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1.11.2017

Harrisburg and the Susquehanna: Riverfront, Awesome Bridges, and More

An often unheralded aspect of Harrisburg is the spectacular bridges that cross the Susquehanna River. All of these bridges were major engineering feats when they were built and are very long. Full river crossings measure in at anywhere from 3500 to 4000 feet, more than half a mile long.
For starters, the riverfront areas are beautiful. 
Quite a bit of the state government is based along the river, including the Governor's Mansion, though Governor Wolf is living out of his own home in York County instead.
Relaxation is sure to be found along the river. There is an abundance of public green space that has places to sit and relax, like on this bench, in addition to trails for outdoor recreation, and more. In the background you can see one of the newer bridges in the city, the Harvey Taylor Bridge, a girder bridge that was built in 1952 and rehabilitated in 2003.
Here is the bridge and the Riverfront Memorial Gardens
There is a series of four bridges in this specific spot that really piqued my interest. The bridge that we are crossing at the moment is the Market Street Bridge, and we are looking out at the old Cumberland Valley Railroad bridge, a massive 43 span bridge that measures in at roughly 4000 feet. It crosses city island and instead of having two different bridges on either side of the island, it crosses the island at a high level and then spans the western flow of the river. This bridge is in a state of abandonment, awaiting conversion into a walkway. Just beyond it you can see three Norfolk Southern locomotives crossing the old Reading and Philadelphia Railroad Bridge. This bridge is roughly 3500 feet long and it crosses the river just below city island with 51 spans. 
A look at the western end of the Philadelphia and Reading Bridge that is now utilized by Norfolk Southern. It was built in 1924 and is absolutely massive. It measures in at roughly 3500 feet, with fifty-one main spans, three more than the Rockville Bridge of the old Pennsylvania Railroad, located a few miles up river from here. You may notice the lone stone bridge piers off of the side of the bridge. These were part of the South Pennsylvania Railroad project, also known as "Vanderbilt's Folly" in which the rich Pittsburgh based tycoons Carnegie and Frick, allied with Vanderbilt of the New York Central Railroad, tried to break the monopoly of the Pennsylvania Railroad. 

The whole feud started when the Pennsylvania Railroad bought a competing line to the NYC that went from Buffalo to New York City. Banker JP Morgan stepped in and brokered a deal to halt the construction of the project. The quick halt to construction left traces of the rail alignment from this railway all across the state, including these bridge piers, a number of tunnels in various states of completion, and many cutouts. 

On a side note, many of these tunnels and cutouts eventually ended up becoming the backbone of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the world's first superhighway and a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.  A section of the Turnpike, known as the "Abandoned Turnpike" remains frozen in time as an example of the original setup of the turnpike resides a few hours west of this location near Breezewood. This section of the Susquehanna River is packed with history. 

In the background of the photo above, you can see the Interstate 83 Bridge, which dates back to 1960.

Another view of the Reading and Philadelphia Bridge and the never used bridge piers from the old South Pennsylvania Railroad project.


The western end of the Reading and Philadelphia/Norfolk Southern Bridge. This is an absolutely stunning bridge.


A set of Norfolk Southern locomotives crossing the bridge

The western half of the old Cumberland Valley Railroad Bridge, a near twin of the former Reading and Philadelphia, and current Norfolk Southern Bridge. The Cumberland Valley Railroad Bridge, as  mentioned earlier in the article, has stood abandoned. The bridge's future usage is still being planned, with it most likely becoming a pedestrian and bicycle trail. The CVRR Bridge was built in 1916, eight years before the Reading Bridge. They ran into a number of issues during construction of the CVRR Bridge, with a flood knocking out some of the extensive falsework during construction. The builders of the Reading and Philadelphia Bridge learned from these issues, utilizing much less falsework within the construction of the bridge. 
A Norfolk Southern Train rolling along the Susquehanna River and under the old Cumberland Valley Railroad Bridge. 
Here is a pretty lousy photo, but this is from the middle of the channel that the bridge crosses and demonstrates how largely shallow the river is. The river was swollen a little bit when we were there, and it looks like this section normally sits dry.
A view of the eastern ends of both the Reading and Philadelphia/Norfolk Southern Bridge on the right, and the Cumberland Valley Railroad Bridge on the left
The Cumberland Valley Railroad Bridge, with Downtown Harrisburg in view
Both rail bridges in view.
Through this arch of the Cumberland Valley Railroad Bridge, you can see two other Susquehanna River crossing, the Market Street and Walnut Street Bridges. 
The Market Street Bridge, with the Downtown Harrisburg skyline in the background, with the green rotunda of the State Capitol Building in view. 
The Market Street Bridge is another bridge with an large amount of arches. As opposed to the first two bridges we looked at, which utilize unadorned concrete arches, this one utilizes concrete arches with a stone facade, to give the bridge extra protection from damage from the notoriously flood-prone Susquehanna. The eastern structure of this street bridge crosses over to city island, and then the road carries it to the western portion of the bridge, which was redone in 1962. The crossing was built in 1928. The western section of this bridge magically withstood a catastrophic failure of a large portion of the western spans of the Walnut Street Bridge during the speedy meltdown and storms that came after the Blizzard of 1996.
The north face of the eastern spans of the Market Street Bridge
The fully intact half of the Market Street Bridge. The completion of this bridge dates all the way back to 1890. It was known as the People's Bridge for it broke the toll monopoly of the Camelback Bridge, a covered bridge that once stood at the location of the Market Street Bridge. The people of the city came together to get this bridge built. It was built by Phoenix Bridge, a company that was based out of Phoenixville, PA and built bridges around the world. This is the longest known remaining example of a bridge built using the Phoenix Column. Both sides of the bridge were converted to pedestrian use after horrendous flooding caused by Hurricane Agnes damaged the bridge in 1972. In its time it served regular vehicular traffic, wagons, and even trolleys.
Here is the western span of the bridge. It remains in this state after it catastrophically failed during the rapid meltdown of several feet of snow after the Blizzard of 96. Temperatures rose into the 50s and a rainstorm occurred, leading towards a the center spans of the western Walnut Street Bridge being torn apart and carried into the Market Street Bridge. More information and video of the incident can be found at this article we wrote. The Walnut Street Bridge, as a whole, is a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, as designated by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The same designation was given to two other Harrisburg area staples, the original section of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and the Rockville Bridge, the world's longest stone masonry arch railway bridge. Another bridge that really stuck out to me was the State Street Bridge, also known as the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Bridge, with its stately 145 foot tall pylons that were created as a memorial to the armed forces that fought in World War I.  If you love checking out bridges, you will surely have a great time in Harrisburg. You will be sure to find great views from most locations on, over, or along the Susquehanna River, but especially from City Island.

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