"Do you have any history on the Forsyth Bridge, Marybelle?" was the brief message from a Ripley historian friend in a recent email with the subject line "The Famed Forsyth Bridge."
A series of shared emails from others interested in the bridge provided some interesting personal stories from the 1940s. And having recently mentioned the 1963-64 rebuilding of the Forsyth Bridge in BeeLines about the Stephens House nearby, it seemed like another fascinating research project for a new story.
An old snapshot from the Leonard Tripp Collection of a trolley car on the original iron bridge of the Ripley Crossing at Forsyth, dated 1907, shows the full span over the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad - later to be the New York Central Railroad - and part of the span over the Nickel Plate on the far right. It turns out this was a trolley-only bridge constructed in 1903 when the Lake Erie Traction Company completed the section of tracks from Erie, Pa., through North East, Pa., and Ripley, N.Y., to Westfield. It crossed both sets of railroad tracks in the Town of Ripley, while auto and horse-wagon traffic ran across the tracks at what was known as the Ripley Crossing. This location near Forsyth in the Town of Westfield had a trolley stop station as well as grape loading facilities for the Nickel Plate freight trains.
Photo courtesy of the Patterson Library Archives’ Leonard Tripp Collection
“During my Christmas visit to my old home town, the most surprising news was the relocation of the Ripley Crossing bridge by the new elevation of Route 20, which I did not see until I was returning to South Dakota on the Central,” Leonard Tripp wrote in a letter that included the snapshot. The trolley car Mohawk shown here on the original iron bridge of the Ripley Crossing at Forsythe is remembered by many Westfield riders of the old Lake Erie fast trolley line as it looked when this picture was taken in 1907.
After the viaduct was completed across the Chautauqua Creek chasm on Main Street in Westfield in 1909, the Buffalo-Fredonia-Westfield section of the trolley lines along the Lake Erie plain connected to the Erie Traction Company section to form the Buffalo and Lake Erie - B and LE - trolley line.
Unfortunately, the Ripley crossing for auto and horse-drawn vehicles became notorious for many accidents. "Dead Man's Crossing earned its name" was Billie Dibble's April 11, 1985, "Dibble's Dabbles" headline in which she described the worst of these accidents in December 1923 at the Ripley railroad crossing near Forsyth. On that date, a burning auto on the New York Central tracks caused a terrible wreck of the Twentieth Century Limited when the first section of the train stopped, and the second section plowed was flagged and stopped. But the engineer of section three failed to see the block signal in the fog and stop, thus plowing into section two, crushing the rear sleeper car with the loss of nine lives and many injuries.
As a consequence of this tragic wreck, a new overhead bridge was constructed to take care of all vehicular traffic - trolley, auto and horse-drawn. In order to construct the overhead bridge, in 1923, the highway was planned to cross the two sets of railroad tracks just about where the B and LE Trolley track bridge was then located, and the trolley tracks were moved to the east so road traffic would not have to cross trolley tracks from Forsyth to Westfield. The trolley tracks with their electric power poles followed the north side of Route 20. One trolley history described the bridge as having two lanes of auto and horse traffic, with the trolley tracks on the east side of the bridge roadway. On the south side of the tracks the highway portion across the Nickel Plate right-of-way necessitated moving several houses on the south side of the tracks, including the Jones house and Taggert house - from Ripley Review newspaper.
The office of the Westfield Historian is located at 117 Union St., in the small green building on the north side of driveway. Office hours are by appointment; call or email a request. The Westfield Historian phone number is 326-2457 and email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Westfield Republican Sept. 23, 1925, headline, "Opened to the Public - New Forsyth Overhead Bridge Now a Thing of Reality," described how bridge now provided, "a hard surface road from Buffalo to Cleveland ... the culmination of ten years of effort ... The first survey for the new crossing was made in 1916, but court delays hampered progress until the wreck of the Twentieth Century Limited finally directed public attention to the death trap."
Unfortunately, the new bridge had sharp right angle curves as well as solid steel walls preventing visibility of approaching vehicles to each other and resulting in many accidents. In the Westfield Republican of Feb. 14, 1962, plans were revealed to reconstruct a mile and a half of Route 20 to be an elevated highway of nearly a straight line for 500 feet that would, "eliminate the present dangerous dog-leg double curve of the highway which is made by the Forsyth Bridge." Actual construction began in March 1963, so that by November 1964, photos showed the last girder of the old bridge being removed - "The Passing of a Landmark" - and the new bridge, which had already been in use since September 1964. The "new" Forsyth Bridge is about a half mile east of where the old bridge had been for 40 years and actually crosses the town line between the Town of Westfield and Town of Ripley.
An interesting side note is the articles and photos about this bridge over the years are divided regarding the spelling of the name. All the early accounts from 1903 through 1925 spell it "Forsyth" with no "e" on the end, and "Forsyth" is shown in the 1962 and 1963 newspaper articles and maps. Some resources about the trolley line spell it "Forsyth," but the Leonard Tripp sources spell it "Forsythe" as does the 1964 newspaper and "Dibble's Dabbles." The family for which that area was named is spelled "Forsyth" on maps from the 1800s.
So here we have another "history mystery." Are there any descendants of the Forsyth or Forsythe family who would provide an answer? Also, does anyone have photos of the Ripley crossing, the Forsyth station or the first overhead bridge at Forsyth for autos and horse-drawn vehicles they would be willing to share? Thank you.