by Judge Huellet, looked like two high backed rocking chairs facing each other. The first trip was made on May 12th 1848. One hundred and twenty-five people crossed each day in the basket contraption for one dollar return fare.
A foot bridge three feet (0.91m) wide was soon built allowing a great number of persons to cross the Niagara River Gorge daily for a fee a twenty-five cents return fare.
On July 26th 1848, the first Niagara Suspension Bridge was completed. Charles Ellet Jr. was the first to ride across in a horse and carriage. It was officially opened to the public on August 1st 1848. This bridge was 762 feet long (232m) and 8 feet (2.4m) wide. It had a heavy oak plank roadway suspended 220 feet above the river below. Although it swayed and dipped under a heavy load or the wind, there was no record of any accident or injury occurring to a person crossing.
The bridge consisted of four massive wooden towers each 80 feet (24.3m) high, two on each side of the bank from which cables were suspended were built. There were four cables - each composed of approximately 120 strand Number 10 wire. Each cable had been stretched at an equal tension at each side, with wire passing around an iron yoke at each end as a means of anchoring the cables to the rock. Suspending wires connected the cross cable to the wooden superstructure below.
Soon after completion
of this bridge, Charles Ellet Jr. and his brother began charging a
pedestrians and carriage traffic a fare for crossing the bridge in each
direction without the permission of the Bridge Directors. Charles Ellet
Jr. was keeping the money generated from the fares. In October 1848, a
dispute over the collection of fares and who had the right of collection
erupted between the Bridge Directors and Ellet . During one altercation
at the bridge, Ellet's brother and several other sympathizers were
arrested. This dispute was resolved only after a court order was
obtained against Charles Ellet Jr. and his family.
Charles Ellet Jr.
Charles Ellet was born on January 1st 1810 at Penn’s Manor, Pennsylvania. He was raised and educated at Bristol, Pennsylvania.
From his earliest years he had shown an unusual talent and fondness for mathematics. At the age of sixteen, Ellet had far outgrown the scope of the school's mathematical curriculum.
Charles Ellet began his career as a surveyor and assistant engineer on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal 1828.
From 1831–1832, Ellet, traveled to Europe, enrolled at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, France and studied the various engineering works taking place in France, Germany, and Britain.
After a course of study at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, France, Charles secured employment on various engineering works first as an assistant at the James River project and soon afterward as chief engineer of the Kanawha Canal project.
His attention at this time was devoted chiefly to the study of methods of inland communication, more particularly suspension bridges.
Charles Ellet was married about 1840 to Elvira Augusta Stuart. They had four children: Mary Virginia, Charles Rivers, Cornelia Daniel, and William Ellet.
In 1841-1842, he constructed the world's first long-span wire-cable suspension bridge suspension bridge across the Shuylkill River at Fairmont, Pennsylvania. It was the first of its kind in America.
Ellet prepared plans for many other bridges including one across the Mississippi at St. Louis, one across the Connecticut at Middletown, and one across the Potomac at Georgetown.
After a period as chief engineer and president of the Schuylkill Navigation Company, Ellet designed and built the first suspension bridge across the Niagara River downstream of Niagara Falls.
Following his success and disappointment at Niagara Falls, Charles Ellet built what was then the longest single span bridge in the world, over the Ohio river at Wheeling, West Virginia.
Ellet introduced a technique he had learned in France of binding small wires together to make the cables. The central span of the suspension bridge over the Ohio River was at 1,010 feet (308 meters); the longest ever built when completed 1849. The bridge failed under wind forces in 1854, however, Ellet's towers remained standing and the bridge was rebuilt.
In 1850 he was called upon by the war department to make surveys and investigation for the preparation of adequate plans for protecting the delta of the Mississippi River.
Having previously been employed on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Charles Ellet now became chief engineer of the Central Railroad of Virginia.
In1853, Ellet built a railroad over the Blue Ridge at RockFish Gap, which was probably, the most remarkable line then in existence. It crossed the mountain at a height of 1,845 feet, was eight miles long, and had a maximum grading of 296 feet per mile and minimum radius of curvature of 234 feet.
Following the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, Charles Ellet designed and developed a steam-powered ship for the Union (Northern) forces to ram the Confederates on the Mississippi River.
The Secretary of War appointed Charles Ellet, Colonel of Engineers and commissioned him to buy vessels and convert them into rams.
On June 6th 1862, Ellet led a fleet of nine of these rams in the Battle of Memphis. Here, a battle was fought, in which, Ellet in commanding the war ship "Queen of the West" rammed the Confederate ship "General Lovell", cutting her nearly in half, and causing her to sink in a few seconds.
The Union side was victorious, but in the course of the fighting Charles Ellet was fatally wounded.
At the moment of the collision, Charles Ellet, who was standing on deck in an exposed position, was struck in the knee by a bullet that caused his death.
Colonel Charles Ellet died at Cairo, Illinois on June 21, 1862.
The Railway Suspension Bridge
John A. Roebling, a German born and educated structural engineer had immigrated to America. Here, Roebling promoted his idea of a wire cable for the construction of suspension bridges rather than the use of chains. Roebling became the first to manufacture wire rope in North America.
Prior to this undertaking, Roebling had built one smaller suspension bridge and five suspension aqueducts.
When Charles Ellet Jr. had successfully submitted his design to built the first suspension bridge over the Niagara Gorge with a single deck, John Roebling had submitted a design for a double deck bridge to create a stronger structure with the capacity of much greater traffic. One deck would be dedicated to rail traffic while the other for carriage and pedestrian traffic. Roebling's design was not accepted in 1847 and Roebling's plan for a suspension bridge for trains met with much opposition. Most thought that a suspension bridge would not be capable of standing up to the weight and stresses of a locomotive and other rail cars. Roebling was of the belief that no other type of bridge was suitable for the Niagara Gorge and that the suspension bridge was the future for long span bridges.
In 1851, with a need for a train bridge across the Niagara Gorge, the Bridge Company selected Roebling's original bridge design over those submitting by Samuel Keefer and Edward W. Serrell.
Work began on the new superstructure in September of 1852.
The second bridge had two stone pylons at each end to support the four large iron cables. The railway deck was built above the carriage floor and both were joined by a latticed truss of wood construction forming what appeared to be a long narrow cage across the gorge. A large number of guy wires from the bridge to the cliff wall were utilized to counteract the effects of the wind.
Two men died on October 10th 1854 during the bridge construction when a scaffold holding four men collapsed.
On March 8th 1855, the first locomotive named "London" crossed the bridge. It was one of the largest engines of its time, weighing twenty-three (23) tons. It crossed at a speed of eight (8) miles per hour (mph) and caused a deflection of only three and one half inches at the center of the span.
The bridge cost four hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($450,000) and became one of the worlds most famous. Over a period of twenty-five (25) years, an average of fifty trains a week crossed this bridge.
John A. Roebling
later became famous in his bridge designs with his building of the
Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. Roebling died during its construction
and never saw its completion.
John Augustus Roebling
John Augustus Roebling was born on June 12, 1806, in Muhlhausen, Germany. Here he was raised and educated.
Roebling later attended the Royal Polytechnic School at Berlin. At this Institute, his course included architecture and engineering, bridge construction, hydraulics, languages, and philosophy.
Upon his graduation in 1826, John Roebling worked for three years working for the government. He spent most of this time on road building in Westphalia.
In 1831, Roebling emigrated to the United States and settled in the area of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Here he purchased a tract of wild land, and devoted himself for several years to reclaiming it, and building up a smal1 country town, which he would call Saxonburg.
The life of a farmer proved rather monotonous to Roebling, the engineer. At this the first opportunity Roebling took jobs related to his chosen profession.
John Roebling began his career in America as an assistant engineer on the slack-water navigation of the Beaver River, a tributary of the Ohio River. This was followed by a job working on the Sandy and Beaver Canal, a work intended to connect the waters of Lake Erie with the Ohio River, but never completed.
The last employment on works of this kind was on the upper Allegheny River, where Roebling located a feeder for the Pennsylvania State Canal. Roebling was employed for three years in surveying and locating three railway lines across the Allegheny Mountains
John Roebling pioneered the manufacture of wire rope in America. It was in this manufacture that his necessary experience was gained, in regard to the nature and qualities of wire that was to be brought into play in the construction of the first suspension aqueduct in the United States.
The general idea of suspension bridges had been a favorite with Roebling.
In 1844 at Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, Roebling was hired to replace an outdated aqueduct. The wooden aqueduct of the Pennsylvania Canal across the Allegheny River, had become so unsafe that it was required to be removed. A new structure was needed to be built The project was completed on time by Roebling. It was opened on May, 1845.
This aqueduct comprised seven spans of 163 feet each consisting of a wooden trunk to hold the water, and supported by a continuous wire cable on each side, of seven inches diameter.
In 1846, John A. Roebling built the Monongahela River Suspension Bridge at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This bridge consisted of eight spans of 188 feet each, supported by two four-and one-half inch cables, which, in this instance, were made on land separately for each span, and then hoisted in place from flatboats.
In this bridge the pendulum principle was applied to counterbalance adjoining spans under the action of unequal loads.
In 1848, John Roebling built a series of four suspension aqueducts on the line of the Delaware and Hudson Canal, connecting the anthracite coal regions of Pennsylvania with the tidewater of the Hudson River.
They were all completed in the course of two years, as follows:
1) Lackawaxen Aqueduct, 2 spans of 115 feet each, and two 7-inch cables
2) Delaware Aqueduct, 4 spans of 134 feet each, and two 8-inch cables
3) High Falls Aqueduct, 1 span of 145 feet, and two 8 1/2-inch cables
4) Neversink Aqueduct, 1 span of 170 feet, and two 8 1/2-inch cables
During this period Mr. Roebling moved establishing his company and his residence in Trenton, New Jersey.
Roebling’s attention was then drawn to Niagara Falls where a need for a suspension bridge was required to connect the New York Central and Great Western Railway across the Niagara River Gorge.
A company had been formed several years before for that purpose, and had selected Charles Ellet to build the first suspension bridge at Niagara Falls.
Under Ellet’s guidance, a temporary bridge was erected at the site for foot travel and light carriages. This was in use several years, being subsequently removed.
When the time arrived, for beginning the main construction work, Charles Ellet had become embroiled in financial difficulties with the bridge company. Charles Ellet left Niagara as a result of this dispute.
John A. Roebling was invited to make plans and estimates for the bridge, and was at the same time appointed the engineer.
In 1851, Roebling began building this suspension bridge. Work continued without interruption until March of 1855.
Following completion of this bridge, the first locomotive and train crossed a railway suspension bridge, and it may be safely said that up to the present day it is still the only example of the kind of any magnitude.
The bridge had a span of 825 feet (251.4m), and was supported by four wire cables of ten-inch diameter each and had two decks: the lower deck was devoted to vehicles and the upper deck was devoted to the railway traffic. The two decks were connected by struts and diagonal tension rods, so that the superstructure formed a continuous. hollow girder, stiff enough to support the action of rolling load; the weight, however, being supported by the cables.
Simultaneous with the progress of the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge, Roebling began construction of another railway suspension bridge across the Kentucky River, on the line of the Southern Railroad leading from Cincinnati to Chattanooga.
The gorge of the Chattanooga River is deeper and wider than that of the Niagara Gorge, requiring a clear span of no less than 1,224 feet (373m).
The girder principle adopted was essentially different from that carried out in the Niagara Bridge. No floor for vehicles was required in this case. Before construction could be completed the Southern Railway went bankrupt, immediately stopping work on the bridge.
In the fall of 1856, work was resumed on the bridge for a short time before running into financial difficulty again.
In the meantime, John A. Roebling secured the building of another replacement suspension bridge at Pittsburgh to take the place of the old wooden bridge which had been built in 1818, and now no longer safe.
The removal of the old structure, and construction of the new permanent work required three years, from 1858-60 inclusive.
The total length of the this suspension bridge was 1,030 feet (313.9m), divided into two spans of 344 feet (105m) each, and two side spans of 171 feet (52m) each. The floor had a width of forty feet (12m), included two sidewalks, ten feet wide (3m). The framework of the superstructure was composed essentially of iron girders, with a floor of wood.
Ornamental open towers of cast iron support the cables, four in number, two of seven-inch diameter, attached to the floor between the sidewalks and carriage-way, and two of four-inch diameter cables attached to the ends of the floor-beams. In addition to the cables there is an effective system of stays.
When this bridge being completed, all construction by Roebling was stopped for a couple of years by the outbreak of the Civil War.
In 1863, operations were resumed on the suspension bridge at Cincinnati. It was completed in 1867.
During 1867, John A. Roebling was chosen as chief engineer of the proposed Brooklyn Suspension Bridge in Brooklyn, New York. He immediately entered upon the work of preparing the plans and specifications, and was superintending the initial operations of its construction when John A. Roebling was fatally injured during an on the job construction accident on July 6th 1867.
While John Roebling and his son, Washington A. Roebling were surveying near the Fulton ferry slip, a ferry-boat crushed of one of Roebling’s feet between the piling and rack of one of the slips. Washington Roebling sustained serious head injuries.
Roebling died of lockjaw in spite of medical treatment sixteen days later.
The Brooklyn Bridge designed by John A. Roebling was later completed by his son, Washington Roebling.
John Augustus Roebling died in Brooklyn, New York on July 22, 1869.
The Third Suspension Bridge
The work of renovating the Railway Suspension Bridge was carried out by Leffert L. Buck, an American engineer who later went on to become famous for his design of great steel arch bridge which eventually replaced the suspension bridge.
The beauty of the second bridge was sacrificed for one of much greater strength. Increasing trade and commerce demanded that wood and stone be replaced with steel. Slender steel pylons replaced the thick stone towers. Steel beams and trusses replaced the wooden frame work.
The entire renovation was completed by 1886. No accidents occurred during construction and with little interruption to rail traffic.
This new structure was capable of carrying an increased load from 300 tons to 350 tons which was much more than any train and load was capable of weighing. All that remained of the second bridge was the anchorage's and cables but they too had been overhauled and improved.
This bridge continued
in service for ten years, when pressure from the railway company and the
economy began calling for the design and building of a more modern steel
arch type bridge.
The First Steel Arch Bridge
Lower Arch Bridge (Whirlpool Rapids Bridge)
Again this new bridge would be constructed around the existing structure as to not interrupt railway traffic.
Two halves were built out from the gorge wall in cantilever form, each anchored solidly to prevent it from falling into the gorge below. It was constructed under the old bridge which rested on top of the arch so that at the completion of the new and before the removal of the old, there would be two complete bridges built into each other. Once completed the old suspension cables and towers were removed as well as any other parts which were not incorporated into the new bridge.
During construction, no train was delayed and the highway floor was closed only two hours per day.
The bridge was completed on August 27th 1897. Extensive tests proved that a steel arch bridge possessed much greater strength than ever anticipated. This bridge continues in use to this day. With only minor changes from the original, it is capable of handling the heaviest of loads and bridge engineers do not indicate how many years the future life span of this bridge might have.
Leffert Lefferts Buck
Leffert Lefferts Buck was born on February 5th 1837 in Canton, New York. Here he was raised and educated. Buck attended St. Lawrence University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Buck graduated in 1868, with a Civil Engineering degree.
In 1877, Buck undertook the reconstruction of the Niagara Railway Suspension Bridge. He developed unique methods which allowed the work to proceed without interruption of the railroad traffic using this bridge. During the following eight years, Buck ensured the cable anchors were repaired and reinforced. The wooden trusses were replaced with iron and steel. The stone towers were replaced with steel tower, leaving the cables as the only original element.
In 1881, Buck was awarded the Norman Medal of Excellence by the American Society of Civil Engineering (ASCE ).
Leffert L. Buck’s professional achievements include the reconstruction of John Roebling’s Niagara Railroad Suspension Bridge over the Niagara Gorge.
In 1897, when increasing railroad loads made this bridge obsolete and a new replacement necessary, Leffert Buck again employed unique methods which allowed the new spandrel braced arch structure spanning 804 feet (245m). The new span was constructed on the same centerline as the old suspension bridge. As this construction was carried out, there was no interruption of railroad traffic.
Buck pioneered the use of steel arch bridge structures in the United States. In 1890, Buck built a three hinged spandrel braced steel arch bridge at Driving Park Avenue in Rochester, New York.
Buck later went on to build a pair of two hinged steel arch bridges across the Niagara River Gorge.
Leffert Buck designed and directed construction of the first Verrugas Viaduct which was built amongst the Andes Mountain range for the Lima and Oroya Railroad in Peru. In 1873, when completed, it became the highest bridge in the world.
Two of Leffert Buck’s bridges had achieved the distinction of being the longest span in that era. They first bridge, was the Upper Steel Arch Bridge (also known as the Honeymoon Bridge or Falls View Bridge) at Niagara Falls with a span of 840 feet (256m). The second bridge, was the second East River Suspension Bridge (also known as the Williamsburg Suspension Bridge) in New York City with a span of 1,600 feet (488m). When completed in 1903, this bridge became the first all metal Suspension bridge of its kind. This became the last and largest construction project that Leffert Buck became involved.
In 1901, Buck received the Telford Premium Award by the British International Civil Engineering Society (British ICE).
Leffert Buck died at the age of 72 years at Hastings on the Hudson, New York on July 17th 1909. Buck was buried at the Evergreen Cemetery in Canton, New York .
In 1992, Leffert Lefferts Buck had two of his bridges designated as International Historic Engineering Landmarks.
The Michigan Central Railway Cantilever Bridge
A historic view picture of the Cantilever Railroad Bridge
Mr. Vanderbilt owned the Michigan Central Railway and had controlling interest in the Canadian Southern Railway. In lieu of paying rent, he decided to build a new bridge. Vanderbilt formed the Niagara River Bridge Company and received a charter to build a new bridge.
On April 9th 1883, the Niagara River Bridge Company signed a contract with the Central Bridge Works Company of Buffalo New York to build this bridge. The chief engineer was Charles C. Schneider.
This first bridge of cantilever design, was built across the Niagara Gorge by engineer Edmund Hayes, of the Central Bridge Works Company, at a site just south of the Lower Arch Bridge.
Construction of this bridge began on April 15th 1883. According to the Niagara Falls Gazette newspaper, the cantilever construction used at Niagara Falls was the first time it had been used in America . Contrary to this report the first cantilever bridge in American was designed by Charles Smith for the Cincinnati Southern Railroad to cross the Kentucky River. It was built in 1876-1877.
Cantilever was defined as erection by overhang. The contractors were working under a deadline of November 1st. Every day afterwards, the contractor had to pay a penalty of $500 per day.
The 40.3 meter (132.6 feet) high towers were completed on October 11th. The contractor soon realized that it would not be possible to complete the bridge and railway tracks by November 1st. They anticipated they could put 7.6 meters (25 feet) sections onto each side of the bridge every two days and connect the center span in five days.
Each cantilever measuring 99 meters (325 feet) long and 7.9 meters (26 feet) high where they were anchored were in place by November 18th. Two 7.5 meter (25 feet) long sections were attached and extended from each cantilever. The center span was measured and sent to the company's Buffalo, New York plant for fabrication.
Each end was made of a section constructed of steel extending from each shoreline nearly half way across the gorge. Each section was supported near its center by a steel tower from which extended two lever arms, one reaching the shore while the other extended over the river 175 feet (53m) beyond the towers.
By the outer arm having no support and being subjected the same as the shore arm to the weight of the trains, a counter advantage is given to the shore arm being firmly anchored to the rock on shore. The towers on each side rose from the water level below. The bridge span was 495 feet (151m). The ends of the cantilevers extended 395 feet (120m) from the abutments leaving a gap of 120 feet (36.5m) which was filled by an ordinary truss type bridge hung form the ends of the cantilever.
Provisions had been built into this bridge to allow for expansion and contraction, allowing the ends to move freely as the temperature changed. The total length of the bridge was 906 feet (276m). It had a double track and had the capacity to bear the weight of two trains crossing at the same time producing a side pressure equal to a 75 mile per hour wind. The railway was 240 feet (73m) above the Niagara River.
On November 21st, media reports indicated that the bridge had been completed, linking Canada and the USA together.
On December 1st 1883, the bridge was officially completed. The bridge had cost $700,000 dollars.
On December 6th 1883 at 11:41 a.m., the first crossing of this new bridge was made. It consisted of an engine pulling a tender and passenger car. The passenger car carried a number of dignitaries including railway Superintendent G. H. Burrows.
After the bridge was declared safe, a second train with newspaper reporters aboard crossed soon thereafter.
A plaque adorned the American side of
this bridge and read:
Length of Bridge 906 feet
On the morning of December 20th 1883, the day a ceremony by invitation took place at the bridge, a team of seven heavy freight trains crossed the bridge without incident. At the official appointed time of 12:08 p.m. before a gathered crowd estimated at more than 10,000 persons, twenty locomotives pulling loaded gravel cars crossed the bridge in two groups consisting of ten locomotives and twelve loaded gravel cars. Each train crossed the bridge simultaneously from opposite ends. When both trains passed each other, both sets of track were fully occupied. The bridge successfully passed this load test. When the trains had completed their respective journeys they blew their whistles in celebration.
A banquet for the 4,000 invited guests was held at the Monteagle House on the American side. while the remaining crowds were allowed to walk back and forth across the bridge.
The Cantilever Bridge
remained in operation for more than forty years until much heavier
modern trains came along requiring the building of the much stronger
steel arch bridge.
The Michigan Central Railway Steel Arch Bridge
1925 - present
current view of the Michigan Central Railway Bridge
This bridge was designed by William Perry Taylor. Taylor designed a two hinged spandrel braced bridge. This was the same type of bridge that Leffert L. Buck had suggested building prior to the cantilever bridge being chosen.
The new steel arch bridge was built 100 feet (30m) closer to the Lower Arch Bridge than the Cantilever Bridge.
Mr. J.L. Delming, of the Michigan Central Railway was the chief engineer for the building of this bridge. Mr. Olaf Hoff was the projects consulting engineer.
The bridge was completed and opened without ceremony February 21st 1925.
As of today, this bridge remains operational under the ownership of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Originally built for the Michigan Central Railway, this steel arch bridge has had many owners throughout the years including New York Central Railway, Penn Central Railway, and Con Rail.
In 1990, this bridge
was purchased by the Canadian Pacific Railway.
The Municipality as a condition of the purchase of the CN CP Railway Corridor has the responsibility for the costs of demolition of the International Railway Bridge by December 2016. This condition is subject to being waived if the bridge is subsequently sold to a third party or if demolition procedures have not commenced by CN/CP prior to December 2016.
The Municipality has set aside a reserve fund Capital Operations amount of $4,000,000 (4 million dollars) increasing each year by the amount of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for this purpose. In addition the Municipality is committed to reimburse CN/CP the lesser of the actual maintenance costs incurred on the International Railway Bridge or $100,000 on an annual basis until December 2016.
The First Falls View Suspension Bridge
The Niagara Falls
Suspension Bridge Company was chartered on March 31st 1855. The first
Board of Directors consisted of nine members from differing regions of
New York State. The only representative from Niagara Falls, new York was
A. S. Porter. Nothing was done by this company and on April 3rd 1867,
the charter was revived and the number of directors reduced to five. On
May 22nd 1868, the Clifton Suspension Bridge Company was chartered by
the Parliament of Canada. On July 21st 1868, both companies entered into
an agreement by which they had the same stockholders and their interests
The first bridge was built on a site known as "Falls View". It was located 300 yards north of the American Falls and within sight of the mighty Horseshoe Falls.
Built by Samuel Keeffer, this bridge was of the suspension type with a timber deck and with stiffening truss and timber towers supporting the cables at each end of the bridge. The towers measuring 100 feet (30m) tall were built of 12 inch by 12 inch pine timbers. Each leg of the tower consisted of four timbers and the 16 were grouped together under the saddle plate for the support of the main cables. Guy wires were run from the bridge span to shore anchors to prevent the bridge from swaying.
On Tuesday December 29th 1868, the flooring of the new bridge was completed. Residents were invited to examine the bridge for free until the formal opening.
This bridge was completed and officially opened on January 2nd 1869. The first carriage to pass over the bridge was drawn by four horses driven by Captain Filkins. The carriage contained Hollis White, Vivus V. Smith, Samuel Keefer, and the Honorable William Pool. They were followed across by a large number of pedestrians.
The officers of the company at that time were: John T. Bush of Clifton (president), Hollis White of Niagara Falls, New York (vice-president), Delos Dewolf of Oswego (treasurer), Vivus V. Smith of Syracuse ( superintendent & secretary) and W. G. Fargo of Buffalo, New York.
On the Sunday following the official opening of the bridge and estimated 10,000 trips were made over the bridge. The only other day which came close to this record crossing day was July 15th 1885, when the State Reservation Park was formally opened to the public.
The bridge deck was only 10 feet wide so traffic could only pass in one direction at a time. As a carriage entered the bridge from one end, a bell would ring at the other end to notify them that a carriage was about to cross. This sometimes necessitated a long traffic lineup waiting to cross the bridge. Traffic consisted mainly of hack drivers and market gardeners. No electric street cars were in existence.
In 1872, the sides were enclosed with wood and corrugated metal and a steam powered "Otis" elevator was installed in the Canadian tower to take tourists to an enclosed observation deck at the top of the tower. Tourists could then walk up a flight of stairs to an outdoor promenade on the roof of the tower. The elevator ride cost 10 cents.
A few years later the towers were reconstructed. The elevator was abandoned because it was not a financial success.
In 1872 the wood in the bottom chord was replaced with steel and in 1884 the wooden towers were replaced with steel.
In October of 1887, work began to widen the bridge and it was completed on June 13th 1888. The extensive renovation allowed the replacement of all the wooden components with steel. Work on the new structure began at both ends of the bridge. Two crews of men worked night and day. On the night of June 12th 1888, the last part of the old structure was removed and the final connection made with new parts. The entire 1,268 foot (386m) long span was a focal point of all who visited Niagara Falls. The bridge deck was expanded to 17 feet (5m) wide, permitting vehicle to pass in either direction at the same time.
The Falls View Suspension Bridge Disaster
The last person to cross this bridge was Doctor J.W. Hodge who answered a call from a sick patient crossed into Canada at about 10:00 p.m. on January 9th. He began his return journey home across the bridge at 11:30 p.m.. Doctor Hodge described the wind as hurricane force and wrote that part of the bridge structure had pulled away from some of the stays. As Doctor Hodge crossed the bridge, the deck rose and fell by 20 feet and at the same time twisted up to 45° degrees. Blinded by the driven rain and holding on for his life, Doctor Hodge felt he wouldn't live long enough to complete his journey. Doctor Hodge was miraculously able to make his way across the bridge to safety. A woman who resided in Canada is said to have followed Doctor Hodge across the bridge before its final destruction.
The damage loss of this bridge was estimated at $60,000.
The Second Falls View Suspension Bridge
A historic picture of the Falls View Suspension Bridge
On March 22nd 1889, construction on the 2nd Falls View Bridge was commenced. It was to be a duplicate of the first bridge. This bridge was completed and opened on May 7th 1889. The roadway of this bridge was 17 feet wide. The erection work took only 38 days to complete. This was only 117 days after the bridge disaster.
G. M. Harrington was the construction superintendent and George W. McNulty was the project engineer.
During construction, one fatality occurred. On April 21st 1889 at 10:00 a.m., Carmen Mundi was working on the floor of the bridge when he fell 190 feet to his death to the river below. His body was never recovered.
The strength and stability of the new bridge was tested during another gale force wind storm during the second week of January 1890. The bridge was substantially damaged but survived intact.
Within 10 years, this
bridge became the victim of the transportation revolution. With the
development of hydro electric generating stations at Niagara Falls,
transportation changed as well. New electric street car/trolleys began
service along both sides of the Niagara River. With the construction of
electric roads came the demand for an international connection. The
electric car was very heavy and none of the bridges crossing the gorge
were strong enough to handle such a load. As a result, a decision was
made to replace the 2nd Falls View Bridge with an upper suspension
bridge with a steel arch.
The Upper Steel Arch Bridge
Honeymoon Bridge (Falls View Bridge)
1897 - 1938
The bridge was
designed by Engineer, Leffert L. Buck.
The bridge was a two hinged arch with a latticed rib and its span was 840 feet (256m) long. Trusses connected the main span to the top of each shoreline. The abutments for this bridge extended to the base of the gorge and were situated next to the rivers edge.
The bridge had one road level which provided a double track for electric car service and was sufficiently wide to provide ample room for carriages and pedestrians as well. This bridge was situated just north of the American Falls and was the fourth bridge at this site. It provided an excellent viewing platform. The method of its erection was very similar to the first Whirlpool Arch Bridge. The suspension bridge components were removed after the arch was erected.
suspension bridge was moved to Queenston - Lewiston where it was
re-erected providing a single electric car track and room for other
vehicles as well. It became the second Queenston-Lewiston Bridge. This
bridge remained in service until 1962 when it was replaced with a larger
and more modern bridge. The suspension bridge was sold to a Buffalo, New
York firm and dismantled.
The bridge had a wooden floor which became very slippery when wet. In one such accident in 1930, an American motorist crossing the bridge into Canada applied the brakes of his automobile and skidded off the bridge and into the gorge to his death.
The Upper Steel Arch Bridge Disaster
Honeymoon Bridge (Falls View Bridge)
These precautions seemed sufficient until January 23rd 1938, when a sudden wind storm on Lake Erie sent a deluge of ice down river and over the Falls. Within twelve hours the river below the Falls was jammed with ice of such enormous proportions that the ice pressure pushing against the bridge abutments and the hinge supports of the arch caused severe structural damage. It was only a matter of time until the bridge would collapse.
The bridge remained intact for several days, drawing thousands of people who came to wait for the end of the bridge to come. The end of the Upper Steel Arch Bridge (Honeymoon Bridge) came at 4:20 p.m. on January 27th 1938, when the span broke free and fell into the gorge onto the ice on the river below. The ice had pushed the bridge away from its abutment on the American side causing the bridge to be pulled of its abutment on the Canadian shore.
The fell to the river in one piece. On February 2nd, salvage operations began with attempts to break the bridge into four parts and to remove the debris lying on the slopes of the gorge walls.
For safety sake the span was broken into two pieces by use of dynamite. The two pieces of the center span of the bridge remained on the ice until April 12th-13th 1938 when the ice broke apart and the two pieces disappeared under the surface.
On April 12th 1938 at 7:10 a.m., the American section of the Falls View Bridge sank below the water surface.
On April 12th 1938 at 8:10 a.m., the center section of this bridge sank into the river.
On April 12th 1938 at 3:45 p.m. (some say 3:25 p.m.) the remaining Canadian portion of this bridge began floating downriver on top of an ice flow. As the ice flow reached the area of the Niagara River opposite Otter Street (Canadian street) and the Niagara Falls (New York) Waste Disposal Plant, this section rolled off of the flow and sank into the water into what is believed to be the deepest part of the Niagara River.
The Rainbow Bridge (Steel Arch)
On August 12th 1938, the first meeting of the newly formed Niagara Falls Bridge Commission took place in Niagara Falls, New York. Fred M. Krull, Will A. Cannon and Samuel S. Johnson were appointed by New York State Governor, Herbert Lehman to represent the State of New York. Canadian members appointed to this board were current serving members of the Niagara Parks Commission. They were T. B. McQuesten, Archie Hanes and C. Ellison Kaumeyer and would represent the Province of Ontario.
With joint Government of Ontario/New York approval, the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission became responsible for the administration and maintenance of all the international bridges crossing the Niagara River.
Soon after their creation, the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission formed a plan to finance, construct and operate new bridge over the Niagara Gorge to replace the Honeymoon Bridge. The new bridge was to be named the "Rainbow Bridge".
On November 15th 1938, Samuel Johnson, vice-chairman of the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission announced that Edward P. Lupfer, Inc. an engineering firm in Buffalo, New York would design the new bridge. Mr. Shortridge Hardesty of the firm Waddell & Hardesty would be appointed consulting engineer.
In 1939, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, on a visit to Niagara Falls dedicated the site of the Rainbow Bridge. A monument commemorating this occasion was erected on the Canadian shore.
Construction on the Rainbow Bridge began on May 4th 1940 at a site approximately 550 feet (168m) north of the previous Honeymoon Bridge site. At this point the Rainbow Bridge was one thousand (1,000) feet (305m) north of the American Falls. The Niagara Gorge is 200 feet (60m) deep and approximately one thousand (1,000) feet (305m) wide. The water current under this bridge averages 26-30 miles per hour. The water depth is in excess of 175 feet (53m). In one minute it is estimated that six billion (6,000,000,000) pounds of water cross under the Rainbow Bridge.
The span of this bridge is 950 feet (289.5m). Each of the main arch abutments are located 50 feet (15m) from the rivers edge and 50 feet (15m) above the surface of the water. The abutments and the approach spans rest on solid rock on the sides of the gorge and are high enough to avoid a similar catastrophe that had occurred to the Honeymoon Bridge.
The main span of this hinge less arch type bridge, consisted of two steel box girder arches or ribs spaced 56 feet (17m) apart. Each arch is made up of 24 sections, 12 feet (4m) high and each weighing 49 to 75 tons. Approximately 3500 tons of steel were used in the two ribs and 2,000 additional tons of steel in the superstructure and decking. The two ribs are braced together with steel members for rigidity and to resist wind pressures. Steel spandrel columns, resting on the arch ribs, support steel floor beams, stringers and the concrete deck of the roadway above.
With all the sections in place, a closing section of steel measuring approximately eleven inches was used to join the 475 foot (145m) sections extending from each shore. This was later replaced with a permanent piece designed for temperature expansion and contraction and was machined to a tolerance of within one-one-hundredth of an inch. With this piece in place, the arch became self supporting upon its abutments. The deck of this bridge is 202 feet (61.5m) above the water surface and with the approaches measures 1,450 feet (442m) long. There are two - 22 feet (7m) wide roadways separated by a four foot (1.2m) wide median with a ten foot (3m) wide sidewalk along the south side of the bridge facing the Falls.
During construction, life nets placed under the bridge caught those workers who accidentally fell from the structure so that their was no loss of life.
The official opening
of the Rainbow Bridge took place on November 1st 1941.
The First Queenston-Lewiston Suspension Bridge
In 1824, Francis Hall settled in Queenston with his family from Scotland. Hall was an engineer. Soon after his arrival, Hall was commissioned to design and build a monument to Major General Sir Isaac Brock at Queenston Heights. That same year, Hall proposed the building of a bridge over the Niagara Gorge between Queenston and Lewiston however there was no support in Hall's proposal.
In August of 1836, the Suspension Bridge Company was formed and financing begun. In 1849, the Queenston Suspension Bridge Company received its charter.
The suspension bridge construction began in 1850 under the direction of engineer Edward W. Serrell. Thomas W. Griffith of New York was the construction engineer. Samuel Zimmerman was the Canadian masonry contractor and Mr. Hanson was the American masonry contractor.
The first cable was taken across the river by a steam boat.
The Queenston - Lewiston Suspension Bridge was completed on March 20th 1851. The bridge had a span of 841 feet (257m) and was 20 feet (6m) wide. The suspension cables were 1040 feet (317 m) long. The bridge would allow the crossing of horse & buggy and pedestrian traffic. It cost 25 cents to cross the bridge.
This bridge had cost an estimated $40,000 to build.
On February 3rd 1854, a storm with gale force winds caused the center span of the bridge to fall to the river below. Long guy wires which extended from the bridge to the shoreline used to stabilize the bridge deck had been disconnected to prevent damage from the ice on the river below.
In the absence of the bridge, ferry boat service was once again used to shuttle people and materials from one side of the border to the other side.
The Second Queenston-Lewiston Suspension Bridge
R.S. Buck was the construction superintendent.
The Pencoyd Bridge Company was awarded the contract to build this bridge. The much larger towers replaced the old ones. On the American side, the towers were 26 feet (7.9 m) square and 26 feet (7.9m) tall. On the Canadian shore, the towers were set on higher ground. These two towers were 22 feet (6.7m) square and 18 feet (5.5m) high.
The dismantled Falls View Suspension Bridge was moved to Queenston - Lewiston where it was re-erected in part, providing a single electric car track and room for other vehicles as well. The cables on the Upper Suspension Bridge had been taken down and used on this Queenston - Lewiston Bridge. The new bridge weighed approximately 1000 tons. Of this, nearly 800 tons of structural steel for this bridge had been salvaged from the dismantled Upper Suspension Bridge.
The second Queenston - Lewiston Suspension Bridge was officially opened on July 21st 1899. The bridge completed the connecting link between the belt line railway which operated along the Canadian and American shorelines. This new bridge ended the ferry service which had operated since the collapse of the first Queenston - Lewiston Bridge.
This bridge remained in service until November 2nd 1962 when it was replaced with a larger and more modern third Queenston - Lewiston steel arch bridge.
This second suspension bridge was sold to the Consolidated Contracting Company of Buffalo, New York for a salvage bid of $118,000. The company planned to salvage 1000 tons of steel. Demolition began in December of 1962 and was completed before the March 1963 deadline. The steel was sold to Canadian scrap dealers.
The Third Queenston-Lewiston Steel Arch Bridge
1962 - present
On September 28th 1956, Robert Moses, Chairman of the New York Power Authority proposed the building of a new steel arch bridge across the Niagara Gorge in his plan to build a power generating station, parks and a highway along the American shoreline.
The American Committee included Joseph Davis, President of the Niagara Frontier State Parks Commission, James F. Evans of the New York Council of Parks and William Latham, an engineer, of the New York State Power Authority.
On March 1st 1957, Leslie Frost, Premier of the Province of Ontario formed a five person committee to study proposals for a new bridge connecting Queenston and Lewiston. This committee included Government of Ontario Ministers: James N. Allan, Charles Daley, William Nickle, Ray Connell and B.A. Farrell.
On September 17th 1958, the Government of Ontario announced it would pay $2 million dollars for the Canadian approaches to the new bridge.
The bridge was designed Waddell & Hardesty Engineering Company. Mr. Shortridge Hardesty of the firm Waddell & Hardesty was appointed consulting engineer.
On November 2nd 1960 ground breaking ceremonies were held and construction on the new bridge commenced.
The new Queenston-Lewiston Steel Arch Bridge was officially opened on November 1st 1962. Build at a cost of $16 million dollars, this new bridge replaced the old Queenston-Lewiston suspension bridge.
It is located 5 miles north of the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge and seven tenths (7/10th) of a mile south of the old Queenston-Lewiston Suspension Bridge.
This Queenston - Lewiston Steel Arch Bridge is a replica of the Rainbow Bridge. The arch span is 1,000 feet (304.8m) long. The total length of the bridge from abutment to abutment is 1,600 feet (488m). The deck is 370 feet (113m) above the river and consists of four traffic lanes.
The International Railway Bridge
Buffalo, New York - Fort Erie, Ontario
1873 - present
In 1857, the Grand Trunk Railway (Canadian Rail Corporation) proposed the construction of a railway bridge spanning the Upper Niagara River. The Dominion Parliament and the New York State Legislature drafted an agreement for the construction of the "International Bridge".
Funding was delayed because of war reconstruction. In 1870, funding amounting to one and a half million dollars became available. A charter was granted to the International Bridge Commission to begin construction.
On May 19th 1870, a contract was signed between the International Bridge Company and Casimir Stanislaus Gzowski and D.L. MacPherson of the engineering firm of Gzowski - MacPherson for the construction of a single track iron railway bridge to span the Niagara River from Fort Erie to Buffalo. Assistants on this project included chief engineers, Edmund P. Hannaford, Joseph Hobson and George Hughs.
The Niagara River posed a series of problems and dangers that included water currents between 7-12 miles per hour, fluctuating water levels and ice flows.
On July 13th 1873, work on the last of the water tight caissons which would support the bridge was completed. The steel superstructure was built soon afterwards.
The International Railway Bridge was opened on November 3rd 1873. The bridge was officially opened by Mr. Richard Potter, president of the Grand Trunk Railroad and Mr. C.J. Brydges, president of the International Bridge Company. The first locomotive across the new bridge was the diamond stacked wood burner, Scotia piloted by engineer Enoch Bown. The original bridge was designed to included plans for a combination rail line, roadway and sidewalk. Economics finally dictated that the bridge include a only rail line and pedestrian walk way.
In 1900, the superstructure of the bridge was redesigned. The pedestrian walkway was removed to allow room for another rail bed.
The total length of
this bridge is 3,651.5 feet (1113m) in three distinct sections:
On July 10th 1916,
264 trains crossed the bridge in a twenty four hour period. Today the
bridge remains in use averaging ten to fifteen trains per day.
The Peace Bridge
Buffalo, New York - Fort Erie, Ontario
1927 - present
In 1919, Alonzo Clark Mather began a drive to build a new bridge which would reflect peace and the cooperation between two great nations. William C. Eckert led the pro bridge movement.
On August 6th 1925, the building of the Peace Bridge was approved by the International Joint Commission. Financing totaling $4.5 million dollars was made available through bond issues.
The ground breaking ceremony took place on August 17th 1925. Completion was scheduled for Spring of 1927.
Major construction contracts were awarded to R.B. Porter of St. Catharines, Turner Construction of Buffalo and Bethlehem Steel Company of Pennsylvania. The chief engineer was Edward Lupfer.
The Peace Bridge would be built approximately one kilometer South of the International Railway Bridge. A major obstacle to building this bridge was the water current which averages 7.5 to 12 miles per hour.
The Peace Bridge consisted of five arched spans over the Niagara River and a Parker through-truss which spans the Black Rock Canal on the American side. The total length of this bridge is 5,800 feet (1,770 m). It consisted of 3,500 feet of steel work and included 9,000 tons of structural steel and 800 tons of reinforcing steel.
On March 13th 1927, Mr. Edward Lupfer, the chief engineer, drove the first car across the bridge. Mr. Lupfer later designed the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls.
On June 1st 1927, the Peace Bridge was opened to the public. An official ceremony was held on August 7th 1927.
Until 1992, the Peace Bridge was the busiest border crossing between Canada and the USA. Throughout the past decade, the Peace Bridge has under gone many structural improvements. In 1993, an $88 million dollar renovation plan was announced.
On December 2nd 1997, the Buffalo and Ft. Erie Public Bridge Authority, announced plans for the building of a twin second Peace Bridge to be situated to the North of and beside the existing Peace Bridge in order to alleviate traffic congestion.
The project is estimated to cost $65 million dollars with a completion date of 2002. Construction is set to begin in March of 1999. The new bridge will be modeled after the first Peace Bridge. It will have five arched spans stretching end to end across the Niagara River. The highlight of this new bridge will be a 17 storey tall, 600 foot long, 170 foot tall arch spanning the Black Rock Canal on the American side. The new Peace Bridge will increase daily vehicle traffic by 33%. Today, legal difficulties and court challenges have delayed the start of bridge construction indefinitely.
On December 2nd 1997,
the Buffalo and Ft. Erie Public Bridge Authority announced a $17 million
dollar re-decking project for the existing Peace Bridge.
Bridges over Niagara
Past Meets Present
All are International Border Crossings.
Date last updated:
March 23, 2020