The Paulinskill Viaduct

The Paulinskill Viaduct 

 In the forest of Knowlton township, New Jersey, sits a towering collection of weathered concrete and steel. This is the Paulinskill Viaduct, and at one time this massive construction served as bridge, allowing trains easy crossing of the Paulins Kill river and surrounding valley. Now, more than 100 years after its construction, it rests abandoned. The woods have slowly encroached upon its massive supports, everywhere ivy clings to the concrete facade, and countless buzzards have built nests high up within the arches of its 125 foot tall form. Looking upon the old viaduct today, one would think that it's best days were far behind it. However, looks can be deceiving.

Construction began on the Paulinskill Viaduct in 1908 and was completed in 1910. At its completion it stood as the largest reinforced concrete structure on the globe. The bridge spans a length of some 1100 feet, and projects itself skyward for a dizzying 125. The viaduct serviced the now-defunct Lakawanna Cut-Off, a railway line which ran from Port Morris, New Jersey to Slateford, Pennsylvania. Between 1908 and 1910, the construction of the line was one of the world's largest construction projects. The Lakawanna Cut-Off opened on Christmas Eve 1911 and for decades was one of the busiest railways in the country. Beginning in the late 1950's, though, a number of changes in passenger transport, shipping and especially Pennsylvania's economy caused a steady decline in traffic. Eventually the cut-off was closed on January 6, 1970. In 1984 the state of New Jersey removed the tracks from the railway, marking the last official use of the viaduct. It has sat silently in the woods ever since.

Those familiar with our work understand our disdain for vandalism, and that we generally condemn both graffiti and the many more mundane forms of property damage. The Paulinskill Viaduct is a special exception though, and whenever we visit it, we look forward to seeing what new artwork awaits us in the tunnels and archways above the treetops. The works herein often transcend any simple definition of graffiti, a difference we've found is as much a product of intent as it is of artistic talent. To be covered in these colorful forms of expression is what gives the viaduct its soul, be it an ambitious mural spanning an entire wall, or a few sincere words scrawled in some out-of-the way corner. These works are ever-changing, painted over and over again by different artists, feeling different things, at different times in their lives. The transient nature of each piece makes it that much more endearing. To us, the viaduct is less an abandoned railway bridge than it is a 125 foot tall canvas of concrete and steel.

Talk about the reopening of the Lakawanna Cut-Off has been topic of discussion since almost the first day it was discontinued. For decades politicians rallied this way and that about the of pros and cons of such a concept, all the while trees and underbrush reclaimed the old railway beds. Now, after all this time, efforts have finally begun in proper. Though the viaduct falls outside of the current new construction occurring on the line, future plans which call for a line from Scranton to New York City make use of it. So at days end, the rehabilitation of the old bridge is still a far off thing, but the Paulinskill Viaduct is very good at waiting - It has been doing so for decades.

The old viaduct stands ridged against the flowing water and swaying trees.

The viaduct in 1911.

The viaduct, as it were in the winter of 1964.

These access ports lead to the hollow chambers found within each "leg" of the bridge.

The night we visited the viaduct was considerably colder than we had anticipated. The wind, being channeled through the valley, cut through our inadequate sweatshirts effortlessly as we stood atop the old bridge. Crisp air does have its advantages though - The clouds of insects that nightly rise from the forest canopy were nowhere to be seen. The moon was full this night, and hung in the sky like an unblinking eye, as it bathed the cold concrete and the sleeping forest in a soft amber. So illuminated, the pale viaduct looked like some prehistoric skeleton jutting up out of the earth, its bleached bones a stark contrast to deep green foliage all around it.

There is a rare kind of all-encompassing peace here at night.

This is an older video of ours. When watching, you may notice that it has a different "feel" to it than our current-day films. This is because the style of our cinematography has progressed over time, and our equipment has changed and improved throughout the years. We have chosen to leave our older videos available for viewing online to illustrate the evolution of our work.