Judy Lynch: Irish History Embedded in Viaduct

Erie’s first Irish mayor, Charlie Raycroft Barber, supported the 20-years-long effort by a priest from St. Ann Church to create a bridge over the railroad tracks at East Ave. The McBride Viaduct was dedicated in 1938, two years after Barber was elected.

Erie’s first Irish mayor, Charlie Raycroft Barber, supported the 20-years-long effort by a priest from St. Ann Church to create a bridge over the railroad tracks at East Ave. The McBride Viaduct was dedicated in 1938, two years after Barber was elected.

Former Erie County Executive, historian Judy Lynch, outlines the rich history that Swank Construction will obliterate if they demolish the McBride Viaduct (East Ave. Bridge) as has been directed by PennDOT, the Public Utilities Commission and the City of Erie

_________________________________________________________________________

The decision by U.S. District Court Judge Susan Paradise Baxter to dismiss the McBride Viaduct suit has condemned one more of Erie’s historical structures to the ash heap. Let us salute those who struggled for more than 20 years to see it built.

Father Raycroft, a Catholic priest descended from Irish immigrants, was commissioned to build a church on East Avenue to meet the needs of Irish immigrants on Erie’s east side. St. Ann Church was consecrated in 1905. Father Raycroft died and was replaced by Father Lawrence McBride in 1919.

Father McBride, later Monsignor McBride, was aghast at the struggles of east-siders who daily walked or drove over the railroad tracks. He created an internal Guard of Honor and through this organization and annual communion breakfasts began to push for a bridge over the railroad tracks to connect East Avenue with its southern neighbors. In November 1929, when four upper east-siders were killed on the railroad tracks, the fight for safe passage intensified. In October of 1929, the Great Depression rocked the country but resulted in federal and state funds for infrastructure.

Monsignor McBride knew that the time was ripe and intensified his political activity to help to elect Charlie Barber, Erie’s first Irish mayor, in 1936. It was Erie County Commissioner Thomas Flatley, again of Irish immigrant ancestry, who ranked the construction of the viaduct as Erie County’s No. 1 priority. The viaduct was dedicated in December 1938 and Monsignor McBride was lauded for his 20-year fight to increase the safety and connectivity of the east side.

Now the city will tear down the McBride Viaduct, obliterating a historical marker and much of its Irish history. Will the demolition create the imperative of another 20-year struggle to address the need for greater safety and connectivity of the East Avenue neighborhood?

— Judy Lynch, Millcreek

PUBLISHED: Letters to the Editor, Erie Times-News, Sunday, November 11, 2018