The Messerall Road Bridge

During the peak of the world’s first oil boom, in 1876, the Wrought Iron Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio built this prefab bowstring truss bridge over Pine Creek in East Titusville, Pennsylvania. At a length of 103 feet and a width of 14.8 feet, the Messerall Road Bridge played a key role in the transportation of various goods supporting the oil industry, including nitroglycerine, used for shooting wells. Pre-dating the automobile, this bridge continued to serve the community until its permanent closure in 1982; the wooden decking was removed about 25 years later. The bridge features a Keystone style top chord column, the most common style of top chord that the company used, and the top plate still bears the inscription of the company, along with the date 1870 (some sources say 1873), which may indicate the year of the bowstring truss design patent. HistoricBridges.org states, “Despite this level of rarity that makes this bridge more significant than any wooden covered bridge, the Messerall Road Bridge sits abandoned, with its deck removed, just waiting for an abutment to fail or a bad spring food to send this priceless bridge crashing into the creek.” HistoricBridges.org gives the Messerall Road Bridge a Historic Significance Rating of 9 out of 10 on both the local and national level.

We recently did a flyover of the Messerall Road Bridge. Enjoy!

 

The Franklin Reservoir

Franklin, Pennsylvania, the county seat of Venango County, holds an important place in American history. An early frontier village of commerce and location of fortifications from the English, the French, and eventually Americans, the city itself had become established long before the oil boom of the second half of the 19th Century boosted its population. Although Franklin was located at the confluence of the Allegheny River and French Creek, a reliable fresh water source was needed for the citizens. Work on a reservoir for this purpose  began in July of 1885, when a crew of around 100 men, mostly Hungarian and Polish immigrants, were transported to Franklin from Erie. Upon their arrival at the site to begin work, the men were told that they would be paid $1 a day for their labor. Claiming that they were offered at least $1.50 per day, the men walked off. Within several days, replacements were found, and the project began.

The entire breastwork of the dam is lined with brick, as is evidenced by the abundance of loose brick still to be found on the site. Local residents say that the clay for the bricks was acquired from a lot along Congress Hill Road, at the top of Bully Hill, over two ridges to the southwest. As the clay was quarried from the lot, the resulting depression filled with spring water, and a picturesque pond was formed. This pond is still known by locals as the Clay Pond, and was a popular ice skating pond throughout the 1960s and ’70s. The cut stone that forms the upper check dam was apparently quarried from the hilltop to the southeast. Following existing trails, one can still see the switchback mule trail coming down the hill toward the dam, where it is said the teams carried the stone to the site.

The reservoir was built and maintained by the Venango Water Company, under charter of the city. Franklin City Council had voted to purchase the Venango Water Company facilities in 1884 for $40,000, but did not make the purchase until 1908, following an outbreak of typhoid fever which was blamed on the impurity of the water. By the time the sale was made, the price had climbed to $276,840.97. The reservoir was eventually abandoned when the new plant at Barretts Flats along French Creek was built by the city in 1929.

The reservoir currently holds almost no water, and one end of the main dam has been breached.

Victory Furnace

(This is the second installment of the Venango County, Pennsylvania Iron Furnaces.)

IMG_3469The Victory Furnace is perhaps the best-preserved of all of the Venango County furnaces, of which the remains of 22 can still be found. This furnace, located along Victory Run in Victory Township, was built by Andrew Bonner in 1843. Owners of the furnace since Andrew were Archibald & Joseph Bonner, Samuel Hays, and finally George Crawford. It is interesting to note that Samuel Hays, an Irish immigrant, served as Venango County Treasurer and Sheriff. He also served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives as well as the State Senate; and he served as brigadier general, commanding the First Brigade, Seventeenth Division, Pennsylvania State Militia, from 1841 to 1843. Even more noteworthy is that Samuel’s son Alexander worked at his father’s iron furnace in 1848-50 after taking a break from his military career, where he served in the Mexican-American War. When the Civil War broke out, Alexander Hays re-activated his military career and was wounded multiple times in a dozen battles which included Gettysburg, where a statue was erected in his honor. He finally died in the field during the Battle of the Wilderness, four years prior to his father Samuel’s death in 1868.

As mentioned, the furnace is in excellent condition, and can still be entered for a clear view up the stack. The Victory Furnace is located at N 41° 18.929′  W 79° 52.788′, however the property is currently posted, so any visit to this furnace should be done only with permission from the landowner.

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Victory Run, the power source for the furnace

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The Bridge to Nowhere

IMG_2761One of my regular haunts is the Outer Banks of North Carolina, particularly Hatteras Island. I first discovered Hatteras at the tender age of 18 months, arriving on-island via the shallow-draft ferry that precluded the now-obsolete Herbert C. Bonner Bridge, which was completed in 1962. The drive down Hatteras Island follows one route, Highway 12, the single two-lane highway that stretches from one end of the Outer Banks to the other. Highway 12 cuts a pretty straight line down Hatteras Island, and in some places the island is so narrow, you could literally throw a rock over the highway while standing in the Pamlico Sound and hit the ocean with it. One of those narrow spots is through a section called Pea Island, which, while currently is not technically an island, historically was separate from the main Hatteras Island.

The bridge as seen from Highway 12 in 1977

The bridge as seen from Highway 12 in 1977

During the 1930s, at the height of the Great Depression, a hurricane came through and cut two small inlets through Pea Island. At that time, a ferry brought cars from the mainland to the northernmost end of the island. These two new inlets made it impossible for the cars to continue down the island, so two small bridges were built to accommodate the traffic, which then continued down the island along the beach; at that time, there were no paved roads. Just a few years later, the inlets closed back up again, eliminating any further need for the bridges. But the bridges remained, decade after decade, and my early childhood trips were filled with fascination about the history of the bridge we could see from Highway 12 that ended abruptly in the middle of the water.

A few years ago I had the pleasure of speaking with Ocracoke resident Corky Pentz, who told me his grandfather first arrived on Hatteras Island via a Model A Ford, which he drove over what is now known as The Bridge to Nowhere.

An up-close look at the bridge reveals some of the decking still intact.

An up-close look at the bridge reveals some of the decking still intact.

80 year-old timbers

80 year-old timbers

The location and path of the bridged section in contrast with present Highway 12

The location and path of the bridged section in contrast with present Highway 12

Here’s short video of a paddle through the remaining pilings of the smaller bridge section.

The Rockland Tunnel

Constructed in 1913, the Rockland Tunnel serves as a shortcut around the historically treacherous Wood Hill Mountain loop and passes through what was once a busy village named Rockland Station. The tunnel is 2,865 feet long and is now part of the Allegheny River Recreational Trail in Rockland Township, Pennsylvania, about 21 miles south of Franklin via the trail which follows the meandering Allegheny River. The southern end of the tunnel is prone to leaking and in the winter provides a spectacular display of ice formations. To order a print, just click on the photo to enter my fine art print site.
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The Lake Shore Tunnel

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During the late 1860s, Oil City, Pennsylvania saw a frenzied rush by the railroads of the day to secure rights-of-way through what was at the time still a small borough. Getting trains north into the Oil Creek Valley and its surrounding boom towns was of paramount importance in the quickly expanding business of oil production, still in its infancy. The railroads were quickly replacing the need for horse-drawn wagons in the business of transporting oil the “old-fashioned” way, in wooden barrels. The ingenious Densmore tank rail cars were much more efficient for moving huge quantities of crude oil.

The tunnel ca. 1910

One of the late arrivals to the railroad scene was the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad. Their attempt to secure a right-of-way up into the Oil Creek Valley in front of the “Hogback” for their Jamestown & Franklin branch failed, leaving them no other option but to tunnel right through the mountain, just 300 feet within the hillside for a total length of ¼ mile. The tunnel was completed in 1870, at a cost of over $100,000 (approximately $2,000,000 in today’s economy).

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Another view of the northern entrance/exit

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A view of the southern entrance/exit

The tunnel's northern entrance/exit as seen today.

The tunnel’s northern entrance/exit as seen today.

By the 1960s the tunnel had long since been abandoned, so the City of Oil City permanently sealed the southern entrance, which resides in the right-of-way for State Route 428. The northern entrance remains open, however over the past several decades, a gradual breakdown has been occurring 100 feet inside the entrance that has resulted in huge pieces of ceiling falling into a pile of rock 15 feet high. Original wooden timbers that once supported the ceiling are no longer connected to any rock at their tops. A coal seam is now visible above where the original ceiling once existed. As highway crews have pushed shale debris from the exterior hillside up against the entrance to the tunnel, a dam has been created, leaving seeping moisture within the tunnel with no escape. The result is an underground river, three feet deep, for the entire length of the tunnel. The rails have long since been removed, but most of the ties remain intact underneath the water.

Below are images from an expedition I made in 2006:

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Often in the winter, the tunnel becomes home to a spectacular display of natural ice formations. The brutally cold winter of 2013-14 provided the conditions for an incredible collection of these formations, as seen in the gallery below. Each photo is linked to an option to purchase a fine-art print in various sizes. (Your purchase helps support what I do and keeps this site expanding.)

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Rockland Furnace

Way off the beaten path in Venango County, Pennsylvania, off State Route 322, down Rockland Road, and along Rockland Station Road, lies this old forgotten iron furnace. During the 1830s, northwestern Pennsylvania, and Venango County in particular, was in a bit of an iron boom. The three ingredients necessary for the production of pig iron, hardwood forests, lime, and iron ore, were in plentiful supply. Most furnaces were located near a reliable source of water for turning a large wheel that powered a giant bellows for blasting air into the furnace. The pig iron they produced was loaded onto wagons and typically hauled to a nearby river (in this case, the Allegheny), where it was loaded onto barges and floated downstream to a steel mill.

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This particular furnace was built in 1832 by Andrew McCaslin, and historic records indicate that in 1837 it required a crew of 40 workers. One day McCaslin, his wife, and several crew members loaded their pig iron onto a river barge and headed for Pittsburgh. At some point downstream, the barge encountered rough water and capsized, resulting in the drowning death of both Mr. McCaslin and his wife. The furnace changed hands several times during its lifetime, until it was finally shut down in 1854.

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Notice the unusual twin wheel pits.

What is unique about the Rockland Furnace is that it has two wheel races, instead of the usual setup of just one race. In recent years, new research has been done by students at nearby Christian Life Academy, under the direction of teacher Mike Lloyd. Their research indicates that the furnace was actually built upon the site of an already existing grist mill, which had its own wheel race. The grist mill operation was probably the center of a small village nestled deep in the valley of Shull Run, a tributary to the Allegheny River. Old maps indicate this village was named Freedom, although the only modern reference to the name Freedom, at least within the past several generations, is nearby Freedom Falls. Today, nothing man-made remains of the village except the old furnace and its twin wheel pits.

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Freedom Falls is located just upstream of Rockland Furnace, on Shull Run.

 

Bus In the Middle of the Woods

Just a few miles from the Jamison’s Corners church is this old bus sitting in the middle of the woods. It sits just along the property line of Oil Creek State Park, in northwestern Pennsylvania. Oil Creek State Park is more famous for its dozens of vanished oil boom towns, but in more recent years, the area has become popular among outdoor enthusiasts, particularly hunters. Apparently, some resourceful individuals figured out a way to get an old retired bus into the woods and use it as their little hunting camp. Local lore indicates that the bus has been there since at least 1948, and that the fellows who put it there had some quite enjoyable times together that included poker and moonshine, and that during those evenings of camaraderie, their boisterous voices could be heard up and down the valley into the wee hours of the morning.

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The Church At Jamison’s Corners

Sitting at the corner of Shreve Road and Turkey Farm Road in Venango County, Pennsylvania, this old abandoned church lies in state. Thanks to the contributions of Rev. John Miner Critchlow, construction of the church was completed in 1891, which resulted in it being named “Critchlow Memorial Church.” Originally used by the Free Methodist congregation, the old building today is remembered simply as the Jamison’s Corners Church.

The church is located at N 41° 34.155′  W 79° 40.606′.

Jamison's Corners (Critchlow Memorial) Church

Here is the church in fall of 2012.

Jamison's Corners (Critchlow Memorial) Church

Here is the church in January, 2013.

Jamison's Corners (Critchlow Memorial) Church

Notice the earthen ramp and garage door that was added in recent years. The old building has been used for farm storage.

 Thanks to Penny at the Venango County Historical Society for providing historical info.

Highway 301, Part III

Rainforest Park

About 20 miles south of Ocala, Florida, along Highway 301, lies the little crossroads torainforest_parkwn of Sumterville. From 1963 to 1967, Sumterville was the home of an interesting park called Rainforest Art Garden and Dinosaur Jungle. The park officially opened in June of 1963, and covered 205 acres which included a small lake with paddle boats, extensive landscaping, an art garden featuring glass paintings depicting the life of Christ, and an animated dinosaur jungle. The park was the brainchild of farmer/newspaperman/developer Weyman Carmichael, Sr. and his son Weyman, Jr. Today, only the landscaping remains, as part of a retirement community that now features a 9-hole golfn042047 course. But the “skeleton” of one dinosaur still exists, somewhere off that golf course in the jungle. This past January I set out to find it, after hearing about it for several years. What we found was the rusted-up mechanical pile of steel that once terrifiedc660681 tourists as it rolled along on a rail, waved its arms, and shrieked through a remote PA system. Some shreds of the artificial skin remain in piles on the ground. All the gears and sprockets that worked together to make the movement possible have succumbed to nearly 50 years of the elements, slumped into a rusted heap.

Rainforest Park Dinosaur Skeleton

Almost undetectable and now far off the beaten path, the last remaining hulk of a mechanical dinosaur slowly drifts back to the earth.

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Artificial flesh still hangs from the remains of the mechanical dinosaur.

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Some “flesh” still hangs off the skeleton.

Rainforest Park Dinosaur

Rainforest Park Dinosaur

Rainforest Park Dinosaur

The mechanical layout appears to have been somewhat sophisticated, including a rotating torso.

Rainforest Park Dinosaur

Rainforest Park Dinosaur

Complete with shrieks and roars, the dinosaur moved along on a rail system that ran parallel to the walking path, which used a boardwalk through the swampy areas.

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Sections of the park were navigated by boat.