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75 years ago (in 1984) they built the viaduct in four months

Dibbles Dabbles

April 18, 2012
By Billie Dibble - Westfield Historian, 1976-2006 ( , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

This story first published April 12, 1984:

Although on several occasions I have dabbled with the story of the building of the Main Street viaduct in 1908, it has been suggested that I tell once again of the speed and small cost to the local taxpayers of that construction 75 years ago (in 1984). My research produced facts and figures most interesting in comparison with the proposed cost and time involved in the plans for re-building the bridge in the near future.

Early in 1907 General Managers Calish and Hillery, representatives of the Buffalo and Lake Erie Traction Company, met the Town and Village Boards and Highway Commissioner Miller at Tennant and Tennant's office and presented a plan for a viaduct across Chautauqua Creek, which was estimated at cost $66,520 for a 34-foot driveway or $72,880 for a 40-foot driveway, with oak roadbed and pine sidewalks. This plan did not meet with approval and Mr. Calish was asked to furnish a new plan with concrete roadbed. Following this meeting the trolley company entered into an agreement with the Village Board to unite with the Town in erecting a viaduct not to cost less than $95,000, provided that the Town pay $35,000, and a suitable contract could be made with the Town Board after the matter was voted upon at a special Town meeting. The meeting was held on July 20, 1907 and the proposition carried. Nothing more was heard from the company until July 1908 when Supervisor Thompson was informed that representatives of the company would like to meet the Town Board and present plans.

Article Photos

Courtesy Patterson Library
A crowd turned out to witness the work crew putting the iron in place for the viaduct Nov. 25, 1908. Constructing the entire bridge, which has been in use for the intervening 75 years, took only four months.

Plans were presented at a meeting of the Town Board for a steel viaduct, the steel structure to be 1,050 feet, and the total length of the structure 1,430 feet, with a plank roadway. Highway Commissioner Miller opposed the plank roadway and said he would never accept it unless the floor be made of concrete. In August Supervisor W.H. Thompson, Justice R.D. Powers, Benj. Breads, M.D. Tennant, H.L. Munson, Trustee A.H. Harris and Highway Commissioner Miller went to Buffalo to investigate the bridge question. The men returned fully convinced that a plank floor was better than a concrete, asphalt or brick. Mr. Tennant said he had talked with City Engineer Lamy and told him how we were situated. Mr. Lamy said from his eight years' experience he would advise an oak floor. He said it was impossible to cross a concrete bridge in winter on a sleigh.

The Sept. 2, 1908 Westfield Republican reported that, "From present indications work will soon be rushing on the viaduct. Several carloads of machinery and material have arrived and been unloaded. A house for the storage of tools has been erected near the old bridge on Water Street and another is being built on the J.C. property for the accommodation of the laborers ... It is expected that the contract will be presented to the Town Board some time this week."

Important meetings of the Town Board were held Sept. 3 and 4. A special Town meeting was called for Sept. 26 and the Buffalo and Lake Erie Traction Company was given permission to commence work, pending the vote at the Town meeting.

On Sept. 16 it was reported that, "The trolley people have a large force of men and teams at work on the viaduct and rapid progress is being made in the preliminary work before freezing weather sets in, provided our citizens again vote in favor of the project, which there is every indication of their doing." On Sept. 26 the proposition was carried by a large majority.

About Nov. 20-21 cars of iron arrived for the big viaduct and on Monday morning, Nov. 23, a large force of men commenced on the job of putting the iron in place, and it was witnessed by nearly the whole of the male population of the village. The first section was up at noon, and things were moving like magic. Six sections were up by Tuesday night ... With the continuance of good weather it was expected that the structure would be practically completed by the middle of January.

You have heard the exciting story of the first trolley car crossing the viaduct on New Year's Day 1909 giving the Buffalo and Lake Erie Traction Company an unbroken connection between Erie and Buffalo. There was still work to be done on the viaduct but the work of planking was being rushed and it was only a short time before the bridge was opened for general use.

The viaduct was built by the American Bridge Company of Philadelphia, and was capable of supporting a weight of 50-ton cars on both tracks.



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