THE STARRUCCA VIADUCT.
Text from"Between the
Ocean and the Lakes--The Story of the ERIE"by Edward Harold Mott--1899
The valley of the Starrucca Creek, about two miles beyond Cascade
Gulf, was the next difficulty in the way of the railroada
sudden, deep, and wide depression in the hills, a hundred feet
or more below the lowest elevation the road bed could find. This
valley was more than a quarter of a mile wide, and there was no
way around it. At first it was proposed that this broad and deep
stretch should be graded up to the level of the road-bed by constructing
an embankment across it, but the plan was abandoned on the score
of cost and the great length of time that would be required to
raise that enormous mound of earth. The crossing of the valley
by a viaduct was then decided upon. The great work was begun about
the time the Cascade Bridge was begun, but it was dragging, and
threatened to defeat the efforts of the Company to get the road
through to Binghamton by the end of 1848. Three different contractors
had failed and thrown up the work.
James P. Kirkwood was a Scotsman, and learned civil engineering
on the Boston and Albany Railroad, an early work from which a
number of engineers and contractors came to the Erie when it was
building. He was a brother-in-law of Julien W. Adams, who was
a leading contractor and bridge builder on the Erie, his great
work being the above described wooden bridge over Cascade Gulf.
In the spring of 1848, Contractor Adams was appealed to by the
"Who can build that viaduct?" he was asked.
"I know of no one who can do it," he replied, "unless
it is Kirkwood."
The matter was presented to Kirkwood. He visited the spot,
investigated the facilities for getting stone and material, and
"I can build that viaduct in time," he said, "provided
you don't care how much it may cost."
He was told to go to work at it regardless of cost. He did
so. The quarries from which the stone for the work was obtained
were three miles up the Starrucca Creek. Kirkwood put down a railroad
track on each side of the creek, from the quarries to the work,
and brought the stone in on cars. The labor was all done by the
day, and every available man in that vicinity was employed. In
May, 1848, at the viaduct and quarries, 800 men were employed.
The false work was in thirteen tiers, and extended across the
Starrucca Valley. Operations on this remarkable structure were
pushed night and day, and with such system and method that the
viaduct was ready for use long before its use was required. This
engineering feat gave Kirkwood great prestige with the Company,
and resulted in his being selected as General Superintendent to
succeed H. C. Seymour in 1849.
James P. Kirkwood was a native of Edinburgh, and came to America
in 1834. He was a graduate of Edinburgh College, and a civil engineer.
In 1835 he became Assistant Engineer of the Stonington Railroad,
and in that year surveyed the route for the Long Island Railroad,
and had charge of the construction of that road until operations
were stopped by the panic of 1837. Kirkwood later was engaged
on the Boston and Albany Railroad. He left the Erie to go to the
southwest to construct railroads, and he made the first survey
for the Pacific Railroad west from the Mississippi to the Rocky
The Starrucca Viaduct was at the time it was built the greatest
work of railroad bridge masonry in the United States, and is to-day
a conspicuous example of that branch of engineering science, even
among the stupendous feats of modern bridge construction. The
viaduct is 1,200 feet long, 110 feet high, and has eighteen arches
with spans of fifty feet each. It was wisely constructed for a
double track, and was made thirty feet wide on top. The cost of
the structure was $320,000, the most expensive railroad bridge
in the world at that time.
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