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picture of bridge

View south from Harmar

photo of bridge

Elevation drawing looking downstream


Bessemer and Lake Erie Bridge, Allegheny River

Harmar - Plum

USGS 7.5" Topo Quad - UTM Coordinates:
New Kensington West - Zone 17; 0599 4487
Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad

-- BLE RR (Harmar), on right descending bank of Allegheny River
-- BLE RR (Plum) on left descending bank of Allegheny River

Allegheny River at Mile 14.3, Fourteen Mile Island
subdivided Pratt deck truss, subdivided Warren deck truss

500.0 ft clearance channel span

TOTAL LENGTH (including longest elevated ramp):
2327 ft

89.0 ft clearance, deck is approx. 160 feet above river level
Lock and Dam No. 2, Highland Park, normal pool level 721.0 ft

1918, Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad

Replaced a single track bridge across the Allegheny River which was opened October 27, 1897, completing a rail route which connected the iron ore and coal docks at Conneaut on Lake Erie to the Mon Valley steel works owned by Andrew Carnegie. The new bridge was similar in truss configuration to the old bridge and adapted the old piers, but the truss web depth appears to be slightly shallower on the current structure. The current bridge is double-tracked, while the previous span carried only one track.

Carnegie had been discussing rail transport with other lines, but determined the best way to protect his interests was to control the rail line himself. Several smaller companies had constructed sections of the route. "Bear Creek Railroad (name changed to Shenango and Allegheny Railroad Co.) was incorporated in March 1865 for the purpose of moving coal 21 miles from Pardoe to Shenango for delivery to other railroads and the Erie Extension Canal. By 1883, Shenango and Allegheny had extended north to Greenville, PA and south to Butler, PA. By 1892, the line had extended north to reach the port of Conneaut, OH. The extensions carried their own descriptive corporate names and survived a series of corporate reorganizations to become the Pittsburgh, Shenango and Lake Erie." The rail line had been completed as far as Butler, still 40 miles distant from the Mon Valley.

"The first ore boat arrived in Conneaut in 1892 stimulating the interest of Andrew Carnegie. In April 1896, a tri-party agreement between PS&LE, Union Railroad Company and Carnegie Steel Company called for construction of a line from Butler to East Pittsburgh. The Butler and Pittsburgh Railroad Company incorporated April 8, 1896 and completed, spectacularly, by October 27, 1897 including a long, single track bridge across the Allegheny River. Also in 1897, PS&LE and B&P were consolidated into the Pittsburgh, Bessemer & Lake Erie under majority ownership of Carnegie."

"Four years later, Carnegie formed the Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad under this exclusive ownership and arranged to lease PS&LE for 999 years. This arrangement stayed in place with the formation of U. S. Steel in 1901, which bought out Carnegie interests."

"In 1906, B&LE leased, and later sold, to Union Railroad the portion of line between North Bessemer and East Pittsburgh."

The 1897 bridge was replaced in 1918 by the current structure. The original piers were doubled in width to the downstream side; the new trusses were constructed beside the originals. When the new trusses were complete, the superstructure was dismantled. The new bridge was then slid on metal girder skids, still visible, into its present position.

The northern approach, which is now covered by fill, was a series of over 30 girder spans which brought the track out onto the truss spans. A station near Gulf Lab Rd and the junction with the Cheswick and Harmar RR line was originally called "Horne". The name was changed to "Red Raven" by residents living there. Later, it was renamed "River Valley".

"In 1988, the Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad became part of Transtar, Inc. Transtar is a privately-held transportation holding company with principal operations in railroad freight transportation, dock operations, Great Lakes shipping, and inland river barging. The Transtar subsidiary companies formed over the years to meet the transportation needs of various steel making facilities that were the predecessors of today's USX Corporation. Prior to 1989, the Transtar companies were wholly owned transportation subsidiaries of USX (formerly United States Steel Corporation). In December 1988, these transportation companies were acquired by a new holding company, Transtar, Inc."


Measurements at the pier adjacent to the northern lane of Old PA28 Freeport Rd: On the Cheswick side, the base of that pier extends 24ft to the east of the truss. The truss is 39ft wide. The remainder of the pier extends 20ft to the west.

Horizontal beams (skids) rest atop the piers which allowed the new trusses to be slid into place after they were constructed on widened piers adjacent to the original trusses. The beam measures 53ft as it extends from the full width of the truss and the narrowed top of the pier west of the truss.

Facing the width of the pier, the stones are battered (tapering from a wider base to a narrower top) so that the base is 12ft wider than the top where the truss rests -- that is tapering 6ft on either side. Therefore, 83ft wide at the base and 71ft at the top.

From the side, the pier is 8ft wider at the base than the top. The pier width is estimated to be 12ft at the top (+8ft at the base).

In the stone work of this pier, which like the others was widened when the trusses were replaced, there are a few smaller stones roughly 1 foot square. They look like pins or key-stones used to join the older and newer masonry -- or perhaps later repairs. Each has a number carved into its face: "14" and "15" are clearly visible at the center of the pier. Another stone at the base corner is marked "18" -- probably in reference to the 1918 construction date.


view page - Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad, Allegheny River Bridge, 1918 -- Historic American Engineering Record document

20-Oct-1999; 20-Mar-2003

field check; USACE Allegheny River Nav. Charts; Transtar website quoted passages; Harmar Twp. Centennial Album 1875-1975

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Introduction -- Nearby Structures

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Last modified: 21-Mar-2003; 29-Feb-2016