Placement of the viaduct’s stone bases began in 1881 while the ironwork and entire bridge were completed in 1882. At the time, the Kinzua Viaduct was the highest railroad viaduct in the world. It was constructed as an alternative to laying an additional eight miles of track over rough terrain along the line leading to McKean County’s coal, timber, and oil lands.
Built of iron, the original viaduct was approximately 301 feet high, 2,053 feet long and weighed 3,105,000 pounds.
By 1900, it became necessary to rebuild the entire structure with steel to accommodate heavier trains. Later that year, about 100 to 150 men, working ten-hour shifts, completed the job in 105 days. The new steel viaduct had the same measurements, but now weighed 6,706,000 pounds.
Freight traffic discontinued in 1959. In 1963, Governor William Scranton signed a law that created Kinzua Bridge State Park. The park officially opened in 1970. In 1977, Kinzua Viaduct received national recognition when it was placed on the National Register of Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks.
Beginning in 1987, excursion trains traveled from Kane, Pa., through the Allegheny National Forest, stopping on Kinzua Viaduct before returning to its point of origin.
In February 2002, DCNR engineers decided the structure needed a full-scale inspection. In June, DCNR barred excursion trains from the bridge.
As the inspection continued, engineers found that sections of steel were rusted through. In August, the bridge was closed to all traffic, including pedestrians.
Engineers determined that high winds could create lateral pressure on the bridge. The wind hitting the bridge could shift the center of gravity, increasing the weight on one side. Such an event could send the whole bridge crashing to the bottom of Kinuza Creek Valley.
Beginning in February, 2003, W. M. Brode Co. of Newcomerstown, Ohio, a national leader in railroad bridge construction and repair, began working to restore Kinzua Viaduct.
On Monday, July 21, 2003, at approximately 3:15 p.m., an F1 tornado (wind speed 73 – 112 mph) struck the side of Kinzua Viaduct. Eleven towers from the center of the bridge were torn from their concrete bases and thrown to the valley floor.
Today, park visitors can once again walk a portion of the Kinzua Bridge. Built on six restored, original towers, a pedestrian walkway (skywalk) leads to a 225-foot high observation deck that gives a towering view of the Kinzua Creek Valley. A partial glass floor in the deck reveals a breathtaking glimpse into the steel structure of the bridge. The eleven twisted and scattered bridge towers blown over by the tornado remain at the bottom of the valley for visitors to view from the deck railings. Several benches line the paved walkway to the skywalk.
A grand opening was held on September 15, 2011.