10 Haunting Abandoned Bridges and Viaducts to Nowhere
By Morris M, Urban Ghosts Media, 20 November 2015.
By Morris M, Urban Ghosts Media, 20 November 2015.
Our world is full of abandoned places, buildings and other structures. From disused roads to abandoned international airports, the world around us can sometimes feel like a playground of lost and forgotten treasures - reminders of times long gone.
Nowhere is this more apparent than with abandoned bridges and forgotten viaducts. Designed purely for a practical reason (to get from point A to point B), they can seem especially poignant once that reason is taken away. Below are 10 bridges, many of them structurally impressive, that literally lead to nowhere.
1. Overseas Railroad (Florida, USA)
In 1905, Henry Flagler decided to build the eighth wonder of the world. A resort developer and former oil tycoon, he operated the Florida East Coast Railway. In 1904, he’d just extended the line to the very south of the mainland. Now he had his sights set on a more-difficult prize: Key West.
The furthest occupied island in the Florida Keys, Key West is a mere 90 miles from Cuba. At the time, it was considered vital to controlling the Caribbean shipping trade. Flagler wanted a piece of that action. To do so, he decided to link it to his railway. The resulting Overseas Railroad project was jaw-dropping in its ambition. Stretching 128 miles over open water, it would take 4,000 men to build at cost Flagler US$50 million.
Image: Jack Says Relax
Everything about the line was a miracle of engineering. No-one had built a railroad this difficult before and it took seven years. By the time it finally opened, it was a sight in itself. When Flagler triumphantly rode the first carriage into Key West, it must have seemed like a victory parade over the forces of nature.
If that was the case, it was sadly premature. In 1935, Mother Nature walloped Florida with the strongest hurricane to make landfall in US history. The Overseas Railroad was washed away and considered too expensive to repair. Today, parts of it have become the Overseas Highway, while other bits lie gloriously abandoned along the Florida Keys.
2. Partington Viaduct (Manchester, England)
Image: David Taylor
Looming over the Manchester Ship Canal, the Partington Viaduct has certainly seen better days. Constructed many decades ago then promptly left to go to ruin, the bridge is today a rusted, decaying, broken-down mess of a structure. Seen from afar, it seems a wonder the whole thing hasn’t just fallen into the canal.
Closed in 1982 due to its poor condition, the bridge has undergone one major overhaul since then. After local gangs of youths started using it as a spot for dropping rocks down onto the boats passing below, authorities wedged two giant shipping containers at either end of the bridge, effectively blocking all access. Still sat there, the rusted old containers now look like a strange ornamental addition, adding to the whole decayed experience.
Despite this (or perhaps because of it), the viaduct retains an aura of shabby grandeur. Disused and badly-preserved, it still makes a remarkable sight spanning the old canal.
3. Pont Saint-Bénézet (Avignon, France)
It’s rare for a bridge to be more used after being abandoned than it was before. Point Saint-Bénézet in France is the exception that proves the rule. Jutting out halfway across the Rhone from the medieval centre of Avignon, it draws millions of visitors every year.
Originally built in the 12th century, this ancient bridge has seen its fair share of troubles. Destroyed during a siege led by Louis VIII, it was rebuilt only to be destroyed once again by floods. Used on and off until the middle of the 17th century, it was finally abandoned as too expensive to maintain. From that point on, more and more of the bridge dropped into the river or was carted off, until only four arches remained, jutting out sadly from the side of the city.
Today, the bridge is recognized as a World Heritage site. Unlike most bridges to nowhere, it is frequently crowded with pedestrians, all eager to go and peek over the edge into the teeming river.
4. Kinzua Bridge (Pennsylvania, USA)
Spanning a mammoth 2,052 feet and rising a majestic 301 feet into the air, the Kinzua Bridge was once one of the engineering marvels of North America. Built in 1882, it stretched across Kinzua Creek like some metal monster. Even-more impressive was the 1900 reconstruction. Forged from iron and looking impossibly solid, this is the version that remains partially-standing today, 115 years later.
By rights, the bridge should still be in use. Unlike many remote bridges of the era which were left to rust, the Kinzua Bridge was intended to be brought back up to working speed in the early 2000s. By 2002 work had already begun to make it a centrepiece of the national park it resided in. Then in 2003, fate decided to intervene. Before the supports could be properly strengthened, a devastating tornado hit, collapsing half the bridge. Reconstruction was put on hold, and the idea was eventually scrapped.
Visited now, Kinzua is the archetypal abandoned bridge; a stretch of rail leading to nothing more than a very long drop.
5. Urbes Viaduct (France)
As abandoned bridges go, the old Urbes Viaduct may not have quite the same level of prestige as some on this list, but it remains a fascinating sight. Left unfinished in 1935 after plans to construct a railway linking Bussang and Urbes fell through, it now stands silently in the middle of nowhere - a three-arched viaduct with no beginning and no end.
This wasn’t always the case. At the time the project was abandoned, the viaduct proudly linked two embankments, allowing trains to travel up and over a road. When it became clear that the line would never be finished, the townspeople decided to cut their losses. Plans were made to build a new bypass instead, and the embankments were carted off to serve as its foundation. Fast forward to the present, and the unconnected viaduct appears to have been built as a practical joke - or perhaps as a monument to the railway line that never was.
6. Big Water of Fleet Viaduct (Scotland)
Image: Ann Cook
Rising like a dream above the majestic Scottish landscape, the Big Water of Fleet Viaduct is one of the nation’s most-charming secrets. Spanning 300 yards in the remote countryside north of Gatehouse, its twenty arches have been the site of everything from military manoeuvres to Hollywood film shoots.
Crucially, it played a small but significant role in World War Two. The nearby port of Cairnryan was of strategic importance to the Allies, and millions of tonnes of equipment had to be transported there on trains that passed over the viaduct. Incoming American GIs were also moved along the line, while the viaduct’s sister bridge - the 9 arch Little Water - was blown up by the army during a training exercise.
Perhaps more-impressively for film buffs, Big Water also had a minor cameo in one of the greatest British movies ever made. In 1935 it turned up in Alfred Hitchcock’s comedy-thriller the 39 Steps, ensuring its cinematic immortality. Its physical lifespan was another matter. In 1965 the viaduct was closed due to budget cuts. It has remained unused ever since.
7. Nandu River Iron Bridge (China)
Image: Anna Frodesiak
You might expect a bridge known locally as ‘the Devil’s Iron Bridge’ to be utterly terrifying; the sort of shakily-constructed nightmare no-one in their right mind would use. But the Nandu River Bridge in China doesn’t quite live up to these expectations. Built by the Japanese Imperial Army in 1940, it was designed to last a maximum of 20 years. By the time 1980 rolled round, it was still in use.
That’s not to say it was in great shape. Rust had eaten huge holes in the beams and the structure would shake and shiver in the wind. For those driving across, it must’ve seemed like the whole lot could come crashing down at a moment’s notice. Impressively, it didn’t. After the bridge was abandoned in 1984, it stood intact as a monument for another 16 years.
Finally, in October 2000, floods washed over half the bridge away, leaving a semi-decayed hulk jutting out the river. In the years since, it has become a local tourist attraction. Newly-married couples are even known to do their wedding photos in front of it.
8. Bridge to Nowhere (New Zealand)
Image: Jessica Ebrey
You wouldn’t know it to look at it, but the Bridge to Nowhere in Mangapurua Valley, New Zealand, is all that’s left of what was once a thriving settlement. Built in 1935 to improve access to a new town prospering in the wilderness, it was only in use for seven years before being shut down altogether.
In the aftermath of World War One, the government in Wellington was looking for a way to help its returning soldiers support themselves. They threw open the Mangapurua Valley, making room for 35 smallholdings that could be worked. A school was thrown into the mix, and for a while the valley prospered. The bridge was meant to facilitate the settlement’s economic development, connecting it to the rest of the country.
Unfortunately, fate had other ideas. By the time the bridge opened, the difficulty of eking out a living in the valley had driven many away in frustration. By 1942, only three families remained. A major flood in January of that year wiped out the road connecting the bridge to the settlement. Rather than pay, the government simply shut the valley down. The last three families left, and nature reclaimed everything, leaving only the bridge to indicate that anything was ever there.
9. Leaderfoot Viaduct (Scottish Border)
Image: Ben Gamble
Topping out at a height of 126 feet, everything about the Leaderfoot Viaduct over the Tweed is impressive. Wrought in red brick, each of its narrow arches towers up into the sky, holding aloft a piece of track so thin it seems remarkable it doesn’t snap. Seen on a dramatic, cloudy day, it perfectly captures the strange romance of British Victorian engineering.
Opened in October 1865, the vast viaduct was such a remarkable feat that even Queen Victoria felt compelled to comment on it (she described it as “immense.”) Each arch spans a staggering 43 feet, and the whole remains impressive to look at even to this day. It’s lifetime was equally-impressive. When it finally closed to freight trains, it was only three months shy of its 100th birthday.
Restored in the 1990s, the viaduct is currently a Grade A listed structure. Like many other abandoned bridges that once carried railways, it remains a perennial delight, a favourite of walkers who still come to experience its 19th century majesty.
10. Victoria Viaduct (UK)
It’s easy to take for granted the immense stone viaducts and brickwork bridges that still crisscross the British landscape. But it isn’t by accident that these structures often look so visually-stunning. They were designed by 19th century engineers to not just fulfil a function, but also send out a signal. A signal about Britain’s new place in the world. Among the most-successful at doing this was the Victoria Viaduct.
Spanning the River Wear at a height of 135 feet, its four arches are vast, impressive and awe-inspiring. Modelled on the ancient Roman bridge at Alcántara in Spain, it was designed to consciously link the rising British Empire to its Italian forbearer. Started in 1836, it was finally completed and opened on June 28 1839 - the day Victoria was crowned Queen of Britain.
Remarkably, the viaduct was still being used for freight as late as 1991. At time of writing, there is even talk of reopening it to commuter trains. If that happens, the line will undoubtedly join the pantheon of Britain’s great railway journeys.
[Source: Urban Ghosts Media. Edited. Top image added.]