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What It Looked Like Wednesday: The Honeymoon Bridge

From the moment French missionary and explorer Father Louis Hennepin laid eyes upon Niagara Falls, visitors to the natural wonder have been in awe of its majesty.

The three waterfalls that collectively make up Niagara Falls — the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls — attract an impressive 30 million visitors every year. For more than two centuries, visitors have marveled at the falls' power and mankind’s attempt to conquer it, whether in a barrel, across a tightrope or over a bridge.

One such attempt, the Honeymoon Bridge, shockingly failed, and 10,000 people watched it plunge into the icy waters below.

The Honeymoon Bridge collapses into the Niagara Gorge in January 1938. (News file photo)

The Honeymoon Bridge, also referred to as the Fallsview or Upper Steel Arch Bridge, was built in 1898 by the Pencoyd Bridge Co. of Philadelphia.

At the time of its construction, it was the longest steel arch bridge in the world, spanning 840 feet, but its construction proved problematic: Its abutments were built too close to the waters of the Niagara River below. In 1899, giant sheets of ice crashed into the abutments, threatening to knock the bridge off its very foundations. Damages to the abutments were repaired, and a 24-foot wall was built around each abutment to protect it against future ice jams.

That construction proved successful until an extremely harsh winter in January 1938.

During that month, colossal sheets of ice poured over Niagara Falls and into the frozen gorge below. The jams, some towering nearly 100 feet tall, battered the abutments and steel bridge, and the bridge was closed to traffic on Jan. 26.

The bridge's demise now inevitable, curiosity-seekers lined the shores of the Niagara River, anticipating its collapse. Finally, two days later, “with startling suddenness and what sounded like a weary groan, the mighty structure sagged and fell into the gorge,” as described by one newspaper account. The collapse was broadcast in movie houses across the globe.

The Honeymoon Bridge was soon dismantled, but it laid in pieces on the ice jam until a spring thaw cast it into the depths of the Niagara River. Some pieces of the bridge sank where it had collapsed; other pieces were carried on massive sheets of ice and sank downriver.

Two years later, construction of the Rainbow Bridge began — this time, with the abutments 50 feet away from the shore.

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