Niagara Falls Bridge Collapse

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As the current temperatures in Niagara Falls drop below zero, it was during similar conditions over 80 years ago,  when the great Niagara Falls Bridge Collapse occurred. Known as the Honeymoon Bridge (or Falls View Bridge), this large structure was tested by the forces of nature when massive chunks of ice began to accumulate below the bridge on January 23rd, 1938. This was precipitated by a powerful wind storm that blew ice from Lake Erie down the Niagara River and over the Horseshoe and the American Falls. We’ve experienced “Polar Vortex” conditions in recent years but that particular year was so cold that the ice bridges stacked upon themselves — creeping up the base locations of the bridge. The ice level continued to grow higher and higher and it got to the point where the bridge could not support the ice pressure any longer and tragically collapsed.

Early Days

The Honeymoon Bridge was built in 1898 by the Pencoyd Bridge Company of Philadelphia, under the direction of Engineer R.S. Buck. The bridge was a two hinged arch with a latticed rib and its span was 840 feet long with trusses connecting the main span to the top of each shoreline. The abutments for this bridge extended to the base of the gorge and were situated next to the river’s edge. The bridge’s close proximity to the water level would ultimately prove to be its undoing.

The Upper Steel Arch Bridge was finished and opened to traffic on June 23rd, 1897, and it was the world’s longest such construction at the time, with a span of 840 feet. The finished bridge included a single floor, double tracks for electric trolleys, and space for carriages and pedestrians. The Upper Steel Arch Bridge was a lovely and graceful structure that provided a breathtaking perspective of the Falls.

Early Issues

The abutments of the bridge had to be constantly safeguarded from the ice bridges that formed in the Lower Niagara River every winter due to their close proximity to the river’s surface. A large ice bridge threatened to force the bridge off its foundations in early January 1899. Workers worked for three weeks to clear the ice that had built up around the abutments and into the steel girders of the bridge, minimizing damage to the structure.

Niagara Falls bridge collapse

Collapse Event

During the fateful week in 1938, the Niagara river bed rose to 9 feet high, thus engulfing the Maid of the Mist docks and everything else around it. Suddenly the abutments of the Honeymoon Bridge were encased with ice. Knowing that the bridge would collapse on any given day, all vehicle traffic was ceased to a halt the day prior to the Niagara Falls Bridge Collapse on January 26th. No fatalities occurred due to this — except for the fate on the bridge!

At 4:20 pm on January 27th, 1938 the Honeymoon Bridge fell into the Niagara Gorge.

The Niagara Falls Bridge Collapse was a lesson learned — the current Rainbow Bridge sits slightly north (500 feet) from where the Honeymoon Bridge once stood and was constructed to better withstand the high winds and fierce weather conditions!

The Rainbow Bridge

Niagara Falls Bridge

Pictured Above: The Current Rainbow Bridge

The previous Honeymoon Bridge was known to blow about pedestrians and vehicles crossing, and the bridge decking was wooden, thus making it extremely dangerous when wet. On one occasion in 1930, an American motorist crossing the bridge into Canada applied the brakes of his automobile and skidded off the bridge and into the gorge, falling to his death.

Click here to learn about the Niagara Falls Ice Bridge phenomena.

Niagara Falls Honeymoon Bridge Collapse Video

The dramatic twenty-four hour conflict of ice against steel reaches the climax just after 4 o’clock in the afternoon, when the Falls View International Bridge collapses into the ice-jammed gorge of the Niagara River. Thousands of spectators watch from both sides of the gorge as the great steel structure collapses.

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