Narrow Passage Railroad Bridge

The first railroad bridge to cross the Narrow Passage Creek, at what was then called Willow Grove, was built in 1855 by the Manassas Gap Railroad. Its life would be short. The bridge was burned by Turner Ashby in 1862 to delay Union forces.

In 1868 the bridge was rebuilt. This structure would stand for eight years.

On the night of Monday, March 6 1876, the railroad bridge spanning Narrow Passage Creek south of Woodstock collapsed. The bridge had been constructed in 1868 as a replacement to a previous bridge that was burned in the Civil War. It was primarily constructed of wood with masonry supports.

Atop the structure when it collapsed was an eastbound stock train with 151 head of cattle aboard. The train contained eleven loaded cattle cars, five freight cars, and one passenger coach. It was under the leadership of Conductor James Russell and Engineer T. Cunning.
Local news reports indicate the collapse occurred at around midnight. Upon approaching the bridge the train had slowed and confirmed with the bridge sentry that it was safe to cross. It passed over the center of the bridge when suddenly the center span gave way.

When the bridge collapsed, the train fell 114 feet to the stream bed. Eleven members of the crew were killed. Seven survived. The entire bridge, the engine, and all the cars settled in a mass of debris at the bottom of the bridge. Helped was called for from Edinburg and Woodstock and arrived at around 1:00AM. Doctors Prescott, Bellew, Campbell, Magruder, and Carter lead the response.

This collapse remains the worst railroad accident in Shenandoah County History. It would take two months for rail service to be restored. A coroner’s inquest, led by J.H. Grabill, investigated the crash but was unable to determine the exact cause of the collapse, though the two most plausible explanations were a broken axle on one of the cars or rotten timbers in the bridge.

The bridge would be completely rebuilt in 1909 by the Southern Railway Company. The four-span, deck-plate girder bridge was constructed by the American Bridge Company and, at 462 feet, is the longest in the area.

By 1989 the line, which had once been exceedingly busy, had only one customer. Trains, consisting of eight cars, crossed the bridge once a week to deliver material to Johns Manville. In 2007 this plant closed and the trains ceased to pass over this line.