Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — In 1843, during the first enlargement of the canal, a wooden bridge, 105 feet wide, was built to carry Main Street traffic across the canal. By 1851, part of that bridge was being used as a community market. Even at the width of 105 feet, this “Big Bridge” left 62 feet of open canal exposed, mostly in a direct line with Main Street, which resulted in several reported deaths and drownings.
It was 1852 before a simple guardrail was even built along the opening. In 1885, the wooden “Big Bridge” was condemned. On May 26, 1886, construction began on a new iron Big Bridge with $10,000 appropriated for the work. This time the bridge was 272 feet long and occupied the full width of Main Street and considerably more.
At the dedication on Sept. 1, 1886, a big celebration took place with brass bands, lavish fireworks and many speeches. The newspaper of Sept. 2 reported 10,000 people gathered for the opening celebration. The Hon. Richard Crowley gave a brief history of the old Big Bridge, in which he recalled an accident when a guardrail gave way sending a considerable number of people plunging off the bridge.
By 1911, there was a need once again for a new, larger bridge, and so the modern “Big Bridge” construction was begun. The work was completed in 1914 and currently a historical marker stands at the eastern end of the bridge that states it is “one of the widest bridges in the world.” The bridge measures 389 feet wide and 129 feet in length.
This bridge survives still today. With high-speed automobiles replacing horse and buggies, many modern motorists don’t even realize that they have crossed over Lockport’s own “signature” bridge.Doug Farley is the director of the Erie Canal Discovery Center, the best place to start your Erie Canal Adventure. His column runs every Saturday. Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Join them at 11 a.m. today when local author Linda Covell will present a free, family friendly program about her book for young readers, "Beattie's Tale."