idea for what would become the Poughkeepsie Bridge dates as
far back as before the Civil War in 1855. The plan was scoffed at for
years but remained hopeful among those wishing to have a connection
across the Hudson River south of Albany. The first true attempt to
construct the bridge at the site was the Poughkeepsie Bridge Company
chartered in June 1871 and was to be financed by the Pennsylvania
Railroad. However, the Panic of 1873 stalled the plan. Fifteen years later, and with no major backing from a large railroad like the Pennsylvania the Manhattan Bridge Building Company
was formed to finance the project in 1886. However, it was well-funded
nonetheless with powerful names like Andrew Carnegie pitching in to see
the bridge built.
Lines Utilizing Or Relying Upon The Poughkeepsie Bridge
Central Railroad of New Jersey, "The Big Little Railroad"
Delaware, Lackawanna & Western, "The Route Of Phoebe Snow"
Erie Railroad, "Serving The Heart Of Industrial America"
Lehigh & Hudson River, "The Bridge Route"
Lehigh & New England, "Industry's Freight Route"
New York, New Haven & Hartford, "The Friendly New Haven Railroad"
New York, Ontario & Western, "Route Of The Mountaineer"
Reading Lines, "Bee Line Service"
With funding secured the bridge was completed
in just two years, in late December, 1888, and opening on the first day
of January, 1889. The bridge featured a cantilever design and was
constructed entirely of steel save for its concrete supports. Over one
mile in length the structure was lauded as an engineering masterpiece and was quite a sight to behold from ground level.
Length: 6,767 Feet
Height: 212 Feet Above The Water Line
Type: Steel Cantilever/Truss
Engineers: Dawson, Symmes & Usher Company and John O'Rourke, P. P. Dickinson
Designers: Charles Macdonald and Arthur Paine
Interestingly, the Poughkeepsie Bridge Company, which owned the bridge relied on new railroads to build east and west to link the bridge with the national network. These companies began as the Hudson Connecting Railroad, chartered in 1887 to build southwestward from Poughkeepsie while the Poughkeepsie and Connecticut Railroad was chartered the same year to build northeastward.
In July of 1889, about seven months after the bridge opened the Central
New England & Western Railroad was created to merge the three into a
single, continuous route which stretched from Hartford, Connecticut to
Maybrook, New York. In 1892 the Philadelphia & Reading (the
Reading) gained control of the CNE&W but lack of funding resulted in
the railroad falling into bankruptcy and reorganized as the Central New
England Railway. The CNE remained in operation from 1899 until it came under
the control of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad in 1927,
in which it remained until the creation of Penn Central.
Prior to the formation of the Erie-Lackawanna in 1960 virtually all of the smaller New England Class I's relied on the Poughkeepsie Bridge to ferry freight and passenger traffic between New England and points west and south such as Buffalo, Philadelphia, Chicago, etc. These companies included the DL&W, Erie, L&NE, L&HR, Central Railroad of New Jersey (CNJ), and even to some extent the Reading (who often ferried traffic to and from the CNJ). After the EL merger the new company, to some extent, elected to keep traffic on its own rails for Chicago-bound traffic. However, the bridge still offered an important interchange point for New England-bound traffic carried by the Boston & Maine and New Haven. When it closed in 1970s the EL felt the effects along with many of the other smaller roads previously mentioned.
The bridge saw less traffic after the creation of Penn Central in 1968 as that railroad chose to likewise keep freight on its own rails rather than transferring it to other lines. To make matters worse the PC's declining financial situation and worsening operations (maintenance was in shambles and trains were being lost all over the railroad) caused the bridge to see even less traffic. Then, an arsonist's fire on May 8, 1974 forced the bridge to close and the PC chose to fix the damaged structure. This closure forced the bridge line, Lehigh & Hudson River into bankruptcy, as it was unable to fund the repairs to the bridge which was its only lifeline to freight traffic. For more on the bridge's history please click here.
The bridge passed into the hands of
Conrail which continued to neglect it as now it served no significant
railroad purpose with the government-owned company owning all of the
former railroads' lines that had relied on it. In late 1984 the bridge was sold to Gordon Schreiber Miller and
later Vito Moreno, both of which did nothing with the bridge. Fourteen
years later it was sold to the Walkway Over the Hudson non-profit group
which looked to turn it a pedestrian footbridge. After millions of
dollars either granted, raised, or donated the bridge opened to the public on October 3, 2009. To visit the Walkway's website please click here.
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