History

Timeline

  • 1868 - An article in the Poughkeepsie Journal introduced the idea of building a railroad bridge across the Hudson.
  • 1871 - The Poughkeepsie railroad bridge was chartered.
  • 1873 - The first cornerstone of the bridge was laid.
  • 1888 - The bridge opened in December and was considered a technological wonder.
  • 1889 - Trains started crossing and at that time it was the longest bridge in the world.
  • World War II - through the war, the bridge carried troops to be shipped overseas. At its height, 3,500 train cars crossed the bridge on a daily basis.
  • 1974 -  Fire severely damaged the tracks, ending almost a century of continuous use.
  • 1992 - Walkway Over the Hudson began its efforts to provide public access to the bridge and link rail trails on both sides of the Hudson.
  • 1998 - Walkway Over the Hudson assumed ownership of the bridge.
  • 2007 - Walkway Over the Hudson partnered with the Dyson Foundation to access public and private funding in order to transform the bridge into the world's largest pedestrian park.
  • 2008 - After a groundbreaking held in May, construction work began to transform the bridge into a pedestrian park.
  • 2009 - Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park opens to the public, October 3, 2009.
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Bridge History

  • In addition to freight trains, the bridge hosted passenger trains connecting Boston, New York, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington as early as 1890. Trolley cars termed “rapid transit”, were modified to run on both trolley and railroad tracks and served tourists, students and shoppers (from New Paltz to Lucky Platt’s). Special West Point Football trains ran from 1921-1930. Circus trains, milk trains, trains for hogs and cattle – the uses were varied and the impact was huge. At its peak as many as 3,500 rail cars crossed the bridge each day.
  • There were two sets of tracks until 1918, when gauntlet track, also called interleaved track, was installed to handle the weight of diesel locomotives. It was removed in 1958.
  • Rosendale cement was used in the original construction of the piers.
  • During World War II the bridge was painted black to make it less visible in the event of an attack. Painting continued until the 1960’s. The high quality of the steel used in the original construction does not need to be painted. Metal experts during reconstruction stated that the absence of paint in fact helped keep the steel in the good condition it’s in today.
  • The fire that destroyed the tracks was probably started by a spark from a train’s brakes. Following is an excerpt from “Bridging the Hudson” by Carleton Mabee, page 247. “An hour after a Penn Central train with 100 cars crossed the bridge on May 8, 1974 a thick cloud of black smoke hung over the bridge. Wooden ties were soldering and wooden walkways were burning, fanned by a moderate breeze. Because Penn Central had no guards or maintenance men on the bridge at the time, the fire was not quickly reported. When firemen arrived at the site, they found they could not easily pump water up to the top of such a high bridge. When they tried turning on the water to flow into the steel pipe which ran the length of the bridge, a line meant to help fight fires, they found that because it had not been drained the previous winter, it had burst at several points – Penn Central had known it but had not repaired it.” To purchase a copy of Carleton Mabee’s book, contact Walkway Over the Hudson at 845-454-9649.
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Oral History 

Thanks to a grant from the Dyson Foundation, the Hudson River Valley Institute at Marist College conducted an oral history project designed to collect and archive a living history of the remembrances of people associated with the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge. The research, writing, and interviews will be an invaluable record for the future, chronicling many diverse people associated with the history of the Poughkeepsie Highland Railroad Bridge, now known as the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park. Members of the faculty and staff as well as interns and students at Marist College videotaped and transcribed in-depth interviews of approximately 35 volunteers who had a personal affiliation with the Walkway organization and/or the bridge itself. To view all transcriptions, click here to be routed to the Hudson River Valley Institute's website. A sampling of the interviews are also included below.

Click on a name below to hear first-hand stories and comments about the bridge:

Tom Lake
A lifetime resident of the Hudson Valley, employee of NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and writer for Hudson River Almanac, Tom Lake provides a rather unique environmental perspective of the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad bridge. Tom tells us that due to its longevity, the bridge has become a naturalized citizen of the Hudson River, and he shares a few ideas regarding the river's upcoming Quadricentennial.

Bernard Rudberg
Bernie is a railroad historian and enthusiast and the author of Twenty Five Years on the ND&C: A History of the Newburg, Dutchess and Connecticut Railroad. Bernie talks about the years when the railroad bridge was in operation.

Nancy Cozean
Former City of Poughkeepsie Mayor, Nancy Cozean, credits Congressman Maurice Hinchey for his tenacity in securing funding for Walkway Over the Hudson. She believes that once the Walkway is completed it will increase business and commerce in the northern part of Poughkeepsie.

Tony Marano
A lifelong railroad man, he currently lives in Maybrook and works for the Maybrook Railroad Museum. Tony is a wealth of stories and anecdotes about life on the railroad.

Mary Yankjtis
A resident of the Hudson River Valley for forty-five years, Mary shares her experience of the Poughkeepsie-Highland Bridge. As an educator, Mary sees the bridge as a marvelous too to teach young children about the Hudson Valley.

Linus Foy
Linus Foy is the former president of Marist College and a life long educator and brother to the college. He offers memories of living in close proximity to the bridge as well as observation on the fire that ultimately shut it down.

The Hudson River Valley Institute (HRVI) at Marist College is the academic arm of the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area. Its mission is to study and to promote the Hudson River Valley and to provide educational resources for heritage tourists, scholars, elementary school educators, environmental organizations, the business community, and the general public. Its many projects include the publication of The Hudson River Valley Review and the management of a dynamic digital library and leading regional portal site.

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Early Partners

Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park was created in large part due to partnerships between public and private organizations that shared a common vision. This unique collaboration between government agencies, private foundations, businesses, nonprofits and individuals forged powerful alliances that continue to this day. The groups that once worked so effectively to transform the former Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge into the world's longest elevated pedestrian park now work together to manage and improve the Walkway in many critical ways. Some of the key Walkway partners include:

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Park Construction

This page provides monthly updates of work completed over the course of the 16-month construction phase of the project, culminating with the laying of the final concrete panel in September, 2009. A few short weeks later the new Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park opened to the public! We have included a rich variety of photos chronicling the successful effort to transform the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge into the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park. Click here to view a 9MB (this is a large file that may take a long time to load) Adobe pdf presentation about the bridge's history and progress from start to present day.


August/September

The work is essentially done. The construction team is finalizing all of the details in preparation for the Grand Opening October 2nd and 3rd.

The concrete panels are all installed and the railings are 100% completed. The approaches are paved and ready to be striped for parking. The west monumental gate has been installed and the east gate will be done shortly.

Final work installing kiosks, banner poles and banners, the last of the safety fencing, expansion joints, seam caulking and bridge cleaning is scheduled for the next few days. 

Future work after the opening will include deck lighting and power outlets as well as security system enhancements all by November and a grand elevator up to the Walkway at the Poughkeepsie river front by Fall of next year.

Image of Fred signing the final panel just before installation.

Fred signs the final panel just before installation.
(photo by David Rocco)

Image of staff after the final panel is installed.

We've done it! The final panel is installed.
(photo by David Rocco)


June/July
Work remains on schedule for the October 3 rd Grand Opening despite some very rainy weather in June and early July, which put a big dent in our contingency time.Manufacture of the concrete panels is 100% complete. They are stored at the Fort Miller Company in Schuylerville, New York and moved to the site as needed for installation.

Metal repairs are 91% completed as of the end of July. Some last minute joint replacements were made after the inspection after rust removal indicated more section loss than previous measurements. One repair is very difficult since it is located over the Metro North railroad tracks and work must be coordinated with train schedules.

Panel installation stands at 84%. The install rate is limited by the the metal repair work. The crane to install panels can not be moved until the metal repairs are completed in order to insure the bridge has enough strength to support the load of the crane.

Railing installation is at a little over 80%. It closely follows the panel installation. Caulking of the seams is closely following the railing installation.

The construction team has created a punch list of final work items including approach grading and paving, gate installation, major expansion joint installation and a large number of finishing items.

The bids for the electrical and security work on the bridge were received and a contract will be awarded shortly. This work is scheduled for completion in November, and will not hamper the opening of the bridge in October.

View of Poughkeepsie from the bridge

View of Poughkeepsie from the bridge
(photo by Michael Bowman)

Image of steel repair crew

Steel repair crew


May
Overall we are still comfortably on schedule for the Grand Opening the first weekend in October.

Steady progress was made on the bridge work in May. Panel installation is now at about 65%, and metal repairs are at about 60%. Metal repairs must be completed before the large crane used to place the panels can be moved into place. The progress of metal repairs will limit panel and railing installation from now until the end of the project. There is a metal repair team on each side of the river. Their progress is being tracked on a daily basis. They should meet each other at a point close to the eastern shore of the river in early August.

Work installing railings is also right behind the panel installation at over 57%.

The caulking of seams between the panels is in the 20% range. It is being accomplished when ever other work does not cause traffic interference problems.

Fort Miller Company in Schuylerville, New York has completed the manufacture of 98% of the panels. They are stored in their yard and delivered as needed to the site for installation.


April
We are comfortably on schedule for the Grand Opening the first weekend in October.

With great cooperation from the weather, over 50% of the new deck panels have now been installed on the bridge.

On the east end panel installation has proceeded from Washington Street almost to Route 9. On the West side panels have been installed out through the first observation area over the water. Scaffolding has been installed on pier #3 and metal repairs are underway on the pier as well as the structure between piers 3 and 4.

Railings are currently being installed on the east side of the bridge and the seams between panels are being filled with an elastic material.

At Fort Miller Company, near Saratoga, New York, over 85% of the concrete panels have now been produced. It is likely that by the end of May they will all be done and ready to be installed.

image of construction

image of construction


March
With the arrival of warmer weather, the Harrison & Burrows team has resumed the placement of concrete panels. In addition to picking up where they left off on the west end of the bridge — with panels just begin to extend out over the water — the team has also begun laying panels on the east end of the bridge, where it meets land in Poughkeepsie. The photos below are of the first concrete panels being put down on the east end.

image of construction

image of construction

image of construction


January, 2009
As of the end of January the project remains on schedule for completion in September 2009.

Our architect and engineering team at Bergmann Associates continue to respond to daily problems and minor changes. The details of each metal repair often require "on the fly" modifications to reflect actual conditions revealed when an individual repair begins.

Our railing manufacturer continues to produce and stockpile railings for the bridge.

A detailed planning session for all remaining work was held in early January confirming all of the work schedules for the project. There will be over 50 people working on the bridge once the weather breaks in the Spring.

image of construction

image of construction


November, 2008
We are happy to report that, as of the end of November, the project remains on schedule for completion in September 2009.

November was a busy month. The crane supporting metal structural repairs is now visible out over the river on the western shore. Work on metal structural repairs will continue through the winter, moving from the west shore towards the eastern shore. In addition, at the end of this month a second metal repair crew started at the Washington Street abutment and is moving to the west. They are working off of lifts from the ground. This work will also continue throughout the winter.

Panel placement on the west approach has been completed and the initial panels for the main span on the west shore have been placed. Panel placement will be suspended for the winter due to the fact that cementing the panels to the metal structure requires the temperature to be above freezing so that the grout will cure properly.

New galvanized steel railings have been installed on both sides of the west approach. With the exception of sealing all of the joints between panels and other minor work, the west approach is virtually completed.

The Fort Miller Company continues to manufacture panels for the main span and the east approach in their heated factory near Schuylerville in upstate New York. The work will continue all winter, and when panel placement resumes in the spring they will have over 75% of the panels ready to install.

Project safety remains a major focus. In November a new safety cable stretching from the new panels on the west approach all the way across the river to the Washington Street abutment was installed. Iron workers on the bridge are always attached to the cable when working or moving across the structure. Weather conditions are analyzed each day before starting work to make sure that the work planned for the day can be done safely.

image of construction

image of construction


October, 2008
Walkway construction remains on schedule for completion by September 2009.

The Fort Miller Company completed all 151 concrete panels needed for the west approach portion of the bridge. They continue to make identical panels for the east approach to the bridge which will be installed starting in the spring.

Fort Miller is also now manufacturing concrete panels for the main section of the bridge. These panels are custom manufactured to match the exact distance between the floor beams on the bridge. Production at Fort Miller will continue throughout the winter to create a stockpile of material ready to be installed in the spring.

Harrison and Burrowes has continued panel installation this month completing the 151 panels on the west approach. They will shortly move on to install panels on the main portion of the bridge as long as weather permits. The crane that supports the panel installation can be seen from the wast side of the river emerging from the trees. H&B also continues to do structure repairs on the main span and have recently started doing structure repairs on the east approach to the bridge. Structure repair work will continue throughout the winter with a short break mid December to mid January.

On October 29th a Harrison and Burrowes subcontractor began the installation of the permanent railings on the west approach. This work is being done earlier than scheduled and will provide an improvement in the safety of moving construction materials and people out to the work location over the river. The west approach railing work should be completed in about two weeks, allowing main span panel installation to resume.

The goal of the construction team is to have some experience with all of the different types of work this fall so that accurate plans can be made to complete the project. The last major activity not yet started is installation of main span panels. This work is scheduled to start mid November and continue as long as weather allows.

Image of Bergmann Bridge Workers

Construction image


September, 2008
Walkway construction remains on schedule.

The Fort Miller Company has produced 140 panels of the 151 needed for the west approach portion of the bridge. They continue to produce 3 panels a day. Shop drawings detailing the main span panels over the water have been approved and molds for forming the panels are being built. The length required for each panel is being uniquely measured on the bridge super structure and the panels are being custom built to the actual dimensions of the bridge. Main span panel production is now scheduled for the second week in October.

Harrison and Burrowes, the contractor doing the work at the site, has installed 64 panels representing over 380 feet in length. Installing the panels involves welding six vertical posts on the girders of the bridge. The panel is then placed over the posts and carefully leveled and aligned with leveling screws. When it is in proper position the space between the panels and the bridge and the opening around the posts is filled with grout. Grout is a special type of highly liquid fast setting cement. Within a few hours the panels are ready for bearing the load of placing the next set of panels. As the panels are installed every third railing post is installed, metal cable is stretched between the posts and temporary orange fencing is attached to the railing posts and cables for safety purposes. By the end of the month bright orange fencing will be emerging from the trees on the west bank of the river and will mark construction progress for the rest of the project.

Harrison and Burrowes has also begun the metal and foundation repairs on the bridge. As of the end of September 15th of the steel repairs have been completed. These repairs must be done before panels are installed so that the bridge will have the extra weight carrying capacity needed to support the weight of the 110 foot crane used to lift and place the panels.

The engineering team from Bergmann associates continues to respond daily and visit at least weekly to address any issues that arise as the bridge rehabilitation continues. Their fast response has a major influence on maintaining the installation and repair schedule.

Safety remains a major focus for the project. Anyone working within six feet of the edge of the bridge must be attached to the structure with a harness and lifeline. Selected workers with climbing skills are identified as emergency responders in case of a problem. Even minor incidents are reported to the full-time safety officer on the site and are logged with corrective action noted. Safety practices specific to the days activity are part of the daily briefing before work begins. After hours the site is secured with temporary fencing backed up by lights, recording security cameras and motion detectors tied into the local police.

construction image

image of construction

image of construction crane

image of construction


August, 2008
Walkway construction remains on schedule through August 31, 2008.

Environmental Remediation Services has completed all of the demolition work scheduled for this fall. In the spring or early summer of next year they will complete removal of the old power lines, using the new deck structure to access them.

Fort Miller Company has produced 87 panels of the 151 needed for the west approach portion of the bridge. They continue to produce three panels a day. Shop drawings detailing the main span panels have been almost entirely released and forms for casting the panels are in the process of being built. Panel production for main span panels will begin before the end of September.

Harrison and Burrowes, the contractor doing the work at the site, has mobilized for the work. They graded a construction yard at the west end of the bridge, brought in and assembled the main crane for placing the panels, and placed multiple construction trailers. They have prepared a detailed safety plan governing all aspects of work on the site.

Harrison and Burrowes has also begun the metal and foundation repairs on the bridge.  These repairs must be done before panels are installed so that the bridge will have the extra weight carrying capacity needed to support the weight of the crane.

image of construction

image of construction


July, 2008
Walkway construction work remains on schedule through July 31, 2008.

The removal of the old railroad ties, metal railings, water pipe and walking surfaces is approximatley 75% complete. A decision has been made to delay removal of the old power lines attached to the bridge until the new deck is in place. With the new deck on the bridge a large boom truck will make the wire and trestle structure removal much easier. It is anticipated the Environmental Remediation Services, Inc. will complete their work, except for the power line removal, by mid-August.

Harrison and Burrowes located in Glendale, New York, just south of Albany, was selected as the general contractor. Their responsibility will be the structural repairs, installation of the new deck panels and installation of the new bridge railings. They have begun their mobilization work in preparation for an August 15th start. The first activity will be structural repairs. A tool storage trailer and an office trailer to support their work have been placed on the land at the west end of the bridge. Their safety plan has been submitted for review by our construction manager.

The Fort Miller Company was selected to manufacture the concrete panels for the main span and east approach in addition to the panels for the west approach previously contracted with them. Sample panels were successfully manufactured and the results were reviewed during July. Manufacturing is underway for the concrete panels which will form the new deck. To date 48 panels have been produced and stored at the Fort Miller site near Saratoga, New York.


June, 2008
Work continued in earnest during the month of June to remove the old railroad ties and rail posts. As shown in the pictures below, equipment has been moved out onto the bridge and workers have begun to dismantle and remove some of the railings that line the main span.

image of construction

image of construction


May, 2008
May was a particularly exciting month for the Walkway project and its board, volunteers and supporters. Most of our internal efforts surrounded preparation for the ceremonial groundbreaking event, held on May 27. The day was a resounding success including excellent speeches from some of the Walkway's most prominent supporters as well as the announcement of Scenic Hudson's $1 million donation.

Immediately following the groundbreaking ceremony, the prep work for demolition began. The demolition plan has been submitted to the appropriate regulatory groups for approval. Simultaneously, initial work continued, focusing on preparing the western approach to the bridge for the arrival of larger machinery and material. The contractor has prepared a new road into the site to allow heavier trucks to enter. Additionally, the Fort Miller Company has completed the design for the concrete panels that will become the deck of the Walkway, and casting will begin within the next few days. The bidding for general construction is underway and we expect to complete the process by the end of June.


April, 2008
The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, as lead agency, issued a negative declaration as part of the State Environmental Quality Review procedures. The "negative declaration" determined that the project will not have a significant effect on the environment. Demolition contract bids were opened and ERSI, Inc., of Schenectady, NY was the low bidder and was awarded the contract. Work is scheduled to begin shortly after Memorial Day. Work will include removing the remaining timber decking, railroad ties, utilities, and maintenance pedestrian railing.

Bergmann Associates, continued with multi-faceted project coordination including the preparation and awarding of the demolition and general contract bid documents, acquisition of permits and coordination with municipalities, construction inspection, and other tasks.


March, 2008
In March, 2008 an agreement was executed with the Fort Miller Company, Inc. to  manufacture the precast concrete panels for the west approach spans of the bridge in the Town of Lloyd. The west approach is approximately 1,000 feet long. This proactive action to start manufacturing panels before the general contractor is selected, will help assure that the bridge is completed in time for the Quadricentennial Celebration in October 2009. In addition, a mandatory pre-bid meeting was conducted for contractors interested in the demolition and general contracts. Attendance was excellent, with 55 construction company representatives attending the meeting and site visit.


February, 2008
The Final Design Report, issued by Bergmann Associates, the engineering consulting firm overseeing the project, was issued in February 2008. The report addressed engineering, environmental, planning, and economic issues. The extensive report reflected the input of numerous state and local agencies, as well as the comments received from the 500+ people attending the January public information meeting.

A rendering of what the bridge deck would look like when complete
A rendering of what the bridge deck might look like when complete

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