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Poughkeepsie Bridge in 1978, viewed from the northwest, in Highland
|Locale||Poughkeepsie, New York to Highland, New York|
deck truss bridge
|Total length||6,768 feet (2,063 m)|
|Width||35 feet (11 m)|
|Longest span||2 × 548 feet (167 m)|
|Number of spans||7|
|Clearance below||160 feet (49 m)|
|Constructed by||Manhattan Bridge Building Company|
|Opened||January 1, 1889 (railroad)
October 3, 2009 (walkway)
Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge
|Location:||Poughkeepsie, New York|
|Architect:||O'Rourke,John F.; Union Bridge Co.|
|Governing body:||State of New York: Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation)|
|Added to NRHP:||February 23, 1979 (original)
May 20, 2008 (additional documentation)
The Poughkeepsie Bridge (a.k.a. Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge, Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge, High Bridge) is a steel cantilever bridge spanning the Hudson River between Poughkeepsie, New York on the east bank and Highland, New York on the west bank. Built as a double track railroad bridge, it was completed on January 1, 1889, and went out of service on May 8, 1974. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, updated in 2008. It was opened as Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park on October 3, 2009, as a pedestrian walkway, making it the longest footbridge in the world.
The South Mountain and Boston Railroad plans for a Hudson crossing bridge began before the Civil War. On October 27, 1855, an engineer proposed that a railroad bridge be built across the Hudson River at Poughkeepsie, via a letter published in the Poughkeepsie Eagle newspaper. The proposal seemed so absurd that the Eagle ridiculed it, and it was effectively forgotten until 1868. Over the years, many plans had been made for a fixed span across the Hudson River south of Albany to replace numerous car float and ferry operations. One of the most persistent was originally chartered in 1868 as the Hudson Highland Suspension Bridge Company, and would have crossed from Anthony's Nose to Fort Clinton, now roughly the site of the Bear Mountain Bridge. This proposed bridge was never built.
The Poughkeepsie Bridge Company was chartered in June 1871 to build the bridge, and J. Edgar Thomson of the Pennsylvania Railroad was persuaded to support the effort. Contracts were let to a firm called the American Bridge Company (not the company of the same name founded later), but the Panic of 1873 intervened and the scheme collapsed.
In 1886, the Manhattan Bridge Building Company was organized to finance the construction. Among the prominent backers was Henry Clay Frick, the coal tycoon and associate of Andrew Carnegie. The Union Bridge Company of Athens, Pennsylvania, which had completed the Michigan Central cantilever bridge at Niagara (see Niagara Cantilever Bridge), was subcontracted to build the Poughkeepsie Bridge. Dawson, Symmes and Usher were the foundation engineers, while John F. O'Rourke, P. P. Dickinson and Arthur B. Paine were the structural engineers. The bridge was designed by Charles Macdonald and Arthur B. Paine. As is typical for cantilever bridges, construction was carried out by constructing cribwork, masonry piers, towers, fixed truss sections on falsework, and finally cantilever sections, with the final cantilever interconnection (suspended) spans floated out or raised with falsework. The first train crossed the bridge on December 29, 1888.
The bridge was considered an engineering marvel of the day and has seven main spans. The total length is 6,768 feet (2,063 m), including approaches, and the top of the deck is 212 feet (65 m) above water. It is a multispan cantilever truss bridge, having two river-crossing cantilever spans of 548 feet (167 m) each, one center span of 546 feet (166 m), two anchor (connecting) spans of 525 feet (160 m), two shore spans of 201 feet (61 m)each, a 2,641 feet (805 m) approach viaduct on the eastern bank and a 1,033 feet (315 m) approach viaduct on the western bank. All seven spans were built of newly available Bessemer Process "mild" (between 0.16% and 0.29% carbon) steel, while the two approach viaducts were built of iron. It formed part of the most direct rail route between the industrial northeastern states and the midwestern and western states.
The bridge remained as the only fixed Hudson River crossing between Albany and New York City until the construction of the Bear Mountain (road) Bridge in 1924, and was advertised as a way to avoid New York City car floats and railroad passenger ferries. Due to the changes in ownership of railroads, the bridge was nominally owned by many different lines, including the Central New England Railway (CNE), New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad (NH), Penn Central (PC) and Conrail, among others.
The bridge was strengthened in 1912 by engineer Ralph Modjeski, of famed bridge civil engineering firm Modjeski and Masters, by adding a third line of trusses down the middle and by adding a central girder and additional interleaved columns, to safely handle the increased weight of freight trains crossing it, as can be seen in this illustration from the Poughkeepsie Journal story archive. In 1917-18, the double tracks on the bridge were converted to gantlet track operation to center the weight of new, far-heavier New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad 2-10-2 steam locomotives. The gantlet tracks were replaced by a centered single track in 1959.
Decline and closing
The bridge's importance was reduced in 1960 when the Erie Lackawanna system was created; the larger railroad consolidated former bridge traffic on its own trackage. When the New Haven was folded into the Penn Central System in 1969, additional traffic was diverted to the latter's Selkirk Yard and West Shore Line to New Jersey and its Boston & Albany line to New England. Factors such as the decrease in manufacturing in the Northeast and the construction of the Interstate Highway System also contributed to the decline of freight traffic using the bridge. As the Penn Central entered bankruptcy in 1970, so did the Lehigh & Hudson River Railway, which was heavily dependent on traffic coming across the bridge to the interchange at Maybrook, New York.
On May 8, 1974, the eastern portion of the bridge suffered a severe tie fire that damaged about 700 feet (210 m) of the bridge decking and underlying girders, reportedly shortly after an eastbound freight train had crossed. It was alleged that Penn Central had neglected the bridge's fire-protection system, which had no water on the day of the fire, while laying off employees who had previously kept watch for such fires.
In 1976, after two years of abandonment, Senator Abraham Ribicoff (D.-Conn.) forced Conrail to acquire the former NH Railroad Maybrook Line from Maybrook Yard to New Haven, Connecticut including the Poughkeepsie Bridge, by including it in the United States Railway Association "Final System Plan" for reorganization of the seven bankrupt Northeastern railroads into Conrail. However, Conrail then refused to spend anything to repair the 1974 fire damage. Seven years then passed, with one important event that was financially negative to Conrail: pieces of the bridge's eastern approach viaduct over the City of Poughkeepsie, where the 1974 fire damage had occurred, had been falling onto US Route 9 from time to time and damaging passing vehicles. In response, the city successfully sued Conrail and forced it to spend $300,000 in 1981 to remove the entire decking over the superstructure (ties, rails, spikes and tie plates, iron railings and fences, and so forth) from the east bank of the Hudson to the beginning of the eastern approach viaduct. Subsequent to this event, Conrail sought to dispose of the unused bridge. Conrail also removed the single track and passing sidings of its Maybrook Line, between Hopewell Junction and Maybrook, in 1983.
In late 1983, Conrail had already quietly solicited competitive bids for imminent bridge demolition when a railroad bridge enthusiast and lawyer, Donald L. Pevsner, enquired about buying it for responsible adaptive re-use. In response, Conrail, realizing that it could save between $7–25 million by selling the bridge for a nominal sum rather than paying for its demolition, terminated its call for demolition bids and instead gave Pevsner three successive three-month options to find a responsible new private or public owner. These options began on February 1, 1984 and ended on November 1, 1984. Though the original option agreement called for a financially responsible new owner, that could and would pay for necessary liability insurance and maintenance on the bridge into the long-term future, then-Conrail Chairman and CEO L. Stanley Crane did an abrupt about-face in the late summer of 1984. He told his Senior Vice President-Real Estate, Lawrence J. Huff, to advise Pevsner that "the bridge would be sold to the first warm body on November 2, 1984, should Pevsner not exercise his third and last option by November 1, 1984," and that "another buyer was waiting in the wings to do just that." When Pevsner asked Huff whether he was expected to take title in a shell corporation, with zero assets but the bridge and no funds to pay for necessary insurance and maintenance, the answer was, "If necessary. We just want to get it off the books." Huff then personally apologized to Pevsner for maintaining such an irresponsible corporate posture at the express direction of his Chairman and CEO: particularly as Conrail was completely owned by the Federal government at the time. (Crane retired from Conrail in late 1988, and died in Florida on July 15, 2003 at age 87.) Pevsner refused to exercise his option under such conditions, and allowed it to lapse on November 1, 1984.
On November 2, 1984, after 10½ years of abandonment and as threatened to Pevsner, Conrail sold the bridge for $1 to a convicted-felon bank swindler named Gordon Schreiber Miller, of St. Davids, Pennsylvania, to "get it off the books." For the next fourteen years, Miller and his successor, Vito Moreno, spent little or nothing on maintenance or insurance, while attempting to drastically increase the $25,000 annual rent paid by Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation for its three 115,000-volt and three 69,000-volt power lines across the Hudson, attached to the south side of the bridge since 1949. In response, Central Hudson de-energized those power lines and relocated them under the river in 1985, thereby ending Miller's only source of bridge income. During this long period, critical bridge navigation lights were mostly inoperative, resulting in large U.S. Coast Guard fines against the Miller corporation that all went unpaid. Further, all of the 2,200 pounds (1,000 kg) brackets that connected Central Hudson's de-energized high-tension power lines to the south side of the bridge continued to deteriorate by rusting. Though Central Hudson admitted that it normally had a legal duty to remove its abandoned power lines, it refused to remove its abandoned bridge-affixed lines, instead relying on a claim that it no longer owned the lines at issue pursuant to prior litigation with Conrail that was decided on September 26, 1984, and won a similar legal opinion before the New York State Public Service Commission in 1995, which was left to stand on April 1, 1999 when The Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge Company, Inc., as the successor owner to Gordon Schreiber Miller and Vito Moreno, withdrew its 1998 complaint against Central Hudson on January 27, 1999.
On June 4, 1998, following the long nonpayment of Dutchess and Ulster County taxes on the bridge by prior owners Gordon Schreiber Miller and his successor, Vito Moreno, Moreno deeded the bridge to a nonprofit volunteer organization called Walkway Over the Hudson, which took title through its nonprofit New York corporation, The Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge Company, Inc., hoping to turn it into a pedestrian and cyclist walkway. The deed was recorded in both Counties on June 5, 1998. The former Central Hudson power lines were finally removed in 2009, as part of Walkway construction. On December 21, 2010, the Walkway corporation conveyed the entire structure to the New York State Bridge Authority. For the first time since November 2, 1984, liability insurance again exists on the entire structure, together with the "deep pockets" required for proper maintenance. On September 5, 2009, conversion work and repairs to the structural steel and the laying of concrete slabs for the walkway were completed. The volunteer head of "Walkway", as it is known locally, said in 2008, "We think people will come from all over. It's the equivalent of the Eiffel Tower, or the Golden Gate Bridge." The project initially received support from local residents, city and state officials totaling about $1,000,000, plus forgiveness of $550,000 in taxes inherited from the previous owners. Then, Walkway solicited funding from both the State and Federal governments, for historic preservation, and from private philanthropic organizations. Funding sources as of October 23, 2009, include:
- The Dyson Foundation, which has donated over $12 million, including assuming responsibility for over $10 million in lines of credit and loans that were made by Ulster Savings Bank and M&T Bank to complete the project in CY2009.
- New York State funding, from various entities, totals about $22.5 million.
- Federal government funding, from various entities, totals about $3.5 million.
- Scenic Hudson, Inc., which has donated $1 million.
- The Jane W. Nuhn Charitable Trust has donated $500,000.
- The M&T Charitable Foundation has donated between $50,000 and $100,000.
- Amy P. Goldman and Sarah Arno have donated between $100,000 and $250,000.
The total budget as of October, 2009 totaled about $38.8 million. The Walkway Group raised a total of $30.7 million as of October 23, 2009. The $8.1 million deficit was financed by lines of credit from Ulster Savings Bank ($4 million) and M&T Bank ($4.1 million) that were drawn-upon to complete the project. These lines of credit have been converted to loans, with a total present balance of over $10 million, which remain outstanding as of October 16, 2012. The Dyson Foundation, of Millbrook, New York, has assumed responsibility for the repayment of a large part of the loans (approximately $10 million). A smaller and remaining amount is still being used as a line of credit and is also guaranteed by the Dyson Foundation. At some point in the future, this remaining loan amount will be assumed and converted into another grant.
The project was separated into four phases, with the first two completed as of October, 2009:
- Phase 1 – attain ownership of the bridge.
- Phase 2 – structural analysis of the bridge and creation of a comprehensive plan, including budget and timeline for completion. The group also has to find funding for the project and secure funding for the start of construction.
- Phase 3 – construct and open the first 1,800 feet (550 m) of the walkway on the Ulster side. The Dutchess side will get an elevator and 900 feet (270 m) of walkway. This phase was complete on October 3, 2009 (the grand-opening date), excepting a $2.3 million elevator installation in Poughkeepsie that is planned for completion in 2013.
- Phase 4 – construct and open the remaining 4,068 feet (1,240 m) of the walkway and its resultant connections to the Hudson Valley Rail Trail in Highland and the Dutchess Rail Trail in Poughkeepsie. The walkway was completed on September 5, 2009, and opened to the public on October 3, 2009. The Hudson Valley Rail Trail connection was finished in the autumn of 2010. The Dutchess Rail Trail connection remains to be completed.
The piers were inspected in 2008 and given a clean bill of health. Similarly, Bergmann Associates, P.C. (of Rochester and Albany, New York), project engineers and managers, has stated in writing that the wind loads were carefully examined for the replacement, solid-concrete Walkway decking, and that this item is not a safety problem. The decking work was completed on September 5, 2009. Walkway opened the bridge to the public on October 3, 2009, in time for the quadricentennial celebration of Henry Hudson sailing up the Hudson River, and that day handed it over to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation for management. Despite this, inevitable comparisons have been drawn to the similar Kinzua Bridge, in northwestern Pennsylvania, which blew over in a microburst tornado when the bolts connecting the steel framework to the piers failed. Ironically, strengthening work and replacement of many of these corroded bolts was already underway when the tornado hit. During Hurricane Irene, residents living within 500 feet of the bridge were evacuated as a precaution, and emergency repairs to reduce bridge sway (by the addition of new steel X-braces, supplanting the original turnbuckle-adjusted tension rods) were hurriedly installed.
Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park
The opening ceremony of the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park, on October 3, 2009, featured music by Pete Seeger, and was attended by Governor David Paterson, Senator Chuck Schumer, Congressman Maurice Hinchey, President of nearby Vassar College Catharine Bond Hill, and other officials. Paterson said, "This bridge is now the longest footbridge in the world."
Reports by the end of 2009 were that the number of visitors to the walkway were much greater than expected, reaching approximately 415,000 as of December 29. Projections prior to the opening were of 267,000 visits per year, and are now 750,000 visits per year.
Events and incidents
The first footrace on the walkway occurred the day after the official opening on October 4, 2009. The 5k race started on the Highland side, crossed to the Poughkeepsie side and turned around at the parking lot and finished back in Highland. The race was won by James Boeding in a time of 16:26. The female winner was Kira DeCaprio in 20:12. There were 660 recorded finishers of the race. The 5K race, called "Treetops to Rooftops", has become an annual event, organized by the Mid-Hudson Road Runners Club.
On May 15, 2010, there was a lighting ceremony as LED-based lights were turned on for the first time, designed to allow nighttime use of the bridge, though due to funding limitations this is expected to only be used on special occasions. 3000 people paid $5 apiece to attend the sold-out ceremony. Crowd management presented a problem, prompting criticism and an apology from the Walkway organization, but ultimately no incident or injury.
On February 20, 2011, Don Kampfer, a Korean War veteran, died of a heart attack he suffered while participating in a monthly ceremony to retire and replace the American flag on the Walkway. Kampfer is the second person to die on the Walkway, the other also being of a heart attack while walking over the bridge.
On July 27, 2011, an Ulster County man in his late 20s is reported to have jumped off the bridge in the evening after it closed. His entry to the bridge set off an alarm bringing the police, who found his belongings (and later a suicide note at his home), but he was not there; his body was found two days later.
The Bridge Walkway is currently operating as part of the New York State Historic Park System, open from 7:00 a.m. to dusk. Limited parking is available on either end of the bridge.
- East End: 61 Parker Avenue, City of Poughkeepsie (Route 9 to Marist Drive, East (right) on Washington Street, South to Parker Avenue, turn Left (East) on Parker, about a quarter mile, entrance on the Left)
- West End: 87 Haviland Road, Highland (Route 9W to Haviland Road, Parking alongside road, handicapped at entrance)
Restrooms are currently located at the ends of the Walkway, although at the time of a 2008 engineering survey of the bridge, there was "not a johnny on the spot". Pets are permitted, but owners should bring equipment to clean up. Bicycles and rollerblades (but not skateboards) are permitted, and the Walkway is flat and relatively wheelchair friendly.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2008-04-15.
- "New listings". National Park Service. May 30, 2008.
- [http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/records-10000/longest-footbridge/ Longest Footbridge"}
- Mabee, Carleton (2001). Bridging The Hudson: The Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge and Its Connecting Railroad Lines. Purple Mountain Press. ISBN 1-930098-24-3 (hardcover);1-930098-25-1 (paperback) Check
- POUGHKEEPSIE EAGLE Souvenir Edition dated January 1, 1889; plus independent engineering articles from the period.
- Poughkeepsie Journal news stories.
- Poughkeepsie Journal news stories (1984).
- Demolition bids received by Conrail in late 1983 were reported in Carlton Mabee's book, "Bridging The Hudson: The Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge", also cited in Footnote 3.
- Documentation of the annual rent amount paid by Central Hudson to Conrail prior to the Miller bridge purchase is located in New York State Public Service Commission records; in Court documents for the case of Consolidated Rail Corporation v. Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation (cited in Footnote 9); and in Poughkeepsie Journal news stories in 1984-5.
- Consolidated Rail Corporation v. Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation, Supreme Court, County of Westchester, State of New York.
- Dispute between Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation and The Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge Company, Inc., New York State Public Service Commission CASE 98-E-0439.
- Walkway organization press release, December 22, 2010.
- "Hudson rail bridge to be high-altitude walkway". Associated Press. October 26, 2008.
- Malone, Michael (2007-01-21). "Rusty Bridge, Great Views and Soon, a Walkway?". The New York Times.
- Merchant, Robert (2006-11-27). "History buff plugs for bridge: Yorktown man joins fight for railroad span". The Journal News.
- "Walkway group takes wraps off Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge plans". Mid-Hudson News. 2007-06-05.
- Walkway Over The Hudson October, 2009 online newsletter.
- Walkway Over The Hudson online newsletter, Fall, 2009.
- Email from Steve Densmore, Press Liaison, The Dyson Foundation, to Donald L. Pevsner, dated October 16, 2012.
- "Phases". Archived from the original on 2007-01-05. Retrieved 2007-06-06.
- Email from Peter Melewski, Bergmann Associates, P.C. Project Manager (Albany, NY office), to Donald L. Pevsner, dated December 4, 2009: in possession of the Walkway Group.
- "2009 National Recreation Trail designations". National Trails System. Retrieved 2011-01-01.
- "Poughkeepsie unveils historic Walkway Over Hudson". Miscellany News (Poughkeepsie, New York). October 7, 2009. Retrieved 2009-12-22.
- "Walkway Opens, Thousands Explore Unique State Park". Poughkeepsie Journal (Poughkeepsie, New York). October 3, 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-06.[dead link]
- "New walkway exceeds expectations, as folks flock to bridge". Poughkeepsie Journal (Poughkeepsie, New York). December 29, 2009. Retrieved 2009-12-30.[dead link]
- "Race results". Retrieved 2009-11-11.
- "Mid-Hudson Road Runners Club".
- "Walkway lights come on, to delight of thousands". Poughkeepsie Journal (Poughkeepsie, New York). May 16, 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-16.[dead link]
- "Official Facebook update by Walkway organization". Retrieved 2010-05-16.
- "While honoring flag, veteran suffers fatal heart attack on Walkway". Poughkeepsie Journal (Poughkeepsie, New York). February 24, 2011. Retrieved 2011-02-25.
- "Police ID Walkway jumper as New Paltz man". Daily Freeman (Kingston, New York). August 3, 2011. Retrieved 2012-05-22.
- "Body of man who jumped from Hudson Walkway found". Seattle PI (from Associated Press) (Seattle, Washington). July 29, 2011. Retrieved 2011-07-30.[dead link]
- Walkway Over the Hudson: Final Design Report and Environmental Assessment, Bergmann Associates, 2008-02-22, p. V-3
- Walkway organization
- Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park
- Background information
- Illustrations and images
- Library of Congress HAER images
- CatskillArchive.com Construction etchings and description includes etching of cantilever cranes (steam donkey powered) constructing cantilevers
- Walkway.org History section, has pictures of falsework and cantilever cranes.
- CatskillArchive.com illustration of bridge (side view) with bent, floor, viaduct details
- Preservation efforts and historic register information
- Walkway.org An organization devoted to saving and repurposing the bridge. Holds title since June 5, 1998.
- Bridgeweb.com article on historic cantilevers and preservation efforts
- CatskillArchive.com Poughkeepsie Journal 1974 fire article
- CatskillArchive.com POK Journal other articles of interest
- National Register of Historic Places nomination 1978 Announcement