Mother Nature rained on the Nicholson Bridge’s Centennial Anniversary Parade Saturday afternoon, but it was gentle enough that few let it dampen their enthusiasm.
The day got off with a keynote talk by Steamtown National Historic Park Ranger Debbie Conway who was hired a couple of years ago from New York and remembers asking someone if Nicholson would be hard to find.
“The big bridge is hard to miss,” she remembers being told, and “Just look for the bridge and you’ll find the town.”
She then shared her “instantaneous car-stopping amazement” when on her first visit the bridge came into view while driving up U.S. Rt. 11.
Conway said she felt the same awe that author Theodore Dreiser must have had in 1915 when he was writing a travelogue from New York City to Indiana and spoke of the colossal bridge along the way.
The program opened with Josh Stull as master of ceremonies, introducing the main star of the day.
He said “The world knows it as the Tunkhannock Creek Viaduct, but we know it as...,” and the 40 or so in the audience yelled back, “Nicholson Bridge.”
Stull added, “Though we may be a small community, it’s clear if you look behind me you will see that we sometimes do things in a big way here.”
He noted that one of the centerpieces of Nicholson telling its story, was the old freight station dating back to 1849, and that although it wasn’t ready for the weekend, would begin to take shape soon and in the next year or two the town should have its own visitor center.
Next up was Michelle Herron, president of the Nicholson Women’s Club which along with the Nicholson Heritage Association planned the events of the weekend.
Herron spoke of some changes in store for the special weekend, and said that sometimes people see this as a giant street fair, “but this year we wanted to have significant activities for everyone in the family.”
She told of lots of kids’ activities over at Nordahl Park both Saturday and Sunday, and on Sunday itself would have nearly 50 vendors for what promised to be a big deal.
Both Sen. Lisa Baker and Rep. Karen Boback addressed the group with resolutions introduced in the Pennsylvania General Assembly about the anniversary and weekend celebration.
“You know,” Rep. Boback said, “This is quite the collaboration” noting that so many groups got together to make the event happen in a big way.
Stull then introduced Conway, who also complimented the town.
She said she learned a lot over the past year while attending several centennial weekend planning meetings, but one thing rang true, and that was how proud the Nicholson residents were of the bridge.
Conway used her talk to lay out some ambitions she has for Steamtown, including bringing a steam locomotive back to the park. She noted that the Nickle Plate 765 locomotive that visited Steamtown last week for its RailFest celebration was an obvious draw.
Conway also spoke of a variety of volunteer opportunities that Steamtown is actively pursuing including an Iron Horse Society that could act as a fundraising tool because the National Park Service does not allow solicitations.
She said as Steamtown approaches its 30th anniversary next year, she becomes more and more aware of the vital way that railroads play in the history of communities, and especially that Steamtown’s location was the hub for five major railroad lines including the Delaware Western and Lackawanna Railroad which gave rise to the huge bridge.
Next up was Nicholson resident Kathy Steele, who recently compiled a book which included articles looking at some of the nitty gritty details behind the planning for and actual construction of the Clarks Summit-to-Hallstead cutoff which included the big bridge.
The granddaughter of Harry Palmitier, who was a maintenance foreman for the railroad from the 1920s to 1940s, reflected on the bridge noting that its $1.4 million cost was less than one-tenth of a $12 million investment that the DL&W made in Northeast Pennsylvania from 1912 to 1915.
She said that in the week prior to the bridge opening 100 years ago, DL&W President William Truesdale had to defend what some saw as extravagance in building the big bridge at Nicholson and a slightly smaller one eight miles to the north.
He said, “What may sometimes seem like extravagance of construction very well may be, in the truest sense, economy of operation.”
She noted that the company recouped its investment many times over, and she also added that at the time of the bridge’s completion, it represented constructive effort that stirred individual patriotism.
At the same time, Steele said Truesdale was ridiculed for the railroad company’s huge projects.
She quoted an article in the New York Times in which Truesdale said, “the balance of the really great nations were busy at destructive work,” as what was then known as the Great War, and now as World War I, was unfolding.
He always saw the work as constructive enterprise, she said.
Again quoting Truesdale, she said, “Several foreign governments planned to send their representatives to see the great Tunkhannock Viaduct and have been prevented from doing so because of the war. Their best brains have been absorbed in warfare, in destruction while our best brains have been absorbed in vast peaceful feats of construction.”
Steele said, “Truesdale was proud of our nation and had faith in the American enterprise system.”
She added, “Its foundation isn’t just the physical number of feet below the surface of bedrock that gives it stability, but the very core on which America was built.”
She questioned whether the same standard exists today.
Steele said beyond its mammoth proportions, “It (the bridge) is a testament to Truesdale and how he envisioned a railroad, or any big business should be run, when as planned with careful deliberation, he brought his to perfection.”
Stull thanked Steele for putting the bridge in context of its importance at the time, and for all time.
He then introduced Cynthia Stevens, whom he called the best third grade teacher ever.
Stull who grew up in Nicholson and now owns his parents’ home - the one in which he was raised - but presently works and resides in the nation’s capital, said he appreciated the education he got growing up.
Stevens noted that an essay contest on the future of the Nicholson Bridge took place during the past year, and she introduced the winner, Emily Herron.
Herron smiled at the audience and then flawlessly delivered her speech.
She drew some laughs when she suggested that one potential future could be to dismantle the bridge, but that would be quite a task taking it apart concrete chunk by concrete chunk.
She suggested that those who were interested in tearing things down, should look elsewhere.
Jody Nichols, president of the Endless Mountains Model Railroad Club, which sold commemorative model boxcars and promised to give a portion of the proceeds of the sale of them to the Heritage Association, asked NHA President Marion Sweet to come up, and he presented her with a check for $1,500.
Then Nicholson Fire police captain Albert Olive also had a special presentation for Sweet. First was a resolution and then second, he gave her a shirt designating her a member of the Fire Police for the weekend.
Olive later helped in the arrangement of vehicles for an anniversary parade which was preceded by a heavy rain, but managed to work its way through a crowded street of umbrella-laden onlookers in a light rainfall.
The parade set to start at 3 p.m. was delayed about 20 minutes, as the grand marshal of the parade, former teacher Joe Woolsey who served in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II, laid a wreath at the town’s veterans memorial in honor of all the brave individuals who sacrificed to keep the nation free, and make weekends like Nicholson was enjoying possible.
Marion Sweet, right, of the Nicholson Heritage Association, was presented an honorary fire police shirt from Nicholson Fire Police Captain Albert Olive and General Assembly citations from Rep. Boback and Sen. Baker.