The Tunkhannock Creek Viaduct, also known as the Nicholson Bridge or sometimes as the Tunkhannock Viaduct, was built by the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad (DL&W) in 1912 and was completed, dedicated and ready for use on November 6, 1915. It received its proper name from the Tunkhannock Creek that it traverses. However, it is also known as the Nicholson Bridge because of the small Pennsylvania borough where it is located. This engineering marvel was designed by Abraham Burton Cohen with George J. Ray as the chief engineer of the project. Concrete was first poured in January 1913 with the entire project using 185,000 barrels, or 1,093 carloads, of cement producing 167,000 cubic yards of concrete. In addition, about 1,140 tons of steel were used to reinforce the concrete. Moreover, the bridge was built to endure 6,000 pounds per square foot, considering that some engines at that time would weigh 233 tons. At that time, the bridge itself cost about $1.4 million to build.
Additionally, five hundred men of which only half or less were skilled laborers worked 24 hours a day with very little equipment. All they had were steam shovels, dynamite for excavation and a cement mixer that was built on-site. At piers 5 and 6, the workers encountered quicksand making it necessary to use pneumatic chambers and many extra hours of manpower.
There have been rumors that men died building the monumental bridge by falling into the concrete and being buried alive. This is physically not possible, as the metal reinforcing rods would have prevented anyone from actually being buried. There were a number of workers, at least four, who died during the construction, either from falling from the towers or one from checking on why the dynamite hadn’t blown.
The DL&W would not allow dynamite to be transported on their railroads so the dynamite was shipped by the Lehigh Valley Railroad into Springville and transported to Nicholson by horse and wagon.
The Nicholson Bridge is 2,375 feet long and 34 feet wide. It is 240 feet above stream level and 300 feet above bedrock. There are twelve arches with ten being 180 feet across and two being 100 foot arches, one at each end of the bridge that are totally buried in the land fill. In Theodore Dreiser’s 1916 travel biography, he called the bridge: “A thing colossal and impressive. Those arches! How really beautiful they were. How symmetrically planned! And the smaller arches above, how delicate and lightsomely graceful! It is odd to stand in the presence of so great a thing in the making and realize that you are looking at one of the true wonders of the world.” Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and former President Theodore Roosevelt were among the many people that came to view this one of a kind bridge.
This remarkable construction and engineering feat of its time was listed on the National Register of Historic Places (#77001203) on April 11, 1977, due to its national architectural, engineering and transportation significance. The nomination application that was submitted in August 1976 affirms the national significance of the viaduct: “The literal keystone in the early-twentieth-century modernization of a major railroad, Tunkhannock was put up at a time when a reinforced-concrete structure of such a size was considered venturesome, and before perfection of a number of now commonly accepted techniques in concrete construction.” The national significance narrative was taken from William S. Young’s 1967 book: The Great White Bridge (pp 19-20).
Earlier in 1975, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) designated the bridge as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark due to its significant contribution to the development of the United States and to the profession of civil engineering. As of 2008, only 244 landmarks in the world received this designation.
Additionally, the viaduct has been documented by the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), which was established in 1969 by an agreement by the National Park Service, the ASCE and the Library of Congress to document historic sites and structures related to engineering and industry. The Library of Congress website states that: “the collections document achievements in architecture, engineering, and design in the United States and its territories through a comprehensive range of building types and engineering technologies.” The HAER affirmed that: “More than 50 years after its building, the Tunkhannock Viaduct still merits the title of largest concrete bridge in America, if not the world.”