Despite derailment, McKean County railroad bridge stands tall

Destination PA

KANE, MCKEAN COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — The view on the Kinzua Bridge at the Kinzua Bridge State Park will stop people in their tracks.

The bridge is just two hours north of Altoona, and sits 301 feet off the ground, with quite the history.

“During 1881 and 1882, people found coal and other natural resources to the South, and they wanted to get them to market as quick as they could,” said Holly Dzemyan, Environmental Education Specialist for the Kinzua Bridge State Park.

“They started laying rails up to this area.”

General Thomas Kane, who was President of the New York Lake Erie and Western Coal Company, among others decided to build a railroad bridge through the Kinzua Valley, where the bridge sits now.

When it was finished in 1882, it was the tallest and longest railroad bridge in the world. But by the 1900’s, it needed upgrades, in lieu of the Industrial Revolution.

“In 1900, they decided to switch out the towers, because of the heaviness of the engines and the freight going across,” Holly said.

“They changed the towers those original iron columns, Phoenix Columns, to the iron towers you see out there now.”

Freight went across the bridge until 1959. Resources could be shipped alternate routes. During the 1960s, the state purchased the bridge and turned the area into a state park.

The Park now is designated under the DCNR, otherwise known as the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

In 1986, the Knox and Kane Railroad began using the bridge as an excursion train business, until 2002, when a railroad inspector deemed the bridge unusable for trains. But everything changed during the summer of 2003.

“An F1 Tornado came through the park, and took out the middle section of the bridge,” Holly said.

“Nobody was on the bridge at the time, and nobody saw the bridge go down.”

The bridge was damaged on approximately July 21, 2003. It was 2,053 feet long before the tornado tore half of it.

Remains of the bridge.

Despite the damage, the park wanted to preserve the bridge that remained, and built a deck, as well as a glass section to give people the feel of being that high up in the air.

Holly says during its peak season, 10,000 people could come through on a given weekend.

“We have visitors from other parts of Pennsylvania, we have visitors from other parts of the United States and we have visitors from other countries…all coming here to see the structure.”

The park also features a hiking trail that goes beneath the bridge, as well as a exhibit to showcase its history.

The Visitor Center for the park is open seven days a week during its peak season (which is until Thanksgiving) from 8am-6pm. The bridge is open daily from 8 am until dusk.

For more information on the bridge, you can visit their website.

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