The Bridges of Niagara Falls

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Rainbow Arch Bridge next to American Falls. Photo taken while on boat tour. All photos and filming were taken by the author in August 2018

Hundreds of tour books, written in about three dozen languages have touted Niagara Falls as one of the 1000 places one has to see once in his lifetime. From the author’s point of view, even though the Falls area is one of the largest tourist traps in North America, maybe even the world, with thousands of souvenirs, restaurants and other main attractions, if one wants to see just the falls themselves, there are five ways to do it: 1. At level along the streets and boardwalks, 2. At night with the fireworks display, 3. Via boat tour which takes the person to the two falls, up close and personal, and 4. Via Skylon Tower on the Ontario side of the falls. And while a person can get a wonderful treat viewing the two falls- American and Horseshoe (the latter is the bigger one)- from Skylon, one can also get a treat viewing the Falls‘ bridges, which is the fifth way.

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Horseshoe Falls at night.

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American Falls at night

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While one can get a picturesque view of the Rainbow Bridge while doing the boat tour, one can photograph all but four of the 20+ bridges from Skylon Tower, including the I-190 Bridge, which is 25 kilometers (12 miles) away and spans the Niagara River. However, to get to all of them, one needs the bike or the car. In some cases, they are reachable by foot.  We did all five parts of the tour and got the bridges in the process. This tour guide will show you the bridges one really needs to see while enjoying the view of the Falls. It will feature a brief summary with a couple pics, plus a map showing where the bridges are located. More bridges can be found in the Chronicles‘ facebook and Instagram pages. In the end, the author can make some recommendations as to where a person can find these bridges with a Tour Guide hint to follow at the end of this tour guide.

We must keep in mind that the tour is focused solely on the Falls area. There are countless bridges along the Welland Canal area, but you can view them via Nathan Holth’s historicbridges.org website, which is here.

So without further ado, let’s have a look at the bridges, starting with the one closest to Lake Ontario going towards Erie.

 

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Lewiston-Queenston Bridge

Location: Niagara River at Interstate 190 (US) and Ontario Highway 405 (a.k.a Kingston Highway, Canada)

Bridge type: Rainbow deck arch

Built: 1962 by the Bethlehem Steel Company in Bethlehem, PA; designed by Waddel and Hadesty

Niagara Falls has four steel deck arches spanning the mighty river between Lakes Ontario and Erie and two of these rainbow deck arches, the bridge type characterized by the unhinged, ribbed arch span that supports the roadway going over it. The Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, which was built in 1962, is the youngest of the bridges in the region. With a total length of 1600 feet (479 meters) and the main span of 1000 feet (305 meters), the Lewiston-Kingston Bridge is the longest of the bridges in the region. It serves as the only US-Canadian crossing, where a person can head west into Canada. While both sides have border crossings and tax-free shops along the freeways, the best vantage point for this crossing is on the Ontario side, where there is parking along the street on the river side, just as the person is entering the freeway. This was where I got most of my photos.  The bridge replaced an iron suspension bridge, which was located downstream and featured Town Lattice portals. More details can be found here.  About 300 meters south of the bridge is the Floral Clock and Park, where one can get some beautiful shots in the spring and summer time, while having a picnic at the same time. However beware, there are costs for parking there, so have some cash with.

 

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Whirlpool Rapids Aero Car

Location: Niagara River at Whirlpool Rapids

Bridge Type: None- An overhead cable railway

Built: 1916 by Leonardo Torres Quevedo  Rehabilitated three times in 1961, 1967 and 1984

Even though the Aero Car is not a bridge per se, this overhead cable railway is considered a crossing, let alone a tourist attraction that one must see if one wants to visit the Whirlpool Rapids in person. The rapids is rather difficult to see from the street due to the high vegetation and because of the risk of drowning, any private boat traffic along the Niagara River and at the Falls themselves is prohibited by law. The exception is with the tour boats travelling up to the Falls. Instead of risking a massive fine of $10,000 or possible death by capsizing and drowning, one can pay $35-40 to ride the Aero Car for up to 15 minutes, getting pictures of the Rapids directly from below and perhaps the two railroad bridges pending on the weather. One can also see the Whirlpool Rapids State Park in the US side and the Robert Moses Power Station on the Canadian side. The concept was developed by Leonardo Torres Quevedo, who later founded the Niagara Spanish Aero Car Company Limited, which owns the 35-person cable car that goes 700 feet across the river.

 

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Whirlpool Rapids Highway Bridge (left) and railroad Bridge (right)

Whirlpool Rapids Highway Bridge

Location: Niagara River near Whirlpool Rapids, carrying Bridge Avenue and Amtrak Railroad

Bridge type: Steel Deck Truss with Pratt Truss features; double-decking with railway on top and roadway at the bottom.

Built: 1899 by Pennsylvania Steel Company; designed by Leffert Buck of Canton, New York

The Whirlpool Rapids Highway Bridge one of two bridges located at the rapids and the second of three international crossings in the Niagara Falls region. Like with the Kingston, its predecessor was a suspension bridge that had been built 30+ years before. The Highway Bridge is the oldest of the bridges in the region, even though the railroad crossing next door to the south appears older but was built 30 years later. It is one of several bridges of its kind that was designed by Leffert L. Buck, who was credited for designing and building all but one bridge over the Niagara River, but was held accountable post humously for the collapse of the Honeymoon Bridge, which had been built in 1897 but collapsed in 1938. The Rainbow Bridge now occupies this spot. Buck was also credited for bridge building in the New York City area, including the Williamsburg Bridge over the East River, which was built in 1903.  The bridge is measured at 790 feet (241 meters) in total, with the arch span being 550 feet (167 meters). It features a double-decker design, where the roadway is at the bottom and train traffic runs on top. Passenger trains also use this bridge and the Amtrak Railway Station is on the American side. Border controls are also found there, yet access to the bridge is rather restricted. While one can get some photos of the bridge from the Ontario side by foot, it is difficult to find a place to park if traveling by car or bike, as access is not possible unless on private property. Only motorized vehicles are allowed to cross the bridge, thus making it impossible to cross on foot unless risking being arrested.  The Highway Bridge has been maintained really well, with a new paint job and other inspections and the like to keep the structure functionally sound, which can cause confusion because it appears younger than its railroad structure next door. Yet there is a reason behind that, as you will see in the next bridge profile.

 

 

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Whirlpool Rapids Railroad Bridge

Location: Niagara River next to Whirlpool Rapids Highway Bridge, carrying CP Railroad (now abandoned)

Bridge Type: Steel deck arch with Pratt truss features

Length: 863 feet (263.1 meters); main span: 640 feet (195 meters)

Built: 1925 by American Bridge Company of New York; designed by Leffert Buck and Olaf Hoff

The Whirlpool Rapids Railroad Bridge is similar to its neighbor to the north and has a history of its own. Its predecessor was a cantilever deck truss bridge with Whipple and Howe features and was one of the first of its kind in North America, having been built in 1883. Its current structure was based on a design created by Buck. However it was shelved after he died unexpectedly of apolexy in 1909. The design was later taken out and modified by Olaf Hoff (and associates William Perry Taylor and J.L. Delming), who contracted with American Bridge to build the structure alonside the cantilever span, which was later removed. The structure appears older than its age, but this has to do with the fact that the crossing has been abandoned since 2001. According to Nathan Holth, an agreement was made between Canadian Pacific Railroad and the City of Niagara Falls (Ontario) where the railroad and bridge would be abandoned as it ran through the tourist district and it was considered a safety concern and a nuisance. The railroad would keep the bridge but eventually remove it completely. As of the visit in 2018, the railroad bridge is still intact and there were no cranes or other vehicles on site that would indicate that there would be any removal activity. The bridge is barracaded with barbed wire to ensure no one climbs onto the bridge to cross it. One can still get some pics- even better, when standing between the two bridges. The bridge can also be seen from Skylon if one looks at it more closely.  Yet beware that the days of the railroad bridge may be numbered and it could be removed sooner than later, unless a preservation party is willing to step in and claim responsibility for repurposing it for bikes and pedestrians. Until that happens, it is recommended to visit the structure while it is still standing.

 

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The Whirlpool Rapids Bridges was built at the site where John Roebling’s first wire suspension bridge had been built. It was constructed in 1855 and featured a double-decking with the railroad going over the top; horse and buggy the bottom deck. It was dismantled after the Highway Bridge was completed in 1897, but not before having undergone an extensive rehabilitation 11 years before.

 

 

 

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Rainbow Arch Bridge

Location: Niagara River at Roberts Street next to American Falls

Bridge Type: Steel deck arch with closed spandrel arch approaches

Built: 1941 replacing the Honeymoon Bridge

The Rainbow Arch Bridge is the most popular of the bridges in the Niagara Falls Region. It is one where attention is given by the tens of thousands of passers-by and tourists daily, whether it is on even level from the walkway, from the bottom while on a boat tour to the American and Horseshoe Falls, or from high up via Skylon Tower. The bridge is the centerpiece attraction which complements the two falls, day and night. The bridge is the oldest of the rainbow deck arches, but at 1444 feet (440 meters) and a main span of 950 feet (289 meters), it is the shorter of the two bridge spans of its kind. However, when viewing the bridge from a historical perspective, the bridge is the fourth one built at its present location. The first structure was a suspension bridge known as teh Falls View Bridge. It was built in 1867 at the site where the American Platform is located, but despite extensive rehabilitation in 1888 that featured the widening of the bridge deck, the suspension bridge, which had been built by Samuel Keefer, was blown down by a windstorm on January 9th, 1889. It was later rebuilt as a second suspension bridge, needing only 38 days until it was completed and reopened on May 7th, 1889. It didn’t last long, for another wind storm in January 1890 caused significant damage to the structure. Although it survived intact, workers came up with a new plan to replace the suspension bridge, which was the Honeymoon Bridge. Designed by Buck, Pencoyd Bridge and Construction built the superstructure in 1897 and featured a steel deck arch with grided pandrels, a Warren ribbed-arch main span and one bowstring deck arch approach span per side. The bridge remained in service until one tragic day on January 27th, 1938. There, an ice jam, combined with high winds, brought the structure down completely. Two people who were on the bridge at that time, barely escaped death by running across to the New York side. The collapse of the bridge was photographed by Frank O. Seed, which gained popularity. Because it was too dangerous to get out onto the river to remove the structure because of the high waves, wind and the high cliffs, the remnants of the Honeymoon Bridge remained on the icy river until April 13th of the same year, when it was moved down river by up to a mile and later sank to the bottom. None of the bridge has ever been recovered since then. Three years later, Waddel and Hardesty designed its replacement and Bethlehem Steel constructed the current bridge which has been in service since, carrying traffic between New York and Ontario.  The bridge provides some great views and should a book ever be written about the bridges in the Niagara Falls region, it would definitely reach the front cover because of its popularity that coincides with that of the two falls themselves. The bridge is found everywhere on postcards and booklets on the Falls, but eventually, a book on the bridges will need to be considered as well.

 

 

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William Rankine Power Generating Station Bridge

Location: Niagara Falls Outlet at the Power Generating Station on Niagara Parkway.

Type: Closed Spandrel Stone Arch Bridge (5-span)

Built:  1905

Walking past the Horseshoe Falls, we have this bridge, a five-span stone arch bridge that is located next to the city’s power station. Both were built at the same time, and both were built with the purpose of directing part of the flow from the Niagara River to the power station, where it can produce energy via hydro-electric power. It is unknown who the bridge builder was, however, it is one of four bridges a person can find in the area, whose bridge type and aesthetics are the same. Even a smaller crossing along the sidewalk next to the top of Horseshoe Falls resemble a similar engineering artwork.

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Luna Island Bridge

Location: Segment of Niagara Falls at American Falls between Luna Island and Tesla Monument

Bridge Type: Stone arch bridge (one span)

Built: between 1900 and 1905

The Luna Island Bridge is the shortest of the stone arch bridges in Niagara Falls, with a length of no more than 50 feet. It is the closest bridge to American Falls, which provides tourists with an up-close view of American Falls from the American shoreline. It does provide its lone access from Luna Island to the Niagara platform, which was built in 1961 and gives a person a view of both the American and the Horseshoe Falls from the American side. On the Canadian side, the bridge is sometimes difficult to photograph from the walkway along the Falls in the warmer seasons due to vegetation, but one can get a good shot from Skylon if zoomed in as far as the camera can allow for it.

 

 

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Goat Island Bridges

Location: Niagara Falls on Goat Island Drive

Bridge Type: Stone Arch Bridge (each three spans)

Built: 1905

Goat Island Bridge features a thoroughfare crossing that connects Goat Island and the city of Niagara Falls on the New York side, with an intermission going through Green Island. Each section has three spans but according to data, the total length of the entire structure with the island in between is between 180 and 200 feet. Originally, the bridge provided vehicular access, but as of present, access has been reduced to pedestrian and cyclar traffic. The structure can be seen from the Canadian side but also from the Skylon Tower. Yet, measures are being sought to replace both spans due to age and structural deterioration. But the procedure will not be easy. The American Falls will need to be shut down beforehand and all the water flow will need to be diverted through Horseshoe Falls. It would be a first since 1969, should both city governments as well as the Canadian government approve the measure. This measure would be use to rehabilitate the American Falls to reduce erosion, while at the same time, replace the Goat Island Bridges. If and when this will all happen remains open.

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Grand Island Viaduct

Location: Niagara River at I-190 between Sandy Beach and Niagara Falls, New York

Bridge Type: Cantilever deck truss with Warren/Wichert truss features

Built: 1935; additional replica built in 1963

The Grand Island Viaduct is the easternmost bridge in the Niagara Falls area, as the bridge carries Interstate I-190 that connects Niagara Falls with Buffalo. The interstate bypasses the city before crossing the Niagara River the second time at Kingston and entering Canada. While the bridge is not visible on the ground, it can be seen clearly from Skylon Tower, if one has a camera that can zoom as far as what is shown in the picture.

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Bird’s eye view of both American and Horseshoe Falls taken from Skylon Tower

There is a map where you can have a look at the location of the bridges and the places where you can get your best shots of the structures. From the author’s point of view, there are four places where you can get the best shots of the Falls, all of which from the Canadian side which you will be greeted by a crowd of thousands who will have the same idea. But still, with patience, you can get the best shots: on even level along the walkway from the Power Station to the Rainbow Arch, from Skylon Tower, while on a boat tour to Horseshoe Falls and lastly, by crossing the city’s finest bridges, as mentioned here. And while Niagara Falls is a “once-in-a-lifetime” event which one should really see, as a pontist, the bridges in the area are just as important, not only because of its location, but also because of their history. Which is why it would not be a surprise if a book on this topic will be on the shelves within five years after this tour guide is posted. 😉

The Gallery presented here is a fraction of what you can find on the Chronicles’ Facebook page. Click here and you will be directed to the Album, where you can enjoy not only the photos but comment on some of the bridges, including those not mentioned here. A link to some more interesting facts about the bridges in the area can be found here. 🙂

bhc eric delony

 

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