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Historic American Engineering Record
Coraopolis Bridge
HAER No. PA-217

Spanning the Ohio River Back Channel at
Ferree Street and Grand Avenue
Allegheny County

Previous Page

(Page 10)

Development did not proceed quite as rapidly as local boosters may have hoped, but nevertheless the population had swelled nearly sevenfold to 974 by the turn of the decade. Part of this increase was attributable to transients, however. The discovery of oil in marketable quantities at both ends of the town in 1890 brought in a gusher of laborers.

During the early phases of the growth of Coraopolis, the 1000-acres of Neville Island remained devoted to agriculture. The island's fertile soil enabled its farmers to be counted among the most successful in the Ohio Valley, with standing orders from the prestigious hotels of Pittsburgh. So important was Neville Island produce to the city that the island became known as the "Market Basket of Pittsburgh."

To stimulate economic development in the region, a group of investors from Coraopolis conceived the idea of constructing a high-speed electric railway over Neville Island, at first to carry garden produce but shortly to transport passengers and commuters to and from the factories that were envisioned springing up along the route. The Pittsburgh, Neville Island, and Coraopolis Railway Company was organized in 1892 and began acquiring rights-of-way for the ambitious project, which entailed the construction of a nine-mile highway the length of Neville Island and the erection of a bridge from Ferree Street in Coraopolis to the island. Construction began the following year and was completed in 1894, at a total cost of $240,000. This achievement was claimed as "the first high speed railway in the United States", in a local publication commemorating the semi-centennial of the Borough of Coraopolis. The bridge consisted of three Pennsylvania trusses, each measuring approximately 224 feet long and crossing the Back Channel of the Ohio River. On the Coraopolis end, four small pony trusses and two plate girders spanned the railroad tracks from Ferree Street to the first through truss span. The 1894 bridge was removed in 1927 when the current Coraopolis Bridge was constructed.

The establishment of the electric railway caused an immediate influx of industry to the area. The first enterprise to relocate to Coraopolis was the Consolidated Lamp & Glass Company, which moved its operations from Fostoria, Ohio, in 1894. The Canfield Oil Company arrived the following year, and by the end of the decade the Montour Railroad Shops and the Duquesne Steel Foundry had also located in Coraopolis. Encouraged by this upsurge in industrial development, the Borough undertook an extensive program of public improvements in the late 1890s, including the construction of an electric power plant in 1897 and a municipal water plant in 1898.

As Coraopolis grew, industrialists began to develop plans for Neville island as well. A 1900 article in the Pittsburgh Dispatch observed that the island's renown for garden produce had extended "until but two short seasons past," but at the time of

(Page 11)

writing, farms were already being relinquished to industry, and "it is evident that in the not far distant future the entire island will be covered with manufacturing establishments and dwellings."

The first decade of the twentieth century saw the establishment of the Lewis Foundry and Machine Company (1900) and Graham Bolt and Nut Company (1904) at Coraopolis, and the first plant of the Dravo Corporation on Neville island (1906). Industrial development continued at a steady pace in Coraopolis during the following decade, with the operations of the Carbo-Oxygen Company and Standard Steel Spring Company both opening in 1914, and the Pittsburgh Forgings Corporation locating its plant there in 1919. The Concrete Products Company of America began work at Neville Island in 1913, and was joined in 1916 by the Pittsburgh/Des Moines Steel Company and the Independent Bridge Company.

The future of Neville Island was profoundiy affected by the federal government's plans to construct a huge munitions plant there during World War I. Until that time, farmers had managed to maintain a foothold on the island despite increasing encroachment by industrial interests. At least one privately-financed scheme to acquire the entire island for industrial development had failed. While the electric railway was under construction in the early 1890s, J. W. Arras, president of the railway company, secured the backing of Philadelphia capitalists to purchase the island for resale to manufacturing concerns, but the plan was defeated after a local newspaper disclosed it. In 1918, however, the federal government exercised its powers of eminent domain and purchased the land from the farmers for $8,700,000. The government then began construction of what was intended to be the world's largest munitions factory, but abandoned the project when the Armistice obviated the need for it. In December 1921, the land was sold at auction, and industrialists easily outbid the displaced farmers. Thus the die was cast and the future character of land use on Neville Island determined; heavy industry surged in, eventually occupying 80 percent of the island's total area.

The 1920s witnessed an oil boom in the Ohio Valley, which became important to Coraopolis in the latter part of the decade. The Republic, Robinson, and Vulcan were among the several oil companies which operated at Coraopolis in the late 1920s. In addition to these enterprises, the Neville Company began producing coal tar products on Neville Island in 1927, and Gulf Oil Corporation located on the island in 1931.

With the increasing industrial growth of Coraopolis and Neville Island came a commensurate need for improved transit between the two communities. The bridge which had been constructed in 1893 to carry the electric railway was no longer adequate to transport the numerous commuters and commodities which had to pass

(Page 12)

across the river daily. The population of Coraopolis had seen its greatest increase between 1890 and 1900, when it rose from 974 to 2555; it doubled again, to 5252, by 1910, and reached 10,715 in 1930, at which time local historian Edward B. Maurey observed that many of the residents were employed at factories in the area, including those on Neville Island. The requirement for improved facilities to convey these workers had become clear by the late 1920s.

The plan for the new Coraopolis bridge thus began. The supervising engineers for the innovative relocation of the Sixth Street Bridge were associated with the Foundation Company of New York, which had established an international reputation for the construction of pneumatic caissons for building foundations and bridge piers. The company essentially controlled this specialty within the construction industry in the early twentieth century, when skyscrapers were radically altering the skyline of New York City; the Foundation Company sank the caissons for many of the tall buildings constructed in Manhattan during this period, including the Empire State Building. In addition, it had been involved in the construction of numerous bridges, including those which carried the Canadian Pacific Railway across the nation; the Foundation Company had established a subsidiary in Canada in 1910 to supervise the railroad job, and its Canadian operations became so important that this subsidiary acquired a half-interest in the New York firm in 1924 and took over the company entirely in 1929. The Foundation Company was involved in every aspect of the relocation of the Sixth Street Bridge. They devised and carried out the procedure for dismantling and transporting the spans, constructed the north abutment at Coraopolis and Piers 2 and 3, and reerected the bridge at its new site.

The relocation of the Sixth Street Bridge commenced January 1, 1927, when it was closed to traffic and the first steps were taken for its removal from the site. The sidewalks were taken off, the deck stripped of its concrete pavement, and shore connections were disengaged. The two 440-foot spans were handled separately, with the south span first. The entire procedure of dismantling, moving, and re-erecting the bridge took 140 days.

The technical significance of this accomplishment was sufficiently great to warrant extensive coverage in the engineering press. The Engineering News-Record devoted two illustrated articles to the project; Foundation Company engineer D. T. Jerman was the author, and described the relocation process in considerable detail:

To lower the spans to the scows on which they [were] to be floated, the contractor designed a steel tower capabie of carrying the ends of both spans at the center pier, and a similar tower for the south end of the south span, the latter to be subsequently moved to the north

(Page 13)

end of the north span. The towers were erected by cutting recesses in the stone masonry and transferring the load from the shoes to the tower. . . . After the load had been transferred to the steel tower the masonry was removed and the bridge was ready for lowering. Each shoe was supported on four tension plates or steel straps, 18x1 in., 47 ft. Iong, punched with 26 holes 7 in. in diameter and 15 in. from center to center; the spacing of holes was made to correspond with the runout of the jacks.

Joseph White and M. W. von Bernewitz in their 1928 work The Bridges of Pittsburgh further elaborated the procedure:

[The straps] did not work singly but were paired so as to function like a sling or a loop. At the upper end of each loop was inserted a steel forged movable pin 38 inches long. The steel pin rested upon the plunger of a jack, which in turn rested on the steel tower. Eight 500-ton jacks, one for each loop, were used. Throughout the operation the jacks remained at the same elevation; as the bridge was lowered the length of the loop was lengthened 15 inches by shifting the movable pin to the set of holes above, and so on until lowered the full distance.... At a given signal, . . . the four plungers [of the jacks] gradually lowered and when they had moved downward their full distance, one end of the bridge had been lowered 15 inches. At another signal, the four jacks at the other end of the bridge were bled, then that end of the bridge was lowered 15 inches; thus the bridge was titled down end by end in steps of 15 inches for the complete distance of 18 feet. The total actual lowering period was 14 hours.

Jerman's account described the preparation of the barges which carried the span:

The span was lowered onto four steel barges, each of 1,000 tons capacity, fastened together in pairs and placed longitudinally with the span. Blocking was placed on the steel girders that fastened the barges together, at each panei point of the span, so that the span [was] resting at 42 points.... After the span was loaded on barges, which took one day, it was moved endwise so that the shoes cleared the center pier tower, and then swung downstream, where steamboats took hold of it and towed it to the north shore of the Allegheny River above Manchester bridge.

(Page 14)

To reach its destination at Coraopolis the convoy had to clear both the Manchester Bridge, over the Allegheny, and the Ohio Connecting Railroad bridge, over the Ohio River, at Brunot Island, as well as proceed through the locks at Emsworth Dam. In order to pass under the two bridges an additional 27 feet of clearance was required. Two methods of achieving this were considered: removing the top chord of the structure, or partially submerging the barges at each bridge. The former method was chosen, as it appeared to be both safer and less expensive than the latter. Removal of part of the top chord compromised the structural stability of the truss, however, and special supports had to be provided on the barges to counteract this effect:

This disconnection of part of the top chord is another reason why it was necessary to support the bridge under each floor beam. The Sixth Street Bridge is a bow-top truss; the string of the bow is made up of 16 eyebar panels pinned together. As long as the bow is kept intact the structure is rigid, and could be moved by supporting it at its two ends, if necessary, but if the bow of the arch were cut the entire structure becomes unstabilized and requires support at every panel point throughout its length.

Jerman described the process of removing the top chord in another Engineering News-Record article:

In order to relieve the stresses in the truss members, the barges were jacked down, beginning at the center of the span and following up each panel point to either end. Much heavier jacking was necessary than was anticipated as the joints were very stiff.... As the top chord of the span reached a height of 100 ft. above the water and there was no floating equipment available to reach this distance, a special traveler was designed to dismantle the top chord. For this purpose a timber runway was built along the upper tier of cross struts and on this a wooden traveler was erected with steel outriggers to reach outside the trusses on either side. The top chord sections, each weighing about 10 tons, were lifted vertically out of position and then moved horizontally outside the truss and lowered to the floor of the span. After the top chord was dismantled, the diagonals were laid down and lashed to the uprights. The vertical posts were disconnected at the nearest panel points and traveler and runway were dismantled and laid on the floor span.

(Page 15)

The barge carrying the span was then towed by two steamboats for five hours until it reached its destination near Neville Island twelve miles away. Jerman described the re-erection:

At the lower end of Neville Island the dismantled top chords were reassembled and the barges were towed some distance below the end of the Island to prevent possible grounding; then they were backed up the channel to the site of the present bridge. The operation at Coraopolis was just the reverse from that at Pittsburgh, but instead of lowering the bridge 18 feet it was necessary to raise it 32 feet. The same steel towers that were used at Pittsburgh were used at Coraopolis; and the bridge was elevated to its final position by the same straps and by the same jacks. The cost of moving the bridge was $316,000; the entire operation was accomplished in 140 days.

The Farris Engineering Company, a Pittsburgh company located in the Empire Building, performed a great deal of work on the bridge at its new location. The original approved contract for their work had a price total of $271,811.50. They built portions of the substructure that the Foundation Company had not done. Farris also erected the two pony truss approach spans, repaired and painted the main superstructure, and paved the bridge deck and the two approaches.

The approach spans, and the end bearings for the main spans, were fabricated by the American Bridge Company at its shops located in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. The company maintained an office in the Frick Building in Pittsburgh.

The Delmer Electric Company of Pittsburgh was paid $6,378 for lighting conduits, navigation lanterns, a meter switch box, and other electrical work on the bridge at its Coraopolis location.

The total cost of the relocation and re-erection of the Sixth Street Bridge at Coraopolis was estimated at $800,000.

The bridge was opened to streetcar and one-way traffic on October 5. At the end of the month, on the 31st, the official ribbon-cutting ceremony was held, which included a parade of almost 500 cars, a "half holiday" and a Halloween celebration. The old electric railway bridge was subsequently demolished.

Allegheny County will replace the Coraopolis Bridge with a new bridge at this location. Due to its deteriorated condition and inadequate ioad carrying capacity, the existing four span truss bridge does not meet the transportation needs of its location.

(Page 16)

It is currently restricted to carrying vehicles with a maximum weight of three tons, and it is only open to vehicular traffic during periods when the temperature is above 30 degrees Fahrenheit.

(Page 17)


A History of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. (Chicago: A. Warner & Co., 1889).

"Allegheny Bridges Ordered Raised by Secretary Baker," Engineering News-Record, Vol. 82, No. 15 (April 10, 1919), p. 743.

Aurand, Martin. "National Register of Historic Places--Nomination Form: Allegheny County Owned River Bridges Thematic Group." July, 1985

Aurand, Martin. "Pennsylvania Historic Resource Survey Form: Coraopolis Bridge." July, 1985.

Bridge No. 2. Allegheny River: Testimony in Proceedings Before Viewers for Condemnation. Sixth Street Bridge. Vols. I & II, 1911. Allegheny County Engineer's Oflice, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Bridge Records, Volumes 3 and 4. Bureau of Bridges, Allegheny County Department of Public Works, Allegheny County Engineer's Office, Pitsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Chalfant, Ella. A Goodly Heritage. (Pittsburgh: University of Pitsburgh Press, 1955).

Circulating Photograph Collection, Pennsylvania Division, Carnegie Library, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Clint, Florence. A Guide to the Genealogical Records of Alleaheny County, Pennsylvania, with Maps, Histories, Charts, and Other Helpful Materials. (Denver, Colorado: Area Keys, 1977).

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Coraopolis Historical Society, Inc. The Centennial History of the Borough of Coraopolis, Pennsylvania. (Marceline, Missouri: Walsworth Press, 1911).


(Page 18)

Darnell, Victor C. Directory of American Bridge-Building Companies (Washington, D. C.: Society for Industrial Archeology, 1984).

Elkin, C. W. W., "The Historical Tour of 1960," Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, 43 (1960), p. 300.

"Excerpt from the Order Received from the Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker, March 28th 1917.", Mimeograph. Allegheny County Engineer's Office, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

GAI Consultants, Inc. In-Depth Inspection of the Coraopolis Bridge No. 2, Ohio River Back Channel. Prepared for the Allegheny County Department of Works, March 1977.

Herbertson, Elizabeth Taylor. Pittsburgh Bridges. (Jericho, New York: Exposition Press, 1970).

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Jerman, D. T. "Dismantling the Top Chord of Sixth St. Bridge, Pittsburgh." Engineering News-Record, Vol. 99, No. 12 (September 22, 1927), p. 473.

Jerman, D. T. "Moving the 440-Ft. Truss Spans of Sixth St. Bridge, Pittsburgh." Engineering News-Record, Vol. 98, No. 21 (May 26, 1927), pp. 850-1.

Maurey, Edward B. Where the West Began. (Coraopolis, Pennsylvania: Record Publishing Co., 1930).

Murdock, Frank R. "Some Aspects of Pittsburgh's Industrial Contribution to the World War," Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, Vol. 4, No. 4 (October 1921), pp. 214-223.

"New Bridge Plan for Pittsburgh," Engineering News-Record, Vol. 83, No. 15 (October 9, 1919), p. 715.

"The New Sixth Street Bridge, Pittsburgh, Pa.," The Railroad Gazette, (July 28, 1898), p. 560.


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Petition. Commissioners' Road Docket OB02, June 15, 1926. Allegheny County Engineer's Office, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Petition Return of Grand Jury and Orders. Commissioners' Road Docket AL02, No. 1, June 18, 1924. Allegheny County Engineer's Office, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Photograph Collection. Allegheny County Engineer's Office, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Photographs for Purchase Collection, Pennsylvania Division, Carnegie Library, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Pittsburgh and Allegheny City Directory, 1881-1920, 1927.

Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection. Archives of Industrial Society, Hillman Library, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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Semi-Centennial Borough of Coraopolis. A Short History. No. 1. (n. p.: Community Holidays Association, 1937).

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von Bernewitz, M. W. "Moving a 3200-Ton Bridge 12 Miles," Contractors and Engineers Monthly, March 1928, pp. 161-3.

White, Joseph and M.W. von Bernewitz. The Bridges of Pittsburgh. (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Cramer Printing & Publishing Co., 1928).

Wilkins, W. G. "The Reconstruction of the Sixth Street Bridge at Pittsburgh, PA." Engineers' Society of Western Pennsylvania Transactions, Vol. Xl, No. 5 (May 16, 1895), pp. 143-167.

Index of Photographs

Page created:
Last modified: 27-Feb-2002

HAER Text: P.A.C. Spero & Company, Historic Structures Consultants; Baltimore, Maryland; for Allegheny County and PennDOT, 1989
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