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Strung across a quarter-mile-wide valley within sight of the upper Susquehanna River, the seventeen-arch Starrucca Viaduct stands as a monument to nineteenth-century engineering. Completed in 1848, it remains the oldest stone-arch railroad bridge still in use in Pennsylvania, and one of the oldest in the United States. The Starrucca Viaduct is connected to the nearby Tunkhannock Creek Viaduct (http://www.nicholsonheritage.org/tunkhannock-creek-viaduct) by the Viaduct Valley Way Scenic Byway (Routes 171 and 92)(http://www.nicholsonheritage.org/byway).


  • Starrucca Viaduct.

Back in the 1840s, when the New York and Erie Railroad (NY&E) was building a rail line to link the New York City area with the shipping lanes of Lake Erie at Dunkirk, N.Y., it had to cut across northern New Jersey and along the upper Delaware River. From there, it would climb a rugged, 1,373-foot-high ridge - Gulf Summit - in Pennsylvania before descending to the Susquehanna Valley, the town of Binghamton, N.Y., and from there through western New York state to the Great Lakes. In 1835, workers first broke ground at Deposit, N.Y., and by 1846, much of the line was under construction.

Fifty miles north of Scranton and southwest of Gulf Summit near Lanesboro, surveyors encountered the deep valley of Starrucca Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna. The task of determining how to cross the valley fell to civil engineer Julius W. Adams, who had left the Western Railroad in Massachusetts to work for the NY&E.

One way to cross the valley was to fill it by excavating and moving thousands of tons of earth, an arduous and expensive undertaking. Another was to build a wooden trestle, which the railroad had done to span lesser gaps. While comparatively inexpensive to construct, wooden bridges required constant maintenance and were vulnerable to fire. Yet a third way was to engineer a massive multiple-stone-arch bridge.

Adams chose the last solution. Construction began in the spring of 1847, about eighteen months before the railroad - at the risk of losing its charter - had agreed to complete its line from the Hudson River to Binghamton, N.Y. The original construction firm of Baird and Collins was fired after a slow start-up. With only one construction season remaining, Adams gave command of the project to his more experienced brother-in-law, Scottish-born civil engineer James P. Kirkwood.

Two quarries just two and four miles away supplied the primary material: native Pennsylvania bluestone, a bluish-green variant of sandstone. Wooden falsework provided the framing on which the bridge was shaped. Concrete and stone footings formed the base, upon which masons fashioned the piers, arches, and spandrel walls (the sections above the piers and between the arches) of bluestone. The highest piers rose sixty-five feet from their bases; each of the seventeen arches measured fifty-one feet wide and twenty feet high. In all, the bridge stood 100 feet above the valley floor.

Some 800 men, mostly Irish immigrants, furnished the muscle. A larger-than-needed workforce ensured that this rush job would be finished on deadline. The Irishmen completed the stone masonry work in early November, and laid track on the deck by the end of that month. The first engine - NY&E's fifteen-ton 4-4-0-type locomotive named "Orange," built by Norris Locomotive Works of Philadelphia - crossed on December 9. NY&E had achieved its goal, with barely four days to spare.

Completed at a cost of $335,000, Starrucca, when opened, was one of the most expensive railroad bridges ever built. In May 1851, NY&E's inaugural special carried among its passengers U.S. Senator Daniel Webster from Massachusetts and U.S. President Millard Fillmore who, when the train stopped at Starrucca, joined in the inspection. After a number of name changes and mergers, the NY&E became part of the Erie Railroad, which extended to Chicago.

The Erie touted Starrucca as the greatest landmark along its New York-to-Chicago route, which was renowned for fast eastbound perishable-goods expresses that carried California produce and Midwestern meat in refrigerator cars to the markets of New York and New England.

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