The Kingston–Port Ewen Suspension Bridge carries Wurts Street over Rondout Creek between Kingston and Port Ewen, New York.
The initial mode of transportation across Rondout Creek was a large scow owned and operated by John P. Sleight, which was capable of accommodating both horses and wagons. 25 To request passage from the Rondout (Kingston) side of the creek to Sleightsburg (Port Ewen), a horn hung on a nearby post was sounded. In response, one of Sleight’s farmhands would row over and ferry the passenger back. Subsequently, Elijah Elmore March of Esopus was employed for this purpose. Upon the death of John Sleight, the scow was taken over by his sons, Abraham and Isaac.
On December 24, 1854, plans were devised for the John P. Sleight chain-operated ferry and were swiftly implemented by the Sleight brothers. 25 However, the ferry suffered significant damage in March 1870 when it was washed down the Hudson River during a flood. The engines from the John P. Sleight were later transferred to a new hull built by Morgan and Everett, leading to the debut of the Riverside ferry later that year.
Following the death of Isaac Sleight, his son-in-law, Herbert Starkey, assumed control and operated the ferry until his passing in November 1903. 25 The ferry was then acquired by Albert Norris of Ulster Park until 1906, when it was sold to Dr. Joe Hasbrouck of Port Ewen.
However, the ferry was susceptible to disruptions caused by winter freezing and congestion because of its capacity for six vehicles, leading to long wait times of up to four hours during holiday weekends. 22 25 It wasn’t until April 6, 1912, 22 when Governor Dix signed the Cook Bill that a fixed roadway crossing was deemed necessary. 17 22
Bridge Proposals and Construction
A low-level crossing with a movable span to allow for the passage of boats and a high-level bridge were considered but ultimately, the decision to construct a high-level span was influenced by the Secretary of War’s requirement for a minimum vertical clearance of 70 feet and a horizontal clearance of 120 feet for boats. 17 The chosen design was a high bridge extending 1,200 feet from Wurts Street in Kingston to cross over Rondout Creek, the remains of the Delaware & Hudson Canal, the West Shore Railroad, and a county highway.
A proposal by Daniel E. Moran and William H. Yates 3 offered the option of either a $200,000 steel viaduct encased in concrete or a $250,000 concrete arch structure. 17 The steel and concrete viaduct was selected due to its lower construction cost and comparable lifespan. The design featured 160-foot-long alternate deck trusses, 20-foot-long tower spans, a 24-foot-wide concrete roadway deck, and vitrified brick sidewalks. The bridge also included provisions for a single-track electric railway.
The construction of the new bridge faced a setback when the lowest bid for the project reached $300,000, 10 which was significantly higher than the engineer’s estimated cost of $200,000. 18 The significant increase in the price of steel was held responsible for the escalated costs. Furthermore, the results from the borings of the piers and abutments were deemed unsatisfactory.
In March 1916, revised plans were presented for a steel through arch bridge, similar to the Hell Gate Bridge in New York City, that would cost $250,000. 19 The design included a 200-foot main through arch span over Rondout Creek, a smaller through arch span over the island dock, the canal, and the railway tracks, a 22-foot wide roadway deck made of granite blocks, and a 56-inch wide sidewalk.
However, despite the revised plans, the lowest bid received on April 20 still exceeded the engineer’s estimate by $40,000 due to the persistently high cost of steel. 20 As a result, it was decided to construct two concrete piers and two abutments for $65,800, and a separate bid would be solicited for the superstructure. The completion of the substructure was expected by June 1917.
The State Highway Commissioner Greene and Moran reviewed the bridge project due to concerns regarding the wooden piles supporting the foundation and the rising costs. 2 14 21 The foundation was constructed on man-made fill over a sub-stratum of sand and boulders. 21 The original design for the bridge called for a load-bearing limit of 25½ tons; however, due to the poor foundation, the limit was reduced to 15 tons. The estimated cost of the bridge was between $450,000 to $475,000, significantly higher than the engineer’s initial estimate of $321,000. As a result, the state highway department ceased all work on the new bridge on April 22, 1919, 14 21 with only the abutments and a pier on the Esopus side of the creek being completed at a cost of $47,916. 2 21
Moran submitted a revised plan for a combination concrete viaduct and steel truss crossing 21 that could be completed for close to $300,000. 14 However, after consulting with the John A. Roebling’s Sons Company, the state decided in February 1920 to build a wire suspension bridge 2 instead at a cost of $587,865. 10 To minimize costs, the existing pier on the Esopus side of the creek was reused, and no ornamentation was included except for four lampposts, each costing $1,000.
By August, contractor Charles J. Michaud was progressing with the excavation of materials for the concrete substructure of the bridge and preparing to construct the northern concrete pier. 12 The concrete pier on the Esopus side, which had previously been erected for the abandoned steel and concrete bridge project, was reduced by four feet. 13
The cornerstone for the suspension bridge was laid by Governor Smith on September 15. 15 Work on the steel superstructure began in December by Terry & Tench of New York City, 2 13 who had hired Holton D. Robinson as a consulting engineer and David B. Steinman as an assistant engineer. 3
Upon the arrival of the suspension cables in May 1921, workers commenced the process of weaving 1,900 individual strands into a single large strand by hand, utilizing a footbridge suspended between the two towers. 11 By June, four strands on each of the two main cables had been completed. 16 Upon completion in August, each of the two main cables was capable of supporting seven interwoven strands.
On November 29, 1921, the dedication ceremony of the Rondout Creek Suspension Bridge took place in front of a gathering of 10,000 people. 3 8 15 22 The event was attended by various dignitaries, including Governor Nathan L. Miller, Kingston Mayor Palmer L. Canfield, Assemblyman Andrew J. Cook, and former state highway commissioner Maj. Frederick Stuart Greene, and current state highway commissioner Herbert S. Sisson. Cook, who introduced the bill for the construction of the bridge in 1912, was among the speakers. 8 9 15
The new suspension bridge, which cost $700,000 to construct, was only open to pedestrians initially due to unfavorable weather conditions and machinery malfunctions that delayed work on the southern approach. 8 It was not until May 3, 1922, that it opened to automobiles. 30 The $700,000 bridge, 9 15 which was 1,143 feet long, was the first of its kind in the Hudson Valley built for automobile traffic. 9 It was also one of the few bridges to include pony trusses for added stability, a novel concept at the time. 3
The Riverside ferry continued to operate until 10:30 PM on October 14, 1922, when it gave its final long shrill whistle. 5 The boat was beached on the Port Ewen side of the creek on October 25. 25
The Rondout Creek Suspension Bridge was the final component in the creation of New York’s first north-south highway on the west shore of the Hudson River. 2 It was originally part of New York Route 3, an unsigned legislative route, 17 before being designated as US Route 9W in 1927.
A wholesale study of Kingston’s arterial route system in 1954 noted that the Rondout Creek Suspension Bridge could be effectively renovated than replaced. 28 Upon further examination, it was determined that the proposed rehabilitation would incur prohibitive costs. In response, a committee was established in August 1958 to assess the feasibility of such a solution. 24 In August 1960, the state Department of Public Works engaged the services of Lewis Dickerson Associates of Watertown to carry out a photogrammetry survey as a precursor to drafting plans for the replacement of the bridge. 26 A lack of funding and a disagreement on whether or not the bridge actually needed replacing or bypassing slowed any progress.
In 1966, the state Transportation Department proposed a $45 million north-south bypass project for Kingston, which included the construction of approximately nine miles of a four-lane expressway and a bridge over Rondout Creek. 28 The existing Rondout Creek Suspension Bridge would remain in place for local traffic.
By the early 1970s, the Rondout Creek Suspension Bridge had fallen into a state of disrepair, with numerous holes in the roadway deck, and its lack of lighting contributed to accidents. 23 The six-foot-tall pedestal lights at the bridge’s abutments had also been destroyed by vandals and were never replaced. To improve the bridge’s condition, the state applied a two-inch layer of asphalt over the concrete driving surface during renovations that took place in 1973. 27 However, by 1974, the wearing surface had once again deteriorated due to heavy truck traffic.
In February of 1977, the New York State Department of Transportation awarded a $35 million contract to Slattery Associates of Maspeth for the construction of the Rondout Creek Bridge and 2.4 miles of the arterial connecting US Route 9W in Port Ewen and NY Route 32 in the Town of Ulster. 29 Construction began in March, and the bypass of Kingston, designated as US Route 9W, was officially opened in 1982.
A minor rehabilitation project was completed on the Rondout Creek Suspension Bridge in the 1990s. In December 2020, the crossing was closed indefinitely because of concerns over its condition.
In 2021, the Department of Transportation initiated a rehabilitation project for the Rondout Creek Suspension Bridge, awarding a contract amounting to $44.6 million. 4 6 The project includes the installation of a dehumidification and monitoring system for the main cables of the structure, aimed at reducing moisture intrusion and increasing the longevity of the cables. Additionally, the project entails the removal of lead-based paint and repainting of the superstructure, structural repairs, replacement of all suspender ropes, and the installation of lighter precast concrete deck panels. 6 The bridge was closed to all traffic on September 25, 2021, 4 and it is projected that the rehabilitation will be concluded by the end of 2023. 6
- State: New York
- Route: Wurts Street
- Type: Wire Suspension
- Status: Active - Automobile
- Total Length: 1,063 feet
- Main Span Length: 705 feet
- Spans: 202 feet × 2
- Roadway Width: 22 feet
- Total Height: 155 feet
- Above Vertical Clearance: 15.2 feet
- Navigational Clearance:
- “South Rondout Ferry, Kingston, New York.” New York Heritage Digital Collections.
- Interpretative signage.
- Holth, Nathan. “Kingston – Port Ewen Suspension Bridge.” HistoricBridges.org, 5 Sept. 2019.
- Pineiro-Zucker, Diane. “Rondout Creek Bridge $44.6M reconstruction project begins.” Daily Freeman, 15 Oct. 2021.
- “Last Trip of the Skillypot.” Hudson River Maritime Museum, 24 Nov. 2021.
- Dan. “Wurts Street Suspension Bridge Rehabilitation Contract gets underway in Kingston, NY.” Gribblenation, 19 Jun. 2022.
- “Speeches at Armory Dinner.” Kingston Daily Freeman, 30 Nov. 1921, p. 5.
- “Rondout Bridge Is Opened While Kingston Celebrates.” Poughkeepsie Eagle-News, 30 Nov. 1921, p. 5.
- “New Highway Bridge.” New York Times, 4 Dec. 1921, p. 8-14.
- “Greene Promises Bridge for Parade July 4, 1921.” Kingston Daily Freeman, 4 Feb. 1920, p. 12.
- “Riveting Steel Bridge Towers.” Kingston Daily Freeman, 21 Apr. 1921, p. 1.
- “Bridge Material Arriving Here.” Kingston Daily Freeman, 25 Aug. 1920, p. 1.
- “Terry and Tench Begin Work on Bridge to Span Rondout Creek.” Kingston Daily Freeman, 4 Dec. 1920, p. 1.
- “To Draw Complete New Plans for Rondout Bridge.” Kingston Daily Freeman, 25 Apr. 1919, p. 1.
- “Rondout Bridge is Dedicated at Last.” Yonkers Herald, 1 Dec. 1921, p. 11.
- “Making Progress on Bridge Road.” Kingston Daily Freeman, 23 Jun. 1921, p. 1.
- “Sleightsburgh Bridge Officially Described.” Kingston Daily Freeman, 15 Apr. 1914, p. 12.
- “Duffey on Record for Rondout Bridge.” Kingston Daily Freeman, 4 May 1916, p. 1.
- “Ready to Build Bridge the Coming Summer.” Kingston Daily Freeman, 11 Mar. 1916, p. 4.
- “Duffey To Open Bids On Monday.” Kingston Daily Freeman, 2 Jun. 1916, p. 1.
- “Gov. Smith Explains Change in Rondout Bridge Plans.” Kingston Daily Freeman, 12 May 1919, p. 1.
- Miller, Sophie. “Do You Remember.” Kingston Daily Freeman, 22 Jul. 1958, p. 7.
- Powers, Jon. “Rondout Creek Bridge Termed Hazardous.” Kingston Daily Freeman, 10 Feb. 1972, p. 7.
- “Bingo, Creek Span Are Before Council.” Kingston Daily Freeman, 6 Aug. 1958, p. 1.
- Miller, Sophie. “Do you Remember.” Kingston Daily Freeman, 28 May 1958, p. 8.
- “Different Site to be Studied.” Kingston Daily Freeman, 26 Aug. 1960, p. 1.
- “Bridge Problem Unresolved.” Kingston Daily Freeman, 19 Jul. 1974, p. 7.
- Narel, Dorthy A. “The North/South Arterial.” Kingston Daily Freeman, 7 Mar. 1976, p. 17.
- Borsellino, Rob. “Rondout Bridge Contract Given.” Kingston Daily Freeman, 13 Feb. 1977, p. 1.
- Smith, Raymond W. “Kingston-Port Ewen Suspension Bridge.” National Register of Historic Places Inventory – Nomination Form. Feb. 1980.