Lightweight At Little Falls

Another featherweight truss, this time crossing the Mohawk River at Little Falls, New York. As can be seen by the two horse-and-wagon combinations, it was a road bridge.

Little Falls is situated on both sides of the river at a bend, which I’m sure someone who knows more than me about river flow could say is or is not related to the rapids there. One early scheme for the Erie Canal proposed channelizing the Mohawk, but that proved to be beyond the capability of early nineteenth-century US civil engineers. Instead, a separate (and relatively small) channel was dug for the full length. That canal was expanded several times, made mostly obsolete by the development of the New York Central Railroad, and then greatly expanded into the New York State Barge Canal in the early twentieth century. The modern canal uses a channelized Mohawk River for part of its run, with the odd effect at at Little Falls that the “canal” is wider than the “river.” There are two channels, separated by a long skinny island (two small natural islands joined by landfill) and the southern one, the canal, has been heavily remade by people. The bridge is over the northern channel, which was the main channel of the river back when, which means that even if restored it wouldn’t get you across the river as it exists today, but only to the island.

It’s hard to find a lot of records – I assume if I had access to the local archives, there’d be more, but it’s unlikely I’ll be in Little Falls in the near future – but the bridge appears to have been built between January and May of 1886, and closed as unsafe in 1970.

Why so spindly? Part of the answer is that, as it was apparently well designed for its loads, it was as heavy as it needed to be. Part of the answer is that the economics of nineteenth-century construction favored high-labor, low-material solutions like this. Part of the reason concerned transportation: Little Falls was not a steel-industry hub, so the pieces of the bridge were shipped in. They may have come by barge in the canal, they may have come by rail. In either case, the use of a lightweight truss lent itself to breaking the bridge down into a bunch of individually small pieces. Finally, there are few types of bridge that can be constructed in five months.

The bridge was still there as of 2018, according to Bridgehunter, although given its fifty years of abandonment, that’s a precarious situation. The 2019 “City of Little Falls Local Waterfront Revitalization Program” from New York State included money to repair the bridge. I don’t know the status of that program, whether it’s delayed by Covid, moving ahead, or not yet funded. I have been past the bridge a number of times taking the train to western New York, but I can’t say that I ever noticed it.

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  1. Pingback: Lightweight At Little Falls — Old Structures Engineering – The Bridgehunter's Chronicles

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