Youghiogheny River Bridge or Fink's Suspension Bridge
WORLD GUIDE #
As the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad expanded westward into West Virginia (Virginia until the Civil War) and western Maryland, it built numerous bridges across streams, narrow rivers and even wide rivers like the Patapsco River and Potomac River. There is no definitive proof that the railroad bridge over the Youghiogheny River near Oakland was a wooden covered one. If anything, more than likely it was not covered. Since no information is conclusive, it is listed here as a "possible" wooden covered bridge in Maryland.
A new, young engineer, Albert Fink developed a truss that was used to build the bridge at Oakland. Wendel Bollman worked with Fink to develop the new truss system, which essentially was to turn the traditional truss system, developed by Wernwag and Latrobe--timber arch with straight members in the form of diagonal struts--, upside down and reproduce them in metal.
At the time the bridge was built, the area across the Youghiogheny River at Oakland was a part of Allegany County, Maryland. Garrett County was not formed until 1872 and it was the last county in Maryland to be formed. The town of Oakland was incorporated in 1862.
One of the best books on the early years of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad is The Great Road by James D. Dilts. In his book he describes in detail the construction of the new bridge over the Youghiogheny River:
The first documented major bridge on the Fink plan, over the Youghiogheny River, appeared on the new line just past the recently founded town of Oakland, Maryland. To avoid the need for two bridges there, the Little Youghiogheny was diverted into an old channel and made to enter the larger stream just above the new plan. The January 1851 issue of the American Railroad Journal described what it said was the plan of this bridge--on which the masonry was being finished--but their description is definitely not that of a Fink truss. Perhaps the bridge was not constructed as planned. In any case, the Youghiogheny River bridge was finished in July 1851. In November 1853, Latrobe said it was a single, 180-foot span on white sandstone abutments 25 feet over the water with a superstructure of timber and iron, "upon Fink's plan of suspension truss."
The Youghiogheny River bridge at Oakland, according to the magazine, was to have had four eighteen-foot stone towers. These were four feet square at the base and battered, each masonry course composed of a single stone. Spanning the distance between the towers across the stream were two "solid built beams"--the wooden stretchers. From each one hung an iron suspension chain in a catenary curve. These chains passed through iron castings attached to timber trusses between the stretchers and the bridge deck, which consisted of timber floor beams that carried the track. Horizontal struts running from post to post gave the appearance of a lower chord, but this was nonfunctional, as in the Bollman and Fink trusses. Although the Railroad Journal described this structure as "a beautiful application of the suspension principle to railroad bridges," what it really amounted to was a bad compromise between suspension and truss forms. It lacked the rationale for the former--the need to span great distances without intermediate piers--and the stiffness of the latter. It was a pastiche of influences, principles, and materials, and structurally illogical.¹
The October 1850 Twenty-Fourth Annual Report of the President and Directors to the Stockholders of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company, page 44, confirms the bridge is "a single span of 180 feet over the Youghiogheny River on the 55th section." It continues on page 46: "The masonry of the bridge on the 55th section over the Youghiogheny River is also nearly finished, and the timber for the superstructure of 180 feet span is cut and being delivered."
B & O "Annual Reports" for 1856 and 1860 that listed bridges along the railroad continued to declare the Youghiogheny River Bridge as 180 feet, 1 span, of wood.
On April 26, 1863 the Youghiogheny River Bridge was destroyed by the Confederate Army. Perhaps the best description of the burning of the bridge is found in Daniel Toomey's book The War Came by Train:
When Jones [General William E. Jones] entered the state of Maryland, he sent Colonel Asher W. Harmon with his Twelfth Virginia Regiment and Lt. Col. Brown's First Maryland Battalion to Oakland to destroy the railroad bridge there that crossed the Youghiogheny River. They were accompanied by Capt. McNeill's Rangers to act as guides.
As he approached [Oakland], Harmon sent units to surround the town to prevent anyone from escaping. Apparently none of Oakland's 300 or so residents were aware that the raid was in progress and the sight of Rebel cavalrymen on the streets of their town was a total shock. Harmon paroled his prisoners and destroyed their weapons. Then he ordered his men to burn the station and any other associated railroad property. A second detachment was sent to burn the 180-foot long bridge over the Youghiogheny River. This was a single span structure known as Fink's Suspension Bridge and was made of iron with wooden trestles. It sat 30 feet above the river. The bridge was set on fire and the woodwork between the abutments was destroyed.²
The B & O Railroad rebuilt the bridge after it was destroyed in 1863 only to lose it again to the spring freshets of 1865. It was rebuilt again, this time with a center pier making it two spans of 90 feet and built of iron.
¹ James D. Dilts, The Great Road: The Building of the Baltimore & Ohio. The Nation's First Railroad, 1828-1853. (Stanford University Press: Stanford, California: 1993), p.362-3.
² Daniel Carroll Toomey, The War Came by Train: The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad During the Civil War. (H. G. Roebuck & Son, Inc.: Baltimore, Maryland: 2013), p.148-149.
UPDATED: 01/02/2014 more information added based on the B & O "Annual Reports" related to build date, length, spans and rebuilding the bridge after it was destroyed in 1863 during the Civil War. Also, more detailed information about the burning of the bridge from the book, "The War Came by Train."