Destroyed in the Blink of an Eye: The Mighty Kinzua Viaduct

This picture was taken in 2010 before the new observation deck was built.
This picture was taken in 2010 before the new observation deck was built. | Source

Nature's Fury

On July 21, 2003 a great and powerful mass of winds passed through the northeast with Pennsylvania and Ohio as the likely target. In the storm’s path a mighty structure of one hundred and twenty one years old fell to the bottom of the mass basin it over passed. Both time and nature destroyed the “8th Wonder of The World” in the blink of an eye. Rusty bolts could not wait for the “in progress” restoration as the powerful ninety some mile an hour winds of a F1 tornado took aim at the great Kinzua Viaduct.

The Highest Railroad Bridge Built in 1882

Built in 1882, the Kinzua Viaduct was the highest railroad bridge ever constructed in those days and still fourth largest the day it fell. The height was a mere three hundred and one feet tall expanding over two thousand feet from one mountain to another. It was a plan to bring profits to both the railroads and the coal company saving the miles taken to stir around the valley instead of crossing it as the crow flies. The Kinzua Bridge is located in McKean County on the out skirts of Mount Jewett, Pennsylvania. Gone, but not forgotten, it is left in ruins as a reminder to man of nature’s strength. The Kinzua Creek Valley has been defaced leaving yet another historical event to talk about.

The mighty steel structure now lies in ruins.
The mighty steel structure now lies in ruins. | Source

Reconstructed in 1900

In 1900, the iron built bridge was reconstructed to carry more weight. This time steel was used to ensure strength to last for years to come. Constant inspections were done for safety of the towers to hold their precious cargo as it passed. High winds would often sway this structure, but with the 5 mile an hour speed limit issued for the engineers to obey, safe passage was promised. The freight cars hauling coal steadily along the tracks of the Kinzua Viaduct halted in 1959. By 1963, the commonwealth acquired the bridge bringing an attraction to awe tourists as they discover the beauty which lies in one of Pennsylvania’s many state parks. In 1977, the Kinzua Viaduct was put on the National Register of Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks.

Kinzua Bridge is still an amazing place to visit.
Kinzua Bridge is still an amazing place to visit. | Source

Kinzua Bridge State Park's New Look

Sightseers by the thousands come each year and in the mid 1980s a railroad is founded (Knox, Kane, Kinzua Railroad) to bring groups up the valley with their turn around point being the Kinzua Bridge. They were crossing this bridge as recent as 2002. Autumn is the prime time of the year to travel through the rugged Alleghany National Forest. The state forest of vivid colors, display a gorgeous backdrop for this giant structure, the Kinzua Viaduct, even after the bridge come tumbling down.

The extreme cost associated with rebuilding Kinzua Bridge prompted the state of Pennsylvania to find a better idea. For a fraction of the cost it would have taken to rebuild, they could turn the disaster into a reminder of nature’s force while keeping memories of this structure’s existence alive. They built a new observation deck overlooking the ruins complete with a window panel to view the sights below. On Sept. 15, 2011 a ribbon cutting ceremony was held to celebrate the opening of the new Kinzua Bridge State Park. The long task of restoration to share the history of Kinzua Bridge and beautiful mountain views paid off. Amazed by what they see, tourists engage once again in enjoying the sights of this towering structure. The remains of the Kinzua Bridge are still strong and welcome spectators.

A Chance to be a Part of History

The new pathway leading to the Kinzua Viaduct features engraved bricks purchased to have family names, business, industry, organization group or the like displayed. It is a chance to be a part of history. This Commemorative “Brick” Campaign is an on-going fundraiser to help with maintaining the park for years to come.

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Comments 9 comments

Lee Tea profile image

Lee Tea 4 years ago from Erie, PA

OH!! A hub topic from home!! My dad used to take me out on that bridge when I was a little girl...believe it or not, those experiences were some of the first things I ever wrote about, in my childhood diary. Though I live in Erie now (I'm originally from Seneca/Oil City, where my family still resides), we went down to camp, canoe, swim, and fish at Kinzua this summer with my children. Got caught out in a nasty storm, then drove to Kane for some pizza :) Very fond of this post - voted up, interesting, and beautiful. Thank you for writing this - I'm very excited to see a topic from home (and a treasured memory from my childhood) here on HubPages!! Much love and be well - Lee @ Lee's Teas


Diana Lee profile image

Diana Lee 4 years ago from Potter County, Pa. Author

Thank you, Lee Tea. My son lives close to there in Tim Buck near the intersection. My grandfather's family came from Mount Jewett and many of them worked the railroad. I have family in the Kinzua Bridge View cemetery there I only knew by the stories my dad told.


Mhatter99 profile image

Mhatter99 4 years ago from San Francisco

Excellent job. You took a simple report and built it into a personal history. Very creative.


Diana Lee profile image

Diana Lee 4 years ago from Potter County, Pa. Author

Thank you, Mhatter99. I love sights like this with all the beauty nature has to off surrounding it. Yes, it does have some personal ties to my heritage.


aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

I lived in PA for a year, but this disaster was well before I moved there. I didn't live too far from Allegheny National Forest, but never got to go there. Thanks for the great info.


Hyphenbird profile image

Hyphenbird 4 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

You did a wonderful job bringing this story and the Viaduct to life. It is always sad to me when a piece of history is destroyed. I found this very interesting and now I want to go there and see for myself. It just may happen next summer when my son and I plan our "places to go this summer" trips. Thank you so much.


Diana Lee profile image

Diana Lee 4 years ago from Potter County, Pa. Author

Thank you, aviannovice and Hyphenbird. It saddens me to see a bit of history destroyed. As close as this place is to me and even with my dad's grandparents living out that way, I never got to see it until it was gone. My dad had uncles and cousins who worked for the railroad. I wish I would have asked many more questions back when I could have gotten a great story to pass down to the next generation.


pramod cherakkara profile image

pramod cherakkara 3 years ago from WAYANAD

very nice article


Diana Lee profile image

Diana Lee 3 years ago from Potter County, Pa. Author

Thank you, pramod cherakkara. It's fun to dig up a bit of history especially if you have some sort of connection to it. I'm almost certain my ancestors rode the rail across this mighty structure and some were engineers.

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