THE BIG ROCK CUT AND CASCADE BRIDGE.
Text from"Between the
Ocean and the Lakes--The Story of the ERIE"by Edward Harold Mott--1899
One of the
most difficult and expensive tasks in the moulding of the way
for the railroad westward was at the summit of the Randolph Hills,
beyond Deposit. This was the cutting through the vast wall of
rock that barred the passage of the mountain therethe last
desperate stand that obstructing Nature made against the persistent
and plodding engineer in his determined fight to force a place
for this great highway. This formidable barrier was half a mile
in width, the left wall being 200 feet high from road-bed to summit.
To carve a road-bed through that beetling obstacle cost the enormous
sum of $200,000, and then the passage was only wide enough for
one track. Time did not permit of building the railroad for the
future when this work was being pushed forward, fifty years ago.
Until the time came, years afterward, when this cut was widened
to make room for a second track, a strong current of air was constantly
sweeping through its narrow confines, and the temperature on the
hottest days of summer was uncomfortably cool, while in winter
old Boreas bowled along the corridor between the high walls of
the artificial canyon, a very demon of frigidity. In the early
days of railroading on the Erie, snow blockades were sure to be
met with in that cut whenever wintry storms swept over that mountain's
Few train-men in active service on the Erie Railroad today
remember the Cascade Bridge, and no traveller born less than a
generation and a half ago ever saw that remarkable structure.
Indeed, no traveller over the Erie, no matter how long ago he
may have travelled, ever did see the Cascade Bridge unless he
alighted from his train for the purpose of getting a view of it.
This bridge, in its day, was regarded as one of the engineering
wonders of the world. When the engineers finally located the route
the railroad was to follow over the range of hills that divided
the Delaware Valley from that of the Susquehanna, they came to
a deep ravine, well down the western escarpment of the range.
Exact measurements of this great chasm in the rocks gave its depth
as 184 feet and its width 250 feet. The walls were of solid rock.
A small creek flowed at the bottom of the gulf, on which, a short
distance above the spot where the railroad must cross if it were
to proceed on its way farther, the water tumbled over a broken
precipice thirty feet high, and, just below, leaped sheer down
the face of a lesser cliff. The gloom of the ravine was deepened
by a dense growth of hemlocks that found strange tenure on its
sides from base to summit. To fill in this yawning gulf so that
a foundation for the railroad might be made was deemed a task
too stupendous to even spend time in considering. Eminent bridge
engineers and builders of that day were consulted, and John Fowler,
inventor of the Fowler truss bridge, agreed to undertake the throwing
of a bridge across the Cascade Gulf that would successfully solve
the serious problem that confronted the Company at the brink of
that mighty chasm.
The work on the Cascade Bridge was begun in the spring of 1847,
and was a year and a half in building. It consisted of a solitary
arch of 250 feet span, with a rise of fifty feet. The abutments
were the solid rock that formed the sides of the ravine, each
leg of the great arch being supported on a deep shelf hewn into
the rock. The arch was constructed of eight ribs of white oak,
two feet square in the centre, and two feet by four at the abutments.
These were interlaced with wood and iron braces so as to combine
strength and lightness in the airy structure. The width of the
bridge was twenty-four feet, the surface of its material being
protected by a coating of cement and gravel. This bridge became
famous as the longest single-span bridge constructed of wood in
the world. In spite of the difficulty and risk that attended clambering
down to the bottom of the Cascade Gulf, from which point alone
a satisfactory view of the bridge could be obtained, this really
remarkable structure, hanging high in the air, like the thread
of some huge spider-web, became such an attraction that scarcely
a train arrived at Susquehanna, during the years the bridge was
a part of the railroad, from which tourists did not alight for
the purpose of visiting the ravine and the bridge that spanned
its dizzy summitSusquehanna being the nearest stopping place.
Once, in those early days of Erie, Gen. Winfield Scott was a passenger
on a train that was stopped at Cascade Bridge to enable the passengers
to view the bridge from this chasm. General Scott, after gazing
at the airy structure from the depths of the gulf, exclaimed:
"The man who could throw a cow-path like that over this
gulf deserves a crown!"
The bridge cost $72,000. In 1854 there were rumors that the Cascade
Bridge was showing signs of weakness, and the Railroad Commissioners
of New York State sent an engineer to examine it. He reported
that the bridge was safe. The Board of Railroad Commissioners
inspected the bridge themselves in 1855, and they were satisfied
with its condition. But the Company in that year decided that,
owing to the possibility of the bridge being destroyed by fire,
which would practically stop all operations on the railroad until
a substitute could be provided, it would be wise to cross the
gulf by changing the route, filling in the ravine, and making
a culvert for the creek. This work occupied five years, being
completed during the receivership of Nathaniel Marsh, in 1860,
and the wonderful Cascade Bridge was abandoned and demolished,
and is now only a memory.
A man named Lewis, of Canandaigua, was a workman on the Cascade
Bridge. One day he fell from the trestle work to the bottom of
the ravine, more than 100 feet, and alighted in such a way that,
incredible as it may seem, he escaped with so little injury that
he returned to his work the same day. In 1854, the Fowler bridge
across the Susquehanna River west of Susquehanna Station was ordered
replaced by a McCallum bridge, and Lewis was one of the men employed
on the work. The height of the bridge above the island on which
one of its piers rested was not more than fifteen feet. Lewis
fell from the bridge one day and was killed.
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