The Kittanning Bridge Company was formed in 1838 by an act of the Pennsylvania State Legislature. Its purpose was to construct a bridge across the Allegheny River and connect the towns of Kittanning with West Kittanning PA. Until that time there was no fixed bridge that crossed the Allegheny River at that location. Only ferry service provided a way to traverse the waterway.
Despite the early passage of the Act, it wasn’t until around 1855 that construction began for a bridge crossing after sufficient sales of stock had raised enough capital. The bridge was completed in March of 1856. Built with two stone abutments and four stone piers, the foundation of the bridge was solidly built. However, its superstructure was primarily comprised of wood.
One month after its completion on April 12 1856, a freak tornado struck the bridge and tore its wooden superstructure off its piers and pilings. All that remained standing was its foundation and its four solitary piers.
The bridge’s toll gatherers, John Lininger and Wilson Todd were both manning their posts. Todd, a one armed man, went down with the bridge, while Lininger was able to escape the calamity altogether. Fortunately for Todd, as the wooden span plunged into the river, he held tight, and rode with the deck into the water. Once in the current, he drifted downstream for miles until he was rescued several hours later.
One year later, after preferred stock was additionally issued, a new superstructure was completed. Covered and firmly bound to its approach and piers, it survived until 1874.
In 1874 the superstructure was intentionally removed, and replaced with a five-truss bridge made of iron. Unlike the original bridge, it lasted 58 years.
In 1932 the present-day bridge was built. Consisting of three trusses, the crossing was renamed the Kittanning Citizens Bridge.
Interestingly, it was this bridge that was used in the Mothman Prophesies, playing the part of the infamous Silver River Bridge that collapsed in Point Pleasant West Virginia.
The Atwood-Coffee Catalog lists two token varieties that were struck for the Kittanning Bridge. Both were struck in vulcanite. The first variety lists for $500 in the sixth edition. The second for a mere $10.
The specimen pictured below is the second variety. Significantly, the differences between the two varieties are color and a period following “CO.” The first variety possesses a period, while the second does not. As to color, the first variety is dark brown, while the second is black.
This particular specimen is at least Extra Fine in grade, if not better. While the Atwood-Coffee Catalog provides no suggestion of date for the emissions, it’s estimated that they were emitted sometime between the late 1850s and 1880. This would be consistent with the vulcanite composition, style of engraving, and popularity of using these type of bridge tokens during that period.
Notes and Sources
- The Atwood-Coffee Catalogue of United States and Canadian Transportation Tokens Sixth Edition, John Coffee and Harold Ford, American Vecturist Association, ©2007, pg.539
- History of Armstrong County, Pennsylvania, Robert Walter Smith, Waterman, Watkins & Co., 1883, pgs.114-115
- ‘Remembering a WV Tragedy,’ West Virginia MetroNews Network, Chris Lawrence, 14 December 2012
- The Library of Congress Digital Archives