KING RAILROAD BRIDGES – AN UPDATE – 2013
The King Bridge Company became an important builder of railroad bridges, particularly in the last three decades of its existence under the Presidency’s of Zenas King’s eldest son, James and later his younger brother, Harry. These included a number of moveable (swing and bascule) bridges, trestles, solid through trusses (Pratt, etc.) and solid if unspectacular beam girders. Despite their age of at least one hundred years or more, there are a number of these bridges still standing, some still in active use!! But alas, some are succumbing to the demolition process. The durability of these structures is a tribute to the engineering and fabrication expertize of the King engineers and assembly workers. However, they are not immune to the ravages of time, wear and tear, and the changing fortunes of the railroad industry, either because of abandonments or increase in service and use. The following four King bridges, all located in New York or New England, illustrate each or all of these experiences; the Spuyten Duyvil swing, still in active use, Old Nan being replaced after long service, the Hojack swing demolished despite attempts to rescue it, and the Rosendale (Viaduct) Trestle being rehabilitated for a new use.
In June of 2012 we received an email from Ron Parisi who is writing a history of the West Side Freight Line in New York City which enters Manhattan on a multi span bridge built by the King Bridge Company in 1900 and is still standing and in use by trains serving Penn Station and the locations along the east shore of the Hudson River north of New York City. The bridge provides a dramatic entrance to the Hudson River from the Harlem River viewed by sightseers using the Circle Line Cruise vessels circumnavigating Manhattan Island. The center swing span is similar in design to the now departed Hojack Bridge that was built some five years after the Spuyten Duyvil structure. The advertising picture on the left was found on Nathan Holth’s Historic Bridges website attached to the Horton Road Bridge in Ashtabula County Ohio and apparently confirms Ron Parisi’ finding. This is some compensation for the loss of Hojack knowing that there is still one of the railroad swing bridges built by the King Bridge Company is still standing.
The bridge has had a long history of freight and passenger use as part of the railroad line skirting the west side of Manhattan. According to Wikipedia, “The bridge was rehabilitated in the late 1980s and Amtrak’s Empire Service began using the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge on April 7, 1991 following the completion of the Empire Connection. This involved the conversion of the abandoned West Side Line to accommodate passenger service and connect with Pennsylvania Station. Up until then, Amtrak trains traveling between New York and Albany had utilized Grand Central Terminal.The bridge is used by approximately 30 trains per day and is opened over 1,000 times per year, primarily during the summer months for Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises and recreational vessels.”
Five span bridge with swing center span over Spuyten Duyvil in New York City -pictures by Ron Parisi
In October of 2010 this spectacular fire of unknown origins started on the swing span and was put out by the NYFD. Despite being over 110 years old, this King bridge has been able to serve its important role in the transportation system of the metropolitan region and is one of the last King built structures still in service. Just before this bridge was built, the King Bridge Company was involved in the building of the nearby Broadway Swing Bridge which connected Upper Manhattan with the Bronx before it was moved in 1909 to become the University Heights Bridge. While it has been extensively rehabilitated, it retains the handsome original design.
After a long and successful service in the heavily travelled Northeast corridor, this Scherzer bascule bridge built by the King Bridge Company in 1907 just west of New London Connecticut is being replaced. The project is planned to be completed in 2013. The following is a description of the replacement project appearing on the AMTRAC website. At least it is going out of business with style and dignity recognized for its long service, not like Hojack
“The new Niantic River Bridge will replace one of the oldest movable bridges in the country, a two-track, bascule (rolling lift) bridge that was built in 1907, which has been in continuous operation ever since. The bridge is one of five movable bridges along the Northeast Corridor rail line between New Haven, Conn. and Boston, Mass.”
“One of the most remarkable projects of the King (Movable) Bridge Company was “Old Nan” across the Niantic River between Niantic and Waterford, Conn. It is the oldest of the five movable bridges still operating on the rail line between Boston and New York and is used daily by Amtrak Acela high-speed trains. The bridge was built in 1907 to replace a swing-span bridge and has been in continuous operation ever since.”
A LOSS -The demolition of the Hojack Swing Bridge – October 2012
With rather ruthless efficiency, the powers that be (CSX, The U.S. Coast Guard., the demolition contractors, with the probable encouragement of the neighboring marina owners) organized the demolition of the Hojack Swing Bridge in Rochester in October of 2012 making sure that all the bureaucratic requirements were met and the parties hoping to save the bridge were all informed. As can be seen from the pictures below, the demolition was complete with no part of the superstructure salvaged. It lies in rubble at the foot of the crane. One could ask the demolition contractors if they ever considered lifting the superstructure off its turntable in tact, then putting it on a barge so it might be moved to some point on the shore and salvaged in some way that would preserve it. However, this was evidently not in the minds on anyone involved, thus total destruction.
Only the builder’s plate remains to be house in a local museum. The photos above were taken by a number of local supporters of Hojack preservation including Arthur Daughton, Richard Swasen, and Richard Margolis, all of Rochester during the dismantling of this historic bridge. We applaud their heroic, if unsuccessful, efforts. What now remains is a book edited by Richard Margolis telling the story of this part of Rochester’s engineering history which could not be saved. Apparently the indifference of the Rochester political elite and pressure from some yacht and marina owners coupled with the orders of the U.S. Coast Guard were successful in insuring the total demise of the Hojack swing. Too bad !!
The project to restore and upgrade this 940 foot former railroad trestle built by the King Bridge Company in 1897 for use on the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail is well underway. Since 2009, the Wallkill Valley Land Trust and Open Space Conservancy have been fixing up the structure, replacing the guard rails and planking, and other improvements so that it will be able to safely carry hikers, bikers, joggers, skiers and others for about 150 feet above Rondout Creek and the old Delaware and Hudson Canal. It affords spectacular views of a piece of the Hudson River to the east and the Shawangunk Mountains to the west. This will be a high point on the 24 mile trail running between Kingston and Gardner in Ulster County, New York. The cost of the whole project is now estimated at about $1.1 million and should be finished in 2013. It is most comforting to see that this old structure can still be useful. In its heyday, the trestle carried trains loaded with cement and other building materials to New York City where they played a major role in creating the city we know today.