This past weekend, “Mrs. Nones Notes” and I spent some time poking around the Allegheny National Forest in Northwestern Pennsylvania. For those of you who haven’t vacationed in this part of the country yet, it’s well worth a visit. Besides being one of the most sparsely settled regions this side of Northern Maine or Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, it’s an area of great natural beauty.
And if you’re lucky, you may come across an elk sighting or two – certainly a rare sight anywhere east of the Rocky Mountains.
But back in the late 1800s, there was also industry in this area – logging, of course, but also North America’s first petroleum rush. You can still see remnants of the crude oil industry when hiking the trails – and even the occasional working oil well.
The region also claims one engineering marvel – the Kinzua Viaduct, a ruined railway trestle that spans some 2,050 feet and rises ~300 feet above the canyon floor. Located a few miles off the main road at Mt. Jewett, the Kinzua Viaduct is a spectacular sight to see.
Built in 1882 by the Elmira Bridge Company for the New York, Lake Erie & Western Railway, the viaduct was completed in less than 100 days, using a crew of only 40 people. The structure would be replaced in 1900 in order to accommodate the newer locomotives that were nearly twice as heavy.
Used for many years by the commercial rail line, the viaduct was a lifeline for people of the community. We spoke with one man whose aunt rode the line daily to her factory job in Bradford, some 25 miles away. The viaduct was later used for scenic rail excursions.
Then in 2003, a rare tornado ripped its way through the valley, making a direct hit on the viaduct and taking out more than half of its 20 towers. Today it stands as a spectacular ruin inside Kinzua Bridge State Park. It’s one of those magnificent ruins that just compels you to stand there and study it for a long, long time.
Several times during our trip, we heard the claim that the Kinzua Viaduct was “the eighth wonder of the world.” I had to laugh; how many times have I heard of some man-made landmark referred to as the “eighth wonder”? The Crazy Horse monument in South Dakota … the Empire State Building in New York … St. Peter’s in Rome. Far too many of them to count.
This got me to thinking: Just how did the seven wonders of the world come to be so-named? And aren’t there many more than seven which would qualify?
It turns out that the “seven wonders” were first outlined in British guidebooks in the 1800s, and applied only to sites of ancient Greek civilization. Arriving at seven related to the ancient Greek notion that the number seven represented “perfection and plenty.”
When looking at a list of those wonders of antiquity, some seem obvious … but others make one speculate how such notoriety came to be conferred upon them:
The Great Pyramid of Giza
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
The Statue of Zeus at Olympia
The Colossus of Rhodes
The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
The Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus
The Lighthouse of Alexandria
And then it turns out that this list is only one of several “sevens” that has been put forth. Another popular list focuses on marvels outside the realm of the ancient Greeks:
The Roman Colosseum
The Catacombs of Qom al-Shoqafa
The Great Wall of China
The Porcelain Tower of Nanking
The Leaning Tower of Pisa
This list raises even more questions: Where is the Taj Mahal? Machu Picchu? Or any number of other important structures?
Other “seven wonders” lists abound that include 20th Century marvels like the Golden Gate Bridge, the Panama Canal, the Channel Tunnel, Malaysia’s Petronas Twin Towers … and even the Internet!
So in all this confusion, it’s little wonder there are dozens of claims to being the “eighth” wonder of the world.
I think it’s more than a stretch to include the Kinzua Viaduct as among the wonders of the world. But it’s definitely an engineering marvel.
… And then when you see the impact the tornado had on it, you also realize how difficult it is for man – no matter how far we’ve progressed in science and engineering – to upstage nature.
[By the way, for those who may wish to spend some time exploring the natural splendors of Northwestern Pennsylvania, I heartily recommend the Kane Manor Inn as your “base camp.” This stunning three-story Georgian Revival mansion (pictured above), built in 1897 by Dr. Elizabeth Dennistoun Wood Kane, wife of the Civil War hero General Thomas Kane, has been operated as a bed-and-breakfast inn for years. Located on the edge of the town that bears its name and hugging the boundary of the Allegheny National Forest, the mansion is literally steps away from some of the best hiking, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling trails you’ll find anywhere in the eastern half of the United States.]