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The collapse of the “People’s Bridge” marks 20th anniversary

January 15, 2016

Filed under Community and Domestic Life, Exhibits, Pennsylvania Icons, Pennsylvania Treasures

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The Walnut Street Bridge Knuckle

This large iron knuckle, given to The State Museum by the Cianbro Corporation in March 1996, originated from the western stretch of the Walnut Street Bridge in Harrisburg, Pa. This knuckle is featured in The State Museum’s Pennsylvania Icons exhibit.

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the partial collapse of the western section of Harrisburg’s Walnut Street Bridge.

In mid-January 1996, Pennsylvania was still recovering from the devastation wrought by that year’s North American Blizzard when the temperature began to rise. Rainfall, coupled with the increasing warmth, caused the Susquehanna River to swell. On Jan. 20, 1996, massive ice floes, propelled by floodwaters, crashed into the Walnut Street Bridge, lifting two spans from their piers and sending them floating down the river toward the Market Street Bridge. Later, a damaged third section of the bridge collapsed.

This large iron knuckle, given to The State Museum by the Cianbro Corporation in March 1996, originated from the western stretch of the Walnut Street Bridge. Selected by CAP Curator Diana Zeltmann as this week’s Pennsylvania Treasure, this knuckle is featured in The State Museum’s Pennsylvania Icons exhibit.

The truss bridge, built in 1890 by the Phoenix Bridge Co., originally had two sections; the first spanning from Harrisburg’s downtown area to City Island, and the aforementioned second part that connected City Island to the West Shore. The main supporting members of the bridge are constructed of wrought iron rolled into semi-circular sections that are riveted together and interconnected using large knuckles, like this one. The process allowed for the prefabrication of a bridge of almost any size and was patented by Samuel Reeves, a past president of the Phoenix Bridge Co. The Walnut Street Bridge is one of the last multi-span bridges in Pennsylvania built from iron rather than steel, and stands as one of the last surviving Phoenix bridges.

Almost 3,000 feet in length, the “People’s Bridge” was originally used for vehicular traffic until it became unstable in 1972 due to damaged sustained during Hurricane Agnes. The span was closed to motorized vehicles, becoming a walking bridge. The Walnut Street Bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and is recognized as a Historic Engineering Landmark.

 

About Pennsylvania Icons:
Featuring a diverse array of artifacts from the collections of the State Museum of Pennsylvania and other Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission historic sites and museums, Pennsylvania Icons tells the story of our commonwealth, its people and the role they played in shaping the nation. The exhibit features historic artifacts ranging from a 1654 map of the Philadelphia region to pieces of the Walnut Street bridge in Harrisburg. Pennsylvania Icons opens to the public on Sunday, November 8, 2015.

 

About Pennsylvania Treasures:
In early 2012, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission launched the Collections Advancement Project (CAP), a program to inventory and catalog our vast and significant holdings of art and artifacts. These efforts are resulting in better stewardship of our collections which represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. As a component of the project, CAP curators have researched rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.