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Collapse of the Honeymoon Bridge at Niagara Falls on January 27, 1938 due to Extreme Winter Conditions

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Over eight decades ago and in biting sub-zero temperatures, a fearful spectacle unfolded in the dead of winter at Niagara Falls. The January of 1938 saw the historic Falls View Bridge, endearingly called the Honeymoon Bridge, succumbing to the fury of nature. Forced by a violent wind storm, colossal ice chunks from Lake Erie accumulated beneath the bridge and ultimately led to its tragic collapse. This was a year of extreme chill, even in the context of the recent “Polar Vortex,” causing ice to mount unusually high and ripple towards the bridge’s supports.

Bridge’s Genesis

Built by the Pencoyd Bridge Company from Philadelphia in 1898 and architected by R.S. Buck, the Honeymoon Bridge was quite the spectacle. Spanning a grand 840-foot, the strategically designed bridge had two hinges, an attractive lattice rib, and trusses that linked the main span to either bank of the river. Unfortunately, the bridge’s close proximity to the river, while initially a strategic choice, turned out to be its Achilles’ heel.

The Upper Steel Arch Bridge, thrown open to the traffic on June 23rd, 1897, had the distinction of being the longest structure of its kind, again, spanning a magnificent 840-foot. The structure was well-thought-out and broad — spacious enough to contain the twin tracks for electric trolleys, carriages, and foot traffic. Moreover, it framed a breathtaking view of the legendary Niagara Falls!

Initial Challenges

Even in its early days, the bridge’s abutments had to face the seasonal peril of ice formation in the Lower Niagara River. In fact, by January 1899, the frosty ice bridges threatened to unhinge the bridge from its foundations. But, thanks to the relentless toil of countless laborers who spent almost a month clearing the ice buildup, the bridge survived that winter.

Niagara Falls bridge collapse

Bridge’s Demise

The fateful week of 1938 saw a surging Niagara River, which rose to around 9 feet, inundating the Maid of the Mist docks and nearby regions. The ever-growing ice accumulation around the Honeymoon Bridge’s foundations persuaded authorities to stop all vehicular traffic on the day before its collapse. Luckily, the traffic ban averted human casualties, but the bridge succumbed, and on January 27th, 1938, at 4:20 pm, it collapsed into the Niagara Gorge.

The lessons from the Niagara Falls Bridge disaster inspired the construction of the contemporary Rainbow Bridge, strategically situated further north of the original Honeymoon Bridge site, designed to withstand harsh weather conditions and gales better.

The Modern Rainbow Bridge

Niagara Falls Bridge
Currently Visible: The Rainbow Bridge

The former Honeymoon Bridge presented problems for pedestrians and vehicles alike, and its wooden deck posed a grave risk when wet. One such unfortunate event was a car accident that occurred in 1930 when an American driver lost control over his vehicle, veered off the bridge, and plummeted into the gorge.

Interested in knowing more about the Niagara Falls Ice Bridge phenomenon? Click on the link to explore more thrilling Niagara-based events at Events in Niagara.

Niagara Falls Honeymoon Bridge Collapse Video

A 24-hour intense standoff between icy nature and man-made steel culminated just post 4 pm, as the erstwhile Falls View International Bridge shockingly crumbled into the ice-choked Niagara River gorge. This dramatic scene unfolded in front of thousands of spectators stationed on both sides, witnessing the majestic steel structure’s final bow.

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