Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Remnants of the Queenston-Lewiston Suspension bridge over the Niagara River

Niagara Falls, Then and Now: Remnants of the Queenston-Lewiston Suspension Bridge
Above: Looking westward across the Niagara River, from the United States end of the Queenston-Lewiston Suspension Bridge, towards the Canadian side.
General Isaac Brock's monument is seen in the left distance. General Brock was killed at the age of 43 on Oct.13, 1812, in battle at this spot on the Queenston Heights, fighting the invading Americans; and now lies in a tomb at the base of the monument.
There is one streetcar track running down the center of the bridge, with a streetcar seen at the bottom, which is about to exit the bridge onto the American side. The streetcars of the Great Gorge Route travelled a loop circuit, going eastbound from Canada to the U.S. on this bridge, then travelling south on the American side towards Niagara Falls. On the U.S. side, the streetcars travelled down in the Gorge right along side the Niagara River, with the tracks eventually rising back up as they got closer to the Falls. The streetcars then crossed the Honeymoon Bridge back into Canada, headed north along the top of the Gorge along the Canadian side back down to Queenston, where they'd cross to the States again.
The gatehouse (toll house) on the Canadian side can be seen in the centre-right distance.
Below:  a closer view of the border gatehouse at the Canadian end of the old suspension bridge, in 1962, just prior to the opening of the new bridge. The old bridge was soon demolished and sold for scrap.
Above:  Apr.15, 2008 - this is the exact same spot as above, photo by R. Bobak
The Gatehouse and the bridge all are gone. In the center distance, a small stone wall now stands across where the opening to the bridge deck had been. The gatehouse had stood on the cliff edge, at the left of the photo. The old road is now full of cracks and overgrowth. The same stone walls, which were seen at the far right in the 1962 photo, are now crumbling as trees have grown throughout.
It's hard to believe that for decades this now-deserted little corner of the world was one of the main crossings for vehicle traffic between the two countries! As the automobile age grew, for motorists arriving from the States this was the beginning of King's Hwy.8A (a short spur heading west to St.David's village, where it joined up with the main Hwy.8) which was the main road to get to St. Catharines, Hamilton, and eventually to Toronto, before the QEW was constructed during the 1930's. Millions of travellers had passed through this very location over the years. This bridge served until 1962, when the new Queenston-Lewiston Arch bridge opened, on Nov.1, 1962, just about a half-mile upriver. The old bridge was closed the same day, and subsequently dismantled and scrapped.
Below: Opening day ceremonies, looking from Lewiston in the States towards Queenston in Canada. The opening ceremonies according to the library archive, were July 21, 1899. [Yet a stone marker at the site can still be seen (see photo further down) which reads "Bridge opening July 22, 1899". Maybe that was the actual first real working day?]
There had been one other previous bridge at this same location, built by Edward W. Serrell, which existed from 1851 to 1864, when it was wrecked in a windstorm; so - astoundingly - from 1864 until 1899, there was no bridge here, just cables and sections of broken deck hanging over the river, for all those years!
Note: I have seen other accounts that the first bridge fell in 1854, but I'm going by the 1864 date given by the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission.
Also, I remember hearing somewhere of an incident, occurring during the period when the bridge was just hanging there, frayed, when some American jail escapees managed to successfully climb across the bare bridge cables to Canada!
Below: 1930 - this is the Queenston-end of the bridge; note the sharp curve of the streetcar tracks, where they enter the bridge. The Gatehouse is at the left. Check out the car: maybe Jay Gatsby was making one of his 'gonnegtions' during Prohibition? Ah, the days when a 'customs and immigration' office consisted of a guy in a shack, where you could leave your V-16 Phaeton (or whatever) stopped with the doors open, practically right on the bridge!
Below: 1962, a view from underneath the bridge deck on the Queenston-end, showing the river-side of the Gatehouse as it sat on the cliff above the river's edge. This view looks up from under the south-side of the bridge, looking north-west (see similar view four photos below; note that the foundation walls supporting the Gatehouse, as seen in this 1962 photo, are still visible in the 2011 photo)
Below: Like Gatsby, we too beat on against the strong Niagara River current, and here are borne back ceaselessly into the past. There is little left now to remind us of how incredibly busy this very spot had once been. The stone wall seen now is where the actual bridge entrance once was; beyond the wall is a drop into the gorge. Note the streetcar tracks are still visible in the dirt, curving to the left (east). It is now quiet and secluded, all I could hear was the rush of the river below. Above old photos from the Niagara Falls, Ont. Library.
                                        [Click on any photo to enlarge!]
Below: The old abutments of the Queenston-Lewiston Suspension Bridge can still be found at the very end of today's York St. (which had been called Hwy.8A, a spur which led to King's Hwy.8, connecting at St.David's, about  two miles to the west) in Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ont. The bridge carried the Great Gorge Belt Line streetcars across the Niagara River, which ran in a loop along both the Canadian and U.S. sides of the river, crossing back to Canada again up at Niagara Falls. (How neat was that?!) In these photos below, taken Apr.15, 2008, the old streetcar rails are still clearly visible, showing the sharp left-turn which U.S-bound (east-bound) streetcars would make, to enter the bridge. The edge of the Gatehouse once stood where the stone wall makes a slight jog at the upper right. That's where the Gatsbymobile seen earlier was parked!!
Below: The abutment's stone cable towers are located above the track-level on the Canadian side - the north tower (seen at the upper right) is still standing, the left one is partially gone.

Above: Mar. 2011 - looking up from underneath where the bridge had once been; at the centre-left is where the bridge deck had landed, where the streetcars turned, and where the Gatehouse had stood. The still-intact north cable tower is seen far up at the center top. [This view looks up from underneath where the north-side of the bridge had once been; see similar view in the 1962 fourth-photo above. The same stone abutments, seen in this 2011 photo, are also seen in the 1962 photo, when the Gatehouse still stood above them.]
Above: Feb.2011 - looking north at the Niagara River; the U.S.side is at the right. The stone cable tower can still be seen at the bottom right, see red arrow.
Above: closer view of the stone cable tower, showing steel bars embedded in the top.
Below: two abutment cable towers can still be seen on the American side of the Niagara River. There is an observation deck now built between them.
Below: curving streetcar track still visible several feet away from old bridge entrance (Queenston side), looking back up the right-of-way
Below: within the now-crumbling old stone wall is a stone carved with this inscription:
"BRIDGE OPENED JULY 22 1899". (Note little pockets of snow still on the ground on Apr.15, 2008)
Below: drawing of the earlier 1851 Serrell-built Queenston-Lewiston suspension bridge across the Niagara River, which had once stood at this exact same spot; the Canadian side is at the right. Note how the York St. road at that time (at the far right) was already shown making that sharp left turn onto the bridge deck, the same turn which streetcars would have to make some fifty years later onto the next bridge.

The above bridge of Serrell's lasted only 13 years: it was completed in Mar.1851, but partially collapsed in a windstorm in Feb.1864  - so, for some 35 years afterwards, the frayed bridge cables hung over the river, but the bridge was not rebuilt. Interestingly, the masonry contract on the 1851 bridge was let to Samuel Zimmerman (see here). ...[As mentioned earlier, I keep seeing other incorrect reports that the 1851-built bridge collapsed in a windstorm in 1854!]
Serrell's 1851 suspension bridge here at Queenston was the second suspension bridge to have been built over the Niagara River. (Serrell's Queenston bridge never did, nor could, carry any trains, so its unfortunate collapse in 1864 made its rebuilding uneconomical for the next 35 years, because Roebling's two-level Suspension Bridge overwhelmingly dominated the market.)
The title for the first bridge of any kind to be built over the Niagara River goes to the earliest version of Charles Ellet's suspension bridge, which was built upriver from Queenston (at the site of today's Whirlpool Bridge) in 1848.
At first, Ellet's bridge was just a wire basket, holding two persons, which hung off a cable and was which was pulled across the gorge. Ellet himself first crossed in this basket on Mar. 13, 1848. Using the basket line to haul workers and supplies, Ellet methodically added a 3 foot wide plank walkway paralleling one side of the basket line, suspended by heavier cables hanging off new wooden towers. Then, he added another plank walkway on the other side of the basket line; later, the basket line was removed, and the gap filled, joining the two walkways together into a 9 ft.-wide carriage way which officially opened on Aug.1, 1848.
This bridge by Ellet was supposed to have been a railway-carrying bridge, but Ellet (who, due to a dispute with the bridge company, was bought out of his contract on Dec.27, 1848) did not finish the next phase of the project. His plan was to use the newly-built carriage way as a working platform from which to create another deck above the carriage deck. This wider upper deck was to become the actual permanent bridge deck, carrying a train track in the middle, with two carriage ways on either side. This upper deck would become its own bridge, supported by cables hung from new 70 foot high stone towers; presumably, the earlier wooden towers and the lower deck would have then been dismantled.
Starting from 1852 to 1855, Ellet's bridge was completely rebuilt by John A. Roebling into a two-deck bridge, with a carriage way on the lower deck, and a track on the upper deck, becoming the first railroad-bearing suspension bridge in the world!
Interestingly, back in 1847, Roebling had lost out to Ellet in bidding for the original bridge contract!
Also, on a side note, the Niagara Falls Canada book (pg.343) states that the 1899 Queenston Lewiston bridge was moved from the Falls "in 1889" [?!] yet, this date doesn't make sense; that must have been a typo... because in another chapter of the same book (pg.338), it says that the Second Fallsview Suspension Bridge (which had been replaced by the newer Honeymoon Bridge) was dismantled from its location right beside the American Falls, and was rebuilt in Queenston - which then means this had to have been 1898-99, not 1889!!
And, not to confuse things even more, but I noted another discrepancy: the same book (pg.338) says that there had been four bridges at the Honeymoon site (but there were only three... unless they were including the Rainbow Bridge in their count. Except that: the Rainbow was built about 500 feet north of the site of the collapsed Honeymoon Bridge, so it wasn't on the exact same site where the previous three other bridges had been.)
So what was this 'fourth' bridge, which, if had existed, must have existed at the Honeymoon site before the 1869-built First Fallsview Suspension Bridge?
Or, was the book considering the First Fallsview Suspension Bridge's substantial rebuild [from a timber frame/timber tower construction to a steel frame/steel tower construction] as being two bridges?
The Queenston-Lewiston Suspension Bridge of 1899 was almost entirely built out of the recycled components of the Second Fallsview Suspension Bridge (which was built in 1889, and then carefully dismantled c.1898 to make way for the Upper Steel Arch (aka Honeymoon) Bridge (built 1897-98, opened in 1898; collapsed in 1938 due to river ice pushing the bridge off its footings). 

[The Second Fallsview Suspension Bridge (construction of which started March 22, 1889, and which amazingly was opened to traffic in less than two months, on May 7, 1889!!), along with the Honeymoon Bridge, and the earliest First Fallsview Suspension Bridge (built 1869; collapsed Jan.10, 1889) had all been been located at the exact same 'Honeymoon site', immediately north of the American Falls. So this 'fourth bridge' must have been a typo; or, they included the Rainbow Bridge in their count, even though it was not in the exact location as the previous three bridges had been]
The below photos from the Niagara Falls Digital Library archive are dated roughly c 1890, and these all show Serrell's original 1851-built, 1864-destroyed Queenston Lewiston Suspension Bridge, hanging in tatters over the Niagara River. If these photos had been taken in the early 1890's {let's say 1894, for example} then this is how the bridge looked after hanging there, deteriorating, for some thirty years!!!
above: this view most likely looks west from the States towards Queenston, as in the top center-right distance, it looks to be where York St. makes that sharp left-turn to enter the bridge deck.
above: this view is probably looking in a northerly direction, from Queenston towards the States; in the centre distance, on the New York State side of the river, would be where Artpark now is.
above: this could be looking eastwards from Queenston towards the States, as the Escarpment in the distance is seen sloping down to the left, which would be north.
above: this is probably looking in a north-westerly direction, from the States towards Canada; Queenston village would be in the center distance, to the left of the tree.
below: this view is certainly looking north-west from the States; the village of Queenston is clearly seen in the upper-center-right. The partially-hanging bridge is seen in the upper-mid-right. At the bottom are seen a building and tracks; this is possibly the rail line on the American side which had been the precursor of the still-to-be-conceived Great Gorge streetcar route.


Millstone said...

Actually the road leading up to the bridge was (eventually) Hwy 8A, a spur of Hwy 8 which would have begun at the intersection of (what is now) York Rd & Four Mile Creek Rd.

Kyla Gurganus said...

Thank you so much for this amazing web page! My family and I explored around the area 20+ years ago, seeing bridge abutments from both sides of the river, reading the Bridge Commission's bridge book, but could never figure out exactly what we were seeing. And all the answers are here! I can't wait to go back and explore again!