The Lost Treasure of Kinzua

Kinzua Bridge. Postcard part of the author’s collection

It all started with an email from Stephanie. The former college classmate’s message had brought me once again into the beautiful area of the Kinzua Valley of northern Pennsylvania. Her brief email asked me what I knew about the lost loot of Kinzua.

I replied with what little I knew about the lost treasure at the time.

Her response was: My boyfriend and I are planning on going out to look for it if you want to tag along…and he has an interesting story to share with you.

A couple weeks later I arrived at Kinzua Bridge State Park to join Stephanie and her boyfriend in a treasure hunt. Being a little early, I walked over to the railroad bridge. A handful of people were already walking on the bridge that spanned the Kinzua Valley, but I remained on the safety of solid ground.

As I stood there, memories of previous visits flooded my mind. One of the first times I can remember visiting the park was with my family. We arrived at the same time as the tourist train from the Knox Kane Railroad. Having to stay off the bridge and tracks we watched the train slowly cross. Knowing we were out of luck for the day, we left, but would return a couple years later. There was no train on the return visit and we were able to walk out onto the bridge.

Having a fear of heights, I took my time as I stepped out onto the bridge. While my father and sister moved forward at a much faster pace, my mother joined me as I took my time stepping railroad tie by railroad tie. I shook with each step as the ground dropped farther and farther. I remained in the center, between the steel rails – the safety railings along the side of the bridge looked anything but safe and I did not want to get too close to them. My father and sister crossed the entire length of the bridge and were on their way back by the time I made it halfway across. Content with making it to this point, I turned and joined them as we headed back to the parking lot.

The Kinzua Bridge was the tallest bridge in the world when it was built in 1882. The railroad bridge was built as an alternative to an eight-mile section of railroad that would have taken the line around the Kinzua Valley. The original bridge was built of iron, towering 301 feet over the Kinzua Creek below and was 2,053 feet long.

However, due to larger and heavier train engines, the bridge had to be rebuilt in 1900. This bridge maintained the same height and span, but steel replaced the wooden frame. Amazingly, the second bridge was finished in one hundred and five days by a group of men, between 100 and 150 strong, working ten hour days.

Freight traffic on the bridge was discontinued in June of 1959. In 1963 Governor William Scranton signed the bill authorizing the state to purchase the lands that would become Kinzua Bridge State Park and the park officially opened in 1970. Beginning in 1987, excursion trains would cross the bridge as a part of the Allegheny National Forest tours.

My thoughts returned to the present-day as Stephanie and her boyfriend walked up. After a couple minutes of catching up, our conversation turned to the lost treasure that is supposedly buried within sight of the bridge. She told me the version of the story she had always heard.

Somewhere in the Kinzua Valley, within sight of the Kinzua Bridge, is the hidden loot from a robbery that occurred in 1893. The unidentified man robbed the bank in Emporium and fled northward into the wilds of northern Pennsylvania. The outlaw was discovered a couple days later wandering in the forests near Mount Jewett. The sick man was taken to town and before dying mentioned a handful of words that included: bridge, triangular rock, glass jars, and money. The robber died before revealing the exact location of the buried loot.

Since those famous words were muttered, countless treasure seekers have scoured the woods around the bridge, each hoping to find the buried loot that is thought to be worth between forty and fifty thousand dollars. Many believe that the loot is located in or near Wildcat Hollow, the area to the southwest of the park and to the east of Mount Jewett.

As Stephanie finished her portion of the story, her boyfriend shared some information he had found among some stuff he had received from one of his uncles. He spread out a worn topographic map and pointed out a some features before he laid a couple photos on top of it.

I carefully picked up the photos and studied them. They were old black and whites, but they clearly showed a large triangular rock. Another one showed a picture of the bridge, barely visible through the trees, but it was definitely the train bridge.

As I looked at the photos, I felt my heart racing. Was this the key to finding the lost treasure or were they just another false lead? Even as the thoughts ran through my head, he continued his story.

His uncle had given him the photos and claimed that the treasure was indeed there, waiting to be discovered. Supposedly, his uncle had discovered the treasure while hunting and fearing the state would take it from him, he reburied it.

I had my doubts about the story, but did not speak my thoughts aloud.

I was still studying the pictures when I noticed something about them. I flipped through the handful of pictures again, studying the pictures a little more carefully this time. None of them showed the rock and the bridge together. When I mentioned it, the look on their faces told me this was not a new revelation.

“You still want to search for it?” they asked and I admitted I was a little excited about the possibility of finding it, so we set off in search of a rock. Yes, we went in search of one particular rock on a mountain full of rocks. The rock in the picture was a large rock buried in the side of the mountain and from the top looking down at it, it appeared to be triangular as it jutted out of the hillside.

We wandered along the side of the mountain, keeping the bridge mostly within sight and carefully checked around all of the large rocks we thought might be the one we were looking for. The problem we discovered was that there are a lot of rocks that match that description. One does not fully realize how many triangular rocks there are until searching for just one particular triangular rock. We discovered a lot of them that day, but none matched the rock in the picture.

After a couple hours of searching, I realized I had to head towards home and we called it a day.

One thing we did discover that morning was a possible location where the photograph of the bridge may have been taken from. Ironically, if this was the correct location, it was the one spot in the area that did not have a large, triangular looking rock nearby.

The next few weeks were spent digging through various sources and I came to the following conclusion: as much as I want to believe that there is a lost treasure buried within sight of the remains of the bridge, I find the story to have a couple head-scratching questions.

First, where did this occur and what got robbed? The exact location of the robbery, according to the vast majority of the sources I’ve read, state that the robbery happened in Emporium — roughly thirty miles southeast of Mount Jewett. The version I’ve shared is the most popular and is the one that Stephanie related to me that morning. However, I have read in a handful of modern sources that the robbery took place in the town of Hazel Hurst, which is just east of Mount Jewett.

The most popular version of the legend states that it was a bank that was robbed. I have found a couple of versions that claim that it was a general store that was robbed and another source states that the loot came from a stagecoach robbery.

The second thing that I question about the robbery is the claim the robber hid the loot in glass jars. I find it doubtful that the bandit, fleeing from the law at that time, carried glass jars with him nor did he take the time to buy or steal them. But I could be wrong – people have been known to do strange things. I believe this detail was something that was added in later retellings of the story.

We did not find any treasure that day, but did enjoy a nice walk outdoors and an interesting story. Maybe somewhere in the Kinzua Valley there is a fortune waiting to be discovered. You just have to find the correct triangular rock.

Note: Due to age, by 2002 excursion trains were no longer allowed to cross the bridge. On Monday, July 21, 2003, an F1 tornado (wind speeds between 73 and 112 mph) struck the side of Kinzua Bridge. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured though it completely destroyed the bridge.

The state park is still open and the remains of the bridge have been converted into a sky walk, complete with a glass floor on the viewing platform. It is well worth the visit if you’re in the area.

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