Skip to main content

American Ribblehead: The Starrucca Viaduct - Lanesboro, PA


Nestled in the scenic hills of northeast Pennsylvania, the Starrucca Viaduct is a 19th Century railroad bridge known for its historic design and its impressive longevity. Opened in 1848, it was known as the world's largest stone-arch railroad viaduct as it carried traffic along the original New York & Erie Railroad. It has been suggested that this bridge was the first in America to utilize structural concrete in its construction, the material being utilized for the bridge’s foundations. In the mid-1800s, concrete was still an unknown quantity as a material and it was still considered to be experimental in nature at the time, making its use at this location a daring yet critical first step in the material’s evolution into a building block that modern construction could never be without.

This bridge’s size and design anticipated the construction of a more-famous stone arch railroad bridge built about 25 years later in England. The Ribblehead Viaduct in North Yorkshire, England is one of the most popular historic bridges for enthusiasts alike and its own proportions were likely inspired at least in part by its American counterpart here in Pennsylvania. As a result, the Starrucca Viaduct is sometimes known as the “American Ribblehead”, as it comes the closest to resembling its English rival in size and form. As for this structure, it spans the wide Starrucca Creek Valley, requiring a span of about a thousand feet in length. The whole structure above ground was build of locally-quarried ashlar bluestone and the entire project was put together in about one year – an impressive timeline for a structure of its kind. It measures 1,040 ft in length, stands (on average) about 100 ft tall, and consists of seventeen arch spans each measuring 50 ft long. While build wide enough for a dual-track deck layout, it has spent most of its life as a single-track crossing that has been structurally reinforced and upgraded in a subtle manner over the years.

Above: A few ground-level views of the Viaduct, including a couple historic markers nearby

The Viaduct remains in active use today (owned by the Delaware-Otsego Corporation and operated by the New York, Susquehanna, & Western Railway on its Port Jervis to Binghamton service), more than 150 years after its construction, making it one of the oldest active railroad bridges in the nation. The American Society of Civil Engineers recognizes the historic significance of its design & construction with its designation as a National Civil Engineering Landmark, in addition to its place on the National Register of Historic Places.

Most people have no problem taking in the sight of this structure from ground level, but back in mid-2020 I had the opportunity to go one step further and see what it looks like from the air; this was a great location for a quick workout session with my quadcopter drone – the perspectives you get from the air add a whole new dimension to our understanding of this bridge’s proportions and its place within the scenic surrounding valley. If you’re ever in the area, or “just passing through” (as my podcasting alter ego would say), this one is worth stopping by to check out – it’s a rare American example of the stone arch design taken to greater lengths. It can be reached from Interstate 81 by taking Exit 230 and following PA 171 about 10 miles east, passing through the village of Susquehanna (along the river of same name) in the process. Who knows, if you end up visiting, maybe you’ll run in to me – I hope to come back here at some point to add to my portfolio at this location…


Above: Various aerial views of the Viaduct courtesy of my quadcopter drone. If you do bring a drone here, please be safe and fly responsibly!

How to Get There:

More information from ASCE website

More information from Pennsylvania Center for the Book website


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Horace Wilkinson Bridge (Baton Rouge, LA)

Standing tall across from downtown Baton Rouge, the Horace Wilkinson Bridge carries Interstate 10 across the lower Mississippi River between West Baton Rouge and East Baton Rouge Parishes. Unusually, the bridge is actually named for three separate people; three generations of Horace Wilkinsons who served in the Louisiana State Legislature over a combined period of 54 years. Constructed in the 1960s and opened to traffic in 1968, this is one of the largest steel bridges on the lower Mississippi. It’s also the tallest bridge across the Mississippi, with its roadway reaching 175 ft at the center span. Baton Rouge is the northernmost city on the river where deep-water, ocean-going vessels can operate. As a result, this bridge is the northernmost bridge on the river of truly gigantic proportions. Altogether, the bridge is nearly 2 ½ miles long and its massive truss superstructure is 4,550 ft long with a center main truss span of 1,235 ft. The Horace Wilkinson Bridge is one of the largest

Veterans Memorial Bridge (Gramercy, LA)

When we think of the greatest engineering achievements and the greatest bridges of North America, we tend to focus on those located in places familiar to us or those structures that serve the greatest roles in connecting the many peoples and cultures of our continent. Greatness can also be found in the places we least expect to find it and that 'greatness' can unfortunately be overlooked, due in large part to projects that are mostly inconsequential, if not wasteful, to the development and fortunes of the surrounding area. In the aftermath of the George Prince ferry disaster that claimed the lives of 78 people in October 1976 in nearby Luling, LA, the state of Louisiana began the process of gradually phasing out most of its prominent cross-river ferry services, a process that remains a work in progress today. While the Luling-Destrehan Ferry service was eliminated in 1983 upon completion of the nearby Hale Boggs Memorial Bridge, the ferry service at Gramercy, LA in rural St.

Sunshine Bridge (Donaldsonville, LA)

Located about halfway between Baton Rouge and New Orleans in southern Louisiana, the Sunshine Bridge spans the lower Mississippi River near the city of Donaldsonville as part of the longer Louisiana Highway 70 corridor, which connects Interstate 10 and Airline Highway (US 61) with US 90 in Morgan City. In the years following World War II, the only bridges across the lower Mississippi River in Louisiana were located in the area of the state’s two largest cities – Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Postwar agricultural and industrial development along the river in this region led to the planning of a series of infrastructure projects in southern Louisiana that were aimed at spurring this development and modernization of the Delta region. One of these projects was known as the Acadian Thruway and was developed in the 1950s as a toll road intended to connect greater New Orleans with Lafayette and points west while providing a high-speed bypass of the Baton Rouge metro area. The Thruway, which