This bridge is the oldest surviving bridge over the Niagara River and Gorge. The Niagara River has a rich and fascinating history of bridge construction that includes suspension bridges, cantilever truss bridges, and steel arch bridges. Many bridges that were built over the Niagara Gorge were major engineering achievements when completed. The existing Whirlpool Rapids Bridge was one of the two earliest examples of steel arch bridges built over the Niagara River. The other example was destroyed by icy floods in the 1930s. The Whirlpool Rapids Bridge is one of the few extant large-scale steel deck arch bridges in North America.
The bridge today was built as a double-deck bridge to carry railway traffic on top and vehicular and pedestrian traffic on a lower deck. Traditionally, the railroad deck was in use for both freight and passenger trains. Today, the international bridge no longer carries freight trains, but continues to carry passenger trains. The bridge is also open to cars, but only those whose passengers have a Nexus pass. The bridge was once open for pedestrians, but today use by pedestrians is forbidden.
Steel arch bridges built during this period were often erected using falsework below the arch to hold everything in place until the arch was completed and able to bear loads. However the unique topography of the Niagara Gorge required the use of the cantilever method of construction for this bridge.
Another interesting aspect of the construction of this bridge is that it was built directly around and in the same footprint as the former suspension bridge at the same location. The suspension bridge remained standing and in use until the arch bridge was completed.
The Pennsylvania Steel Company of Steelton, Pennsylvania was the superstructure contractor for the bridge.
The engineer of this bridge, Leffert L. Buck, was a prominent engineer who was associated with other bridges over the Niagara River as well as bridges in New York City. An obituary posted for him in Electrical Review and Western Electrician, Vol. 55, No. 4, 1909. tells a brief history:
LEFFERT L. BUCK, former chief engineer of the Bridge Department of New York City, died suddenly on July 17 at his home in Hastings-on-the-Hudson. He was apparently in the best of health and was preparing to go to his office when he was stricken with apoplexy. He died without regaining consciousness. Mr. Buck's name was connected with several of the greatest bridges in this country, among them the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges in New York City, two steel arch bridges at Niagara Falls, the Driving Park Avenue steel arch bridge and the Piatt Street bridge over the Genesee River at Rochester, the Columbia River bridge for the Northern Pacific Railroad at Pasco, Wash., and the Verugas bridge in Peru. He retired as chief engineer of the department In New York city in 1902, after a controversy with Bridge Commissioner Gustav Lindenthal over the policy of the department. Mr. Buck was born in Canton, N. Y., In 1837.
Above: Historical photo showing newly completed bridge. Source: Library of Congress.
Above: Photo showing train on 1855 suspension bridge.
Above: Photo of 1855 suspension bridge.
Above: 1859 photo of lower deck of former suspension bridge.
Above: Former suspension bridge in 1886 after the stone towers had been replaced in steel around this time. ca. 1880, the timber stiffening truss had been replaced in steel as well.
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