Falling Bridges

The third Carthage Bridge was a suspension bridge, opened to the public in July 1856, closed during August while extra wire ropes were installed, and reopened in September 1856. It was 19 feet wide and 755 feet long. It “must have seemed like a narrow ribbon stretched 208 feet above the floor of the chasm.” (Joseph W. Barnes, Rochester History, January 1974). During the high water of the spring of 1857, ice swept away several stays at the base of the Gorge. Then, on April 19, 1857, the weight of a heavy snow ripped it loose from the cables which attached it to the river banks and, during the early morning hours of April 21, 1857, the bridge fell into the river bed.

Bridges over the river had been planned since settlers arrived in the Gorge area. There was a consensus among the early inhabitants that the natural resources could support a large commercial center in the region. Several villages, including Rochesterville, contended to be the winning location. The rationale for the city of Carthage was that there was going to be a future here because it had a favorable location to the existing trade routes. It was north of the Lower Falls, offering direct water transport to Lake Ontario and trade with Canada and western territories around the Great Lakes. The Great Ridge Road, a natural east-to-west highway and trade route was just north of it.

In 1816, Elisha Strong and a few other investors purchased land at the Lower Falls, which became Carthage. In 1818, Strong got funding to build what was at that time, the most magnificent wooden arch bridge in the world.

When it was completed in 1819, It was called the eighth wonder of the world. The arch was 350 feet long and the top of the arch was almost 200 feet above the water level. The roadway contained by the bridge was 718 feet long and 30 feet wide. Bridge building at the time was more a matter of carpentry than scientific design. The center of the bridge’s arch eventually sprung. It lasted only 15 months before collapsing on March 22, 1820.

In 1823, the Erie Canal had been completed to Rochester, which became the boom town, instead of Carthage. By 1834, Carthage was incorporated into the city of Rochester.

After 1820, this expanse near the Lower Falls DID NOT have a bridge across it:

  • For 15 years, until a second bridge was built in 1834. It lasted until 1835, leaving the area without a bridge…
  • For 21 years, until third bridge was built across the Genesee. It lasted until April 1857, leaving the area without a bridge…
  • For 33 years, until first Driving Park Bridge was built in 1889-1890, with its arch hinged at both ends and in the middle. It was one of the last wrought-iron bridges constructed as steel was coming into use. It was demolished July 9, 1986, leaving the area without a bridge…
  • For 2 years, during the construction of the second Driving Park Bridge, which replaced it in 1988.

In the 198 years since the original Carthage Bridge was built, the Gorge has been without a passageway spanning the Gorge (except smaller, river-level bridges at the Middle Falls in 1828 and 1835, which floods washed out) for 71 years (36% of the time).

Driving Park Avenue Bridge, 1938

1856 Suspension Bridge over the Genesee

Suspension Bridge over the Genesee, 1856 

Carthage Bridge, 1819

Driving Park Avenue Bridge, 1908

Driving Park Avenue Bridge, 1988

(Click on images for a larger view.)