Grand Canyon Railway Ashfork-Bainbridge Steel Dam

Dedication Ceremony for Grand Canyon Railway and Ashfork-Bainbridge Steel Dam As Historic Civil Engineering Monuments
The dedication of the Grand Canyon Railway and the Ashfork-Bainbridge Steel Dam as historic engineering monuments was at a ceremony on Friday, May 5, 2000, at 1:30 p.m. MST. This took place at the Williams Depot in downtown Williams.

The first large steel dam in the world was constructed in semi-remote Johnson Canyon three miles east of Ashfork and fifteen miles west of Williams to supply water to the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad over100 years ago. Francis H. Bainbridge, a civil engineer working for the railroad, invented and patented the steel dam, which was fabricated by the Wisconsin Bridge and Iron Company and shipped to the site for erection. Development of this new water supply for the railroad was a key to opening the door to the arid west.

The Santa Fe and Grand Canyon Railroad Company built the “short-line” railroad to haul copper ore from a promising mine at Anita, which is located 15 miles south of the rim of the Grand Canyon. Although the mine played out just about the time the railroad reached Anita, it provided a springboard for the AT&SF Railroad to acquire a new railroad for “a song” to provide access to a new resort site. Building a short extension of track to the rim of the canyon and the opening of the historic El Tovar Hotel established the Grand Canyon as a national destination for visitors.

The railroad continues to serve the traveling public, and it was not until 1927 that the automobile overtook the railroad as the dominant mode of transit for visitors coming to the Canyon. The railroad, again a “short line” and known today as the Grand Canyon Railway, remains a vital transportation link between Williams and the Grand Canyon.

In recognition of these two historic landmarks, the Arizona Society of Civil Engineers, the local organization for the American Society of Civil Engineers, erected a bronze plaque at each of the sites. These plaques will commemorate each landmark as a key element of the infrastructure so important for the development of the Western United States. Both of these landmarks are in excellent physical condition and continue in service today.

The steel dam, built in 1898, was constructed with 24 curved plates sloped downstream giving this unique structure a scalloped appearance. The central steel section is 184 feet long, 46 feet high, and weighs an estimated 460,000 pounds.

The steel dam is one of two dams built in rugged but beautiful Johnson Canyon. The second is Stone Dam, a masonry structure built one mile further upstream and 13 years later.

The dedication ceremony was at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, May 5, 2000, at the Williams Depot and included recognition of dignitaries present, brief remarks about the history and significance of the Grand Canyon Railroad and the Ashfork-Bainbridge Steel Dam, and will conclude about an hour later with complementary refreshments.