Wanakena Historical Association

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On January 13, 2014 the one hundred twelve year old suspension bridge in Wanakena was heavily damaged by an ice jam.  Together with the Town of Fine, the WHA is raising funds to rebuild this bridge. The campaign slogan: Revive, Rebuild, Recover was chosen to convey that the Wanakena footbridge is an icon of the Western Adirondacks and is cherished not only by the residents of Wanakena, but also by the many families who have lived here, visitors, hikers and especially Ranger School students who have passed through this tiny hamlet. Consider helping our community recover by DONATING to the fund that is designated to rebuild the Wanakena footbridge. Enjoy the video and pictures of the bridge below.

  

This bridge was an absolute gem - a wonderful piece of vernacular American engineering, a connection to the fascinating history of the settlement, an important pedestrian transportation link in the community, and a structure so beloved and so well taken care of. It is a horrible loss.  -- Steven Engelhart, Executive Director AARCH

On November 11, 2016 the rebuilt footbridge was opened to the public and on July 4th 2017 Wanakena held a dedication ceremony and celebration with over 400 people participating. On this date a new kiosk depicting the footbridge history, including the many creative ways that the WHA raised the matching funds needed to rebuild.  The kiosk also list the over 450 individual donors/families that contributed cash gifts to rebuild.



March 14, 2015 - Click on line below to open PDF of the most recent facts about the reconstruction project

FACTS ABOUT THE WANAKENA FOOTBRIDGE RECONSTRUCTION PROJECT

Update from Sue Westbrook, Chair of grant writing and Town of Fine Council Woman.


To date the grass roots effort to raise money to rebuild the bridge is over $78,000.  Individual donations, lemonade sales, organization donations, Bossie Bingo, Bridge Day and other events added to the total.


AUGUST 15 2015 - BRIDGE DAY 2015, put it on your calendar!

THE WANAKENA FOOTBRIDGE

 

The Wanakena footbridge was built c. 1902, when the Adirondack wilderness town of Wanakena was founded by the Rich Lumber Company. This suspension bridge was constructed to join the residential and commercial areas on the north side of the Oswegatchie River, with the mill and logging complex on the south shore. This allowed Rich Lumber’s workers to cross from the village to the mills, without having to use the railroad trestle situated west of the footbridge.  The bridge spans 171 feet across the Oswegatchie River, where the water level is still controlled by the dam located at the far northern end of Cranberry Lake.

 

In 1983  a major fund raising effort was employed to repair the rotting wooden planks and towers of the footbridge.  The original steel cables used in 1902 were re-used and still supported the bridge through 2013.

 

One of the longest pedestrian suspension bridges still extant in the United States, the Wanakena Footbridge is an architectural gem and a centerpiece of life for residents and visitors to this gateway village, on the northern edge of the Adirondack Park’s Five Ponds Wilderness Area.

 

In 1999, more than 500 people wrote letters to support the nomination of the Wanakena Footbridge to the National Register of Historic Places, recounting stories of and memories associated with the bridge. The bridge was selected later that year by the U.S. Department of Interior to be placed on the National Register, and a big celebration was held in recognition of this honor. The Wanakena Historical Association was formed in 2000 to preserve the history of the bridge as well as that of Wanakena.

 Periodic maintenance, including painting has been completed by resident volunteers and especially  Ranger School students.

 

Today the old bridge is considered an icon and landmark of the area. Locals and summer visitors alike savor a walk on the swinging bridge night or day; numerous weddings have been held on it; kids ride bikes and fish from it; even the deer use it to cross the river. It is a popular subject for photography in all seasons.

 

On January 13, 2014, an unusually early thaw after heavy snow falls and weeks of sub-zero weather caused a massive ice jam on the Oswegatchie River. Several Wanakena homes were flooded, and the North tower of the footbridge was destroyed. The 112 year old steel cables were not severed, but the bridge lay broken across the ice flow.  The night of January 13 was like a wake in Wanakena, with people standing on shore teary eyed seeing the damaged bridge lying in the icy river with Christmas lights still shining brightly. Comprehensive efforts are now underway by residents, friends of the bridge, and professional engineers to rebuild, recover, and hopefully to avoid a recurrence of this local catastrophe.

 
This video created by Kristin Rehder, seasonal resident of Wanakena.  Ms Rehder is an accomplished photographer, who in 2012 created an exhibition called, "The Way to Wanakena" which has been shown at several locations on the East Coast, as well as at the 100th anniversay celebration of the New York State Ranger School at Wanakena. 
  • circa 1904, very old photo of bridge showing the corner of the old Reading Room
    circa 1904, very old photo of bridge showing the corner of the old Reading Room
  • circa 1907 photo of footbridge
    circa 1907 photo of footbridge
  • Circa 1915, young girl on the footbridge
    Circa 1915, young girl on the footbridge
  • circa 1917 photo of hotel staff at the footbridge
    circa 1917 photo of hotel staff at the footbridge
  • circa 1950's ?
    circa 1950's ?
  • 1983 soon after restoration work was completed
    1983 soon after restoration work was completed
  • Summer in Wanakena
    Summer in Wanakena
  • July 4th duck races 2007
    July 4th duck races 2007
  • Autumn view of the footbridge from the island
    Autumn view of the footbridge from the island
  • Ranger school students and residents painting the bridge
    Ranger school students and residents painting the bridge
  • Lights on for the July 4th Holiday
    Lights on for the July 4th Holiday
  • First Prize phot by Ellen Giraud entered in the WHA photo contest in 2012
    First Prize phot by Ellen Giraud entered in the WHA photo contest in 2012
  • Winter in Wanakena
    Winter in Wanakena
  • Winter in WWinter in Wanakena
    Winter in WWinter in Wanakena
  • Maxwell crosses the bridge in January 2010
    Maxwell crosses the bridge in January 2010
  • 2014 ice jam destruction
    2014 ice jam destruction
  • 2014 ice jan
    2014 ice jan
  • 2014 ice jam destruction
    2014 ice jam destruction
  • Lights still on the night the bridge came down January 13, 2014
    Lights still on the night the bridge came down January 13, 2014
  • Bossie Bingo July 2014 raised $4k for the rebuilding
    Bossie Bingo July 2014 raised $4k for the rebuilding
  • BBossie Bingo raised $4k to rebuild the footbridge
    BBossie Bingo raised $4k to rebuild the footbridge
  • Workers removing the damaged bridge from the Oswegatchie
    Workers removing the damaged bridge from the Oswegatchie
  • Demolition of the footbridge July 2014
    Demolition of the footbridge July 2014
  • Demolition of the footbridge is nearing completion July 2014
    Demolition of the footbridge is nearing completion July 2014
  • Northern New York Community Foundation gives $10k (Rande Richardson & Marsha Smith)
    Northern New York Community Foundation gives $10k (Rande Richardson & Marsha Smith)
  • Bridge Day August 2015. Total raised $9k to rebuild the bridge!
    Bridge Day August 2015. Total raised $9k to rebuild the bridge!
  • Bridge Day pie contest raised almost $800. First place pie sold for $250!
    Bridge Day pie contest raised almost $800. First place pie sold for $250!
  • Wanakenans dressed in period costume for Bridge Day 2014
    Wanakenans dressed in period costume for Bridge Day 2014
  • Bridge Day hot dogs with Cincinatti sauce sold out quickly.
    Bridge Day hot dogs with Cincinatti sauce sold out quickly.
  • Bridge Day 2014; $9K total raised to rebuild the bridge!
    Bridge Day 2014; $9K total raised to rebuild the bridge!
  • Bridge Day 2014, Wanakenans dressed in period costume.
    Bridge Day 2014, Wanakenans dressed in period costume.
  • Crafters at Bridge Day 2014
    Crafters at Bridge Day 2014
  • Gingerbread bridge contest entry Dec 2014
    Gingerbread bridge contest entry Dec 2014
  • The winning gingerbread bridge entry won in Star Lake and in Canton TAUNY contest Dec 2014
    The winning gingerbread bridge entry won in Star Lake and in Canton TAUNY contest Dec 2014
circa 1904, very old photo of bridge showing the corner of the old Reading Room
circa 1904, very old photo of bridge showing the corner of the old Reading Room