Text from—"Between the Ocean and the Lakes--The Story of the ERIE"—by Edward Harold Mott--1899
Illustration 1848.

The valley of the Starrucca Creek, about two miles beyond Cascade Gulf, was the next difficulty in the way of the railroad—a 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 Company's representatives.

"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 reported.

"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 Mountains.

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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