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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
Illustration 1852.

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 there—the 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 riven pinnacle.

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 summit—Susquehanna 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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This page is from Thomas Ehrenreich's Railroad Extra website, and is reproduced here as a memorial to him and his dedication to preserving the history of railroading in America. Please note I have no access to the original source material and cannot provide higher resolution scans.
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