Demise of the New River Bridge

New River Bridge - Glen Lyn, Virginia - April, 1968
New River Bridge – Glen Lyn, Virginia – April, 1968

The former Virginian Railway bridge over the New River at Glen Lyn, Virginia was perhaps one of the most spectacular railroad crossings constructed at that time. Designed in 1906 by the Tidewater Railway, the bridge was completed in 1909 after the new Virginian Railway was formed by merger of the Tidewater with the Deepwater Railway which was building eastward from its namesake town in West Virginia. Both the Deepwater and the Tidewater railways were constructed by financier Henry Huttleston Rogers. After the Chesapeake & Ohio and the Norfolk & Western railways refused to give the little Deepwater favorable rates for shipping coal from the mines in southern West Virginia,  Rogers quietly incorporated the Tidewater railway to build westward from Norfolk to the West Virginia state line. In 1907 the Tidewater name was changed to the Virginian Railway (reporting mark VGN) and at the same time the Deepwater Railway was acquired by the VGN. There was a gap between the former roads until 1909 when the “Golden Spike” was driven close to the WV-VA state line which was located about the middle of the bridge over East River.

The four concrete piers in the New River which made up the main part of the bridge stood nearly 90 feet high from the river bottom and with the addition of the steel deck truss, it made the bridge about 120 feet tall to the top of the rail. The total length of the bridge was 2,155 feet. This bridge and the equally tall but much shorter bridge over East River about a half mile west of Glen Lyn were the last bridges constructed that opened the way for trains to move the whole length of the railroad.

New River Bridge - Glen Lyn, Virginia - April, 1968
New River Bridge – Glen Lyn, Virginia – April, 1968

When the states of Virginia and West Virginia decided to widen US 460, the 10 mile stretch of the former Virginian from Kellysville, West Virginia to Narrows, Virginia was acquired by the respective state’s highway departments. The connection track, built by the Norfolk & Western Railway at Kellysville in 1960 after the Viginian merger, was reconfigured and a new connection to the former Virginian Railway at Narrows was built over the New River in 1970. Most of the old right of way was used for the new US 460 except the New River and East River crossings. Since these bridges became isolated and served no purpose, they were torn down. Today the massive concrete piers in the New River serve as a reminder of this once mighty structure.

Doug Bess – Photographs and text Copyright 2016
See more of Doug’s work at WVRails.net

Redstone Bridge

Nestled in the heart of South Central Minnesota lies the German influenced town of New Ulm. This town was founded in 1854, and the Chicago & North Western Railway arrived in late 1871. New Ulm became a significant station point for the C&NW, and included a crossing of the Minnesota River. By 1899, a line relocation made the river crossing redundant, and the original mainline was reduced to a branch. The line was purchased by the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad in 1986; which was in turn purchased by Canadian Pacific Railway in 2008.

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Looking east across the Redstone Bridge

The Redstone Bridge lies just east of New Ulm, along the original mainline. It is named after the town of Redstone, a long lost town along the banks of the Minnesota River. The bridge is hard to access, but is a treat for anyone that visits. A serene and quiet spot surrounds this very historic swing bridge, which is a little known secret. The bridge was originally built in 1880 to replace a wooden swing bridge. The bridge was built under the direction of the Chicago & North Western Railway, with the Leighton Bridge & Iron Works of Rochester, New York erecting the structure.

Overview of swing span
Overview of swing span

The center swing span is a 206-Foot-long Iron Swing Span, of Camelback Through Truss construction. The span is set on iron rollers, on top of a round stone pier. The span uses a unique system of U-Bolts to hold the structure together. The swing system is still fully intact.

U-Bolt Connection
U-Bolt Connection

The swing span is approached on either side by a 130 Foot Quadrangular Through Truss, of iron construction. This design is exceedingly rare in certain parts of the United States, although it is very common along former C&NW lines. Post Tension Rods connect pieces on these spans, allowing for heavier loads with less material.

The West Approach Truss
The West Approach Truss

In addition to the main through trusses, the bridge also has a wooden trestle approach. Stone piers are also used for the trusses, although all but one has been encased in concrete. Presently, the bridge serves a quarry to the east. Various agencies hope that if abandoned, this highly significant bridge can be preserved in the form of a trail. Access to it is walk in only, from 171st Avenue.

The bridge serves as a reminder to a past time, when riverboats and trains crossed paths. While the Minnesota River became non-navigable this far upstream in 1884, the bridge undoubtedly had to swing at least once. The bridge also serves a reminder of the heritage of the community of New Ulm, which was brought up along the railroad. With an excellent retention of historic integrity, the bridge is commonly regarded as one of the most significant railroad bridges in the State of Minnesota. Despite its relatively unrecognized status, the bridge is also one of the more significant railroad bridges in the United States. Hopefully it can retain this status through preservation for years to come.

John Marvig Photographs and Text Copyright 2016

See more of John’s work at John Marvig’s Railroad Bridge Photography