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Crossing the Hudson

Historic Bridges and Tunnels of the River

Donald E. Wolf

Publication Year: 2010

Fog, tide, ice, and human error--before the American Revolution those who ventured to cross the vast Hudson Valley waterway did so on ferryboats powered by humans, animals, and even fierce winds. Before that war, not a single Hudson River bridge or tunnel had been built. It wasn't until Americans looked to the land in the fight for independence that the importance of crossing the river efficiently became a subject of serious interest, especially militarily. Later, the needs of a new transportation system became critical--when steam railroads first rolled along there was no practical way to get them across the water without bridges.

Crossing the Hudson continues this story soon after the end of the war, in 1805, when the first bridge was completed. Donald E. Wolf simultaneously tracks the founding of the towns and villages along the water's edge and the development of technologies such as steam and internal combustion that demanded new ways to cross the river. As a result, innovative engineering was created to provide for these resources.

From hybrid, timber arch, and truss bridges on stone piers to long-span suspension and cantilevered bridges, railroad tunnels, and improvements in iron and steel technology, the construction feats that cross the Hudson represent technical elegance and physical beauty. Crossing the Hudson reveals their often multileveled stories--a history of where, why, when, and how these structures were built; the social, political, and commercial forces that influenced decisions to erect them; the personalities of the planners and builders; the unique connection between a builder and his bridge; and the design and construction techniques that turned mythical goals into structures of utility and beauty.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-2

In writing Crossing the Hudson, I have not ignored the technical elegance or the physical beauty of the bridges and tunnels that cross the river, as they are clearly the very essence of these wonderful structures, but I’ve left the detailed exposition and analysis of those qualities to others. My objective here is simply to provide a history for the reader who wants to know ...

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pp. 3-6

Bridges and tunnels are in some ways like great monuments. They have the same high visibility and inherent permanence that demand exhaustive public scrutiny and deliberation before they can be built, and like them, they develop histories of their own that say a good deal about why they were built, how they were built, where they were built, and about ...

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1. Waterford, the First Bridge

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pp. 7-16

Except for an occasional spirited, sometimes bloody, but historically insignificant episode, the American Revolution in the Hudson Valley pretty much ended when Benedict Arnold failed in his attempt to hand over West Point to the enemy in 1780. In New York, the British under Sir Henry Clinton remained hunkered down with about 9,500 ...

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2. Steam and a Bridge at Troy

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pp. 17-29

The genuine importance of the bridge between Waterford and Lansingburgh notwithstanding, it’s difficult to argue that it was a watershed event in the history of the Hudson Valley. Burr’s early and effective use of the combined arch and truss (which led the editors of ...

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3. Three Railroad Bridges at Albany

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pp. 30-48

For a while, the historic bridge that was completed in Troy in 1835 provided the only way a railroad train could cross the Hudson twelve months a year, regardless of weather or ice in the river, and the town’s emergence as the prospering industrial and commercial center of the region owed much to it. By the middle of the century, Henry Burden, whose ...

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4. The Last of the Railroad Bridges

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pp. 49-71

News of all that bridge-building activity up at Albany and beyond certainly wasn’t lost on the cities and towns of the central and lower Hudson Valley, where populations and the commerce they generated were growing apace....

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5. The Railroad Tunnels

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pp. 72-91

By the beginning of the twentieth century, bridge building on the Hudson River had shut down for a while. The crossings that had started with a modest wooden span at Waterford in 1804 had by the early 1890s become a series of bridges that laced together the banks of the upper and middle sections of the river, expanding commerce and increasing ...

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6. The Bear Mountain Bridge

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pp. 92-105

By late 1910, when the trains of the Pennsylvania Railroad began carrying passengers and freight between the company’s splendid new terminal on Manhattan Island and such distant places as Baltimore, New Orleans, Chicago, St. Louis, and beyond, New York City had pretty much emerged from its relatively brief adolescence to enter its young ...

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7. The Holland and Lincoln Tunnels

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pp. 106-126

When Frederick Tench and the Harrimans had those first conversations about the Bear Mountain Bridge, they weren’t the only ones who had noticed that the automobile and the motor truck were transforming life in America, and they weren’t even the first. In New York, where rail traffc in the McAdoo and Pennsylvania tunnels ...

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8. The George Washington Bridge

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pp. 127-150

The Holland and Lincoln tunnels were a resounding success. Except for problems that are almost inevitable when large and complex projects are built below ground, construction went well, and most of it was completed pretty much as scheduled. The costs proved to be a good deal higher than anticipated, vanquishing once and for all the idea ...

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9. The Mid-Hudson Bridge

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pp. 151-64

It’s no accident that the decade of the Roaring Twenties was the heyday of bridge and tunnel building in the lower Hudson Valley. During those ebullient years between the end of World War I and the beginning of the Great Depression, when the Holland Tunnel, the Bear Mountain Bridge, and the George Washington Bridge were built, the country was in an extraordinarily expansive and optimistic mood. New social and political ...

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10. The Rip Van Winkle Bridge

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pp. 165-176

Only a few months after the cornerstone for the Mid-Hudson Bridge had been laid at Poughkeepsie, and a full two years before the first crews actually started building anything there, plans for a bridge between the towns of Hudson and Catskill were being discussed in the New York State Legislature. It was May 1926....

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11. The Tappan Zee Bridge

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pp. 177-195

By most accounts, conditions in America during the late 1920s were about as good as they’d ever been, and it was hard for most people to accept the idea that things might not always be that way. World War I had ended about a decade earlier, new businesses were starting almost everywhere, and decent jobs were abundant. The automobile was ...

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12. The Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge

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pp. 196-209

By the time vehicles first began to cross the Tappan Zee Bridge, in the winter of 1955, construction of another Hudson River bridge, seventy-five miles farther north, was well along. It would connect Kingston, New York State’s first capital, with the northwesterly corner of New York’s Dutchess County....

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13. The Newburgh-Beacon Bridges

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pp. 210-226

With one glaring exception, completion of the Kingston- Rhinecliff Bridge in 1957 meant that travelers could cross the Hudson at or close to almost every one of the valley’s busiest towns and cities. The exception was an approximately thirty-mile stretch that still separated the Mid-Hudson Bridge from the Bear Mountain Bridge, along which the bustling Hudson Valley town of Newburgh was about in the ...

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pp. 227-234

It didn’t take long for the two Newburgh-Beacon bridges to demonstrate their value. During their first full year of operation, almost 15 million vehicles crossed, an eminently satisfying average of more than 40,000 vehicles per day. Whatever excitement might have attended the opening ceremonies soon faded into memory, and it wasn’t long before drivers on Interstate 84 began taking the pair of matching bridges pretty ...


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pp. 235-258


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pp. 259-270

About the Author

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p. 271-271

E-ISBN-13: 9780813549507
E-ISBN-10: 0813549507
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813547084

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 16 illustrations. 14 black and white halftones, 1 line art illustration and 1 map
Publication Year: 2010