The Walkway Over The Hudson is a pedestrian walkway over the Hudson River between Dutchess County and Poughkeepsie, New York.
The Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge was constructed between 1886-1888 to carry the Central New England Railway over the Hudson River between Dutchess County and Poughkeepsie, New York. It was abandoned in 1974 following a fire that damaged structural members and the railway decking before being restored through a private-public venture, opening to the public in 2009 as the Walkway Over the Hudson.
The Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 and was designated as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2009.
Over the course of time, proposals were made to replace the various car float and ferry operations that ran across the Hudson River south of Albany with fixed spans. 2 3 One such proposal was put forth in 1868 by an engineer who suggested the construction of a railroad bridge across the Hudson River at Poughkeepsie as a substitute for the existing car float and ferry operations. However, this idea was met with ridicule and was considered unlikely to come to fruition due to the high cliffs situated on the west side of the river. An alternate proposal was made for a bridge to be built between Anthony’s Nose and Fort Clinton at the location which later became the Bear Mountain Bridge.
With the backing of Poughkeepsie Mayor Harvey G. Eastman, the state granted a charter to the Poughkeepsie Bridge Company in 1872. Eastman had previously met with Andrew Carnegie, the principal owner of the Keystone Bridge Company of Pittsburgh and a former manager of the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR). J. Edgar Thomson, the president of the PRR, was convinced to provide financial support, and the Keystone Bridge Company was selected as the contractor for the Poughkeepsie bridge project. Keystone devised a design for a four-pier bridge, but the financial crisis known as the Panic of 1873 led to the withdrawal of funding for the project, resulting in its demise. 4
Undeterred, Eastman and his associates made a second attempt at the bridge project in 1875, entering into an agreement with the American Bridge Company. 25 The company developed a plan to address the challenge of constructing support piers in deep water. Pier construction began in 1876, but workers encountered difficulties, including the failure of a pier foundation, in 1877. By early 1878, the American Bridge Company was bankrupt, and Eastman passed away later that year. 4
In 1886, the Manhattan Bridge Building Company was established to secure funding for the construction of the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge for the Central New England Railway, which received financial backing from Henry Clay Frick, a prominent coal and associate of Carnegie. The Union Bridge Company of Athens, Pennsylvania, which had previously constructed the Michigan Central Railroad bridge over the Niagara River, was engaged as a subcontractor to build the superstructure of the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge. 25 The foundation engineering was undertaken by Dawson, Symmes & Usher, while John F. O’Rourke, P. P. Dickinson, and Arthur B. Paine were responsible for the structural engineering.
The construction of the bridge followed conventional cantilever techniques, involving the erection of cribwork, masonry piers, towers, fixed truss sections on falsework, and cantilever sections. The final cantilever interconnection spans were either floated out or raised using falsework. The recently developed Bessemer process steel was employed in the construction of all seven main sections, whereas the two approach viaducts were erected using iron.
The inaugural train traversed the newly constructed Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge on December 29, 1888. The bridge was formally opened for passenger service on January 1, 1889, and for a year, it was the longest bridge of its kind in the world. 25 The Central New England Railway had originally taken a northerly route from Maybrook to Hartford, but a connection between Poughkeepsie and Hopewell Junction allowed through service from Maybrook to Danbury. 1 The bridge formed part of the most direct rail route between the industrial Northeast and the Midwest and West. 5
The Smith Street Yard in Poughkeepsie connected traffic from the bridge to the Poughkeepsie & Eastern Railroad and the Poughkeepsie & Connecticut Railroad, which also provided a connection to Hopewell Junction. 25 Work soon began on the Hudson Connecting Railroad from Highland to Orange Junction which later became the Maybrook Switching Yard.
The Central New England Railway was acquired by the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad (NH) in 1904, with its Maybrook to Danbury line becoming the Maybrook Line. 25 In 1905, the NH also purchased the Newburgh, Dutchess & Connecticut Railroad and the Poughkeepsie & Eastern Railroad. It was not until 1927 that all of the lines operated under the New Haven Railroad banner.
The Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge was the only fixed crossing of the Hudson River between Albany and New York City until the Bear Mountain Bridge opened for motorists in 1924. The crossing was advertised as a way to avoid car floats and railroad passenger ferries in New York City.
The Hudson River bridge was strengthened in 1907-12 to handle heavier freight trains and new “Sante Fe” steam engines. 6 7 25 The project was designed by engineer Ralph Modjeski of Modjeski & Masters, who added a third line of trusses down the middle, a central girder, and interleaved columns. 7 In 1917-18, the double tracks on the bridge were converted to a gauntlet track operation to center the weight of heavier NH’s 2-10-2 steam locomotives. 3 Even so, trains were restricted to 12 MPH. 8
Despite the strengthening, the hoped for traffic between the coalfields to the west and the industrial powerhouses in New England never materialized, and the bridge remained underutilized. 7 In 1935, the New Haven Railroad (NH) experienced financial insolvency, only to resurface from bankruptcy in 1947. Subsequently, traffic flow over the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge began to diminish in the 1950s with the decline of industry in the New England region. This downturn was exacerbated by the termination of operations by the New York, Ontario & Western Railroad on March 30, 1957, resulting in a further decline in bridge utilization. In 1958, the gauntlet tracks were replaced with a centered single track. 3 9 Despite some new traffic, such as the NH’s “Super Jet” that carried truck trailers, the bridge experienced a continued decline that could not be offset.
In 1961, the NH experienced a second bout of bankruptcy. The company made an attempt to paint the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge in 1968 but had to stop mid-way through for lack of funds. 7 It was to correct a failed aluminum paint job from the mid-1950s that did not adhere to the steel.
In 1969, the company merged with the Penn Central (PC) system, which had been formed a year earlier through the merger of the New York Central Railroad and the Pennsylvania Railroad. However, the PC discouraged connecting traffic with the Erie Lackawanna (EL) due to competition with other PC routes. In 1970, PC declared bankruptcy. After 1971, only one train passed through the bridge in each direction for the EL. 10
On May 8, 1974, a tie fire damaged approximately 700 feet of the bridge’s eastern section. 11 This incident was most likely caused by a spark from an eastbound PC train that had recently crossed the bridge. 12 The PC had failed to maintain the bridge’s fire protection system, which lacked water on the day of the fire. 2 Additionally, employees responsible for detecting and responding to such incidents had been laid off.
Following the incident, the PC sought a $1.75 million grant to repair and enhance the bridge from the federal government’s Regional Rail Reorganization Act of 1973, but the request was unsuccessful. 13 Subsequently, the company attempted to fund repairs through a combination of state and railroad resources in 1975. In November of that year, the company secured a formal agreement with the New York State Department of Transportation. This agreement allowed for the $359,000 insurance payout for the bridge to be used for repairs, with the state providing $486,000. 14 Despite the agreement, the authorization for the state to allocate its portion of funds for bridge repairs faced delays.
On April 1, 1976, ownership of the bridge was transferred to Conrail. 15 As a result of including the Maybrook Line in its system at the request of Connecticut Senator Abraham Ribicoff, Conrail refused to commit to repairing the bridge, despite an offer from a Connecticut foundation to contribute half of the repair costs. The railroad noted that the entire Maybrook Line would require $45.8 million in repairs to be brought up to satisfactory condition, having experienced years of neglect. 16
After a prolonged period of degradation, fragments of the timber decking began to detach and fall onto the thoroughfare of US Route 9, causing damage to vehicles traversing the area. In reaction to this hazard, the municipal authority of Poughkeepsie instituted legal proceedings against Conrail, compelling the latter to expend $300,000 in 1983 for the purpose of dismantling the bridge decking. Subsequently, Conrail endeavored to dispose of the bridge that was rendered unusable and eventually abandoned the Maybrook Line in 1982 25 and relinquished ownership of the Maybrook Line section extending from Hopewell Junction to Maybrook in 1983-84. Traffic was routed north to Albany’s Livingston Avenue Bridge.
Sale of Bridge
On February 1, 1984, Conrail formulated a plan to vend the bridge to an attorney and bridge enthusiast, Donald L. Pevsner. 17 However, the agreement fell through by November of the same year. 2 The railroad subsequently sold the bridge for the token sum of $1 to a conglomerate of investors operating under the aegis of Railway Management Associates, although the sole known participant in this consortium was a convicted bank swindler and former felon named Gordon Schreiber Miller. 17 18 Miller accrued a monthly rent of $10,000 from the Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation for nearly a year in return for providing the company with access to two circuits, consisting of six power cables attached to the south side of the bridge since 1949. These circuits, which comprised two 115,000-volt and one 69,000-volt lines, were de-energized by Central Hudson and relocated under the river in 1985. 18 19
During Miller’s tenure, no maintenance was conducted on the bridge. The critical navigation lights for passing ships on the Hudson were mostly inoperable, leading to significant fines from the U.S. Coast Guard against Miller’s corporation, which were left unpaid. Moreover, the 2,200-pound brackets that sustained the de-energized power lines were rusting and disintegrating. While Central Hudson conceded that it usually had a legal obligation to remove its abandoned power lines, it refused to remove the one on the bridge, citing a previous legal settlement with Conrail in 1984 that ostensibly absolved it of ownership of the relevant lines.
In 1992, the Walkway Over the Hudson, a non-profit volunteer organization, commenced efforts to provide public access to the bridge and link rail trails on both sides of the Hudson River. 3 The bridge had been subject to a long period of non-payment of taxes by its owner, Miller, and his successor, Moreno, who eventually deeded the bridge to Walkway Over the Hudson on June 4, 1998.
Initially, Walkway Over the Hudson received support from local residents, city and state officials, amounting to approximately $1 million, and the forgiveness of $550,000 in back taxes. 20 21 The organization then solicited funding from private philanthropic organizations and historic preservation groups, including the Dyson Foundation, which provided $20 million, guaranteeing $8.1 million in loans and $2.3 million for an elevator. 22 Various state and federal agencies contributed $22.5 million and $3.5 million, respectively. Other donors included Scenic Hudson, Inc. with $1 million, the Jane W. Nuhn Charitable Trust with $500,000, and varying amounts from the M&T Charitable Foundation, Amy P. Goldman, and Sarah Amo. By October 2009, the group had raised a total of $30.7 million.
Bergmann Associates was selected as the engineering consulting firm for the project and issued its Final Design Report in February 2008, which addressed engineering, environmental, planning, and economic issues. 3 In March, an agreement was reached with the Fort Miller Company for the fabrication of precast concrete panels for the west approach spans of the bridge, which could be produced at a rate of three per day. In April, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, as the leading agency on the rehabilitation project, issued a negative declaration as part of the State Environmental Quality Review, which determined that the project would not have a significant effect on the environment. Demolition contract bids were opened, with Environmental Remediation Services, Inc. (ERSI) of Schenectady selected as the low bidder.
A ceremonial groundbreaking was held on May 27, and ERSI immediately began demolition of the remaining timber decking, railroad ties, and utilities. 3 By July, approximately 75% of the demolition work was complete. It was decided to delay the removal of the old power lines attached to the bridge until the new deck was in place, as a large boom truck could make the wire and trestle structure removal much easier. ERSI completed their work by mid-August. Additionally, Harrison & Burrowes of Glendale was selected as the general contractor for structural repairs, the installation of the prefabricated deck panels, and the installation of new bridge railings, with work beginning on August 15. An agreement was reached again with the Fort Miller Company for the fabrication of precast concrete panels for the main span and east approach spans of the bridge.
By September, Harrison & Burrowes had installed 64 deck panels. 3 The installation process involved welding six vertical posts on the girders of the bridge, installing the panels atop the posts, carefully leveling and aligning with leveling screws, and then grouting the space between the panels and the bridge with fast-setting cement. The firm also began metal and foundation repairs.
All work was completed on September 5, 2009, and the new Walkway Over the Hudson was opened to the public on October 3. 3 Connections were finished to the Hudson Valley Rail Trail in the autumn of 2010, and the Dutchess Rail Trail later on. The Dutchess Rail Trail also connects with the Maybrook Trailway in Hopewell Junction, making it part of a 40-mile continuous trail stretching from the village of Brewster to the village of New Paltz. All of these trails were included in the Empire State Trail.
At a length of 6,768 feet, it was the longest pedestrian footbridge 23 from its opening until October 2016.
On December 21, 2010, the New York State Bridge Authority was granted ownership of the restored Walkway Over the Hudson. This transfer facilitated the restoration of high-limit liability insurance and “deep-pocket” maintenance assurance for the first time since November 2, 1984.
Subsequently, on May 22, 2013, the Walkway Over the Hudson inaugurated a new east pavilion that was entirely financed through charitable contributions of funds and services. The installation of an elevator in the summer of 2014 at Upper Landing Park further linked the walkway to the Poughkeepsie waterfront area, thus augmenting its accessibility and promoting its inclusivity. A new $5.4 million welcome center opened at the western gateway of the bridge on June 29, 2018. 24 This construction comprised a plaza, an amphitheater, a concession stand, and public restrooms, providing a more hospitable environment to visitors. Similarly, a $3 million welcome center at the eastern gateway opened on June 20, 2019, which incorporated a plaza, a water fountain for dogs, and public restrooms. The facility underwent an expansion in 2021 at the cost of $2 million, thereby further augmenting its amenities and infrastructure.
- State: New York
- Route: Empire State Trail
- Type: Warren Deck Truss
- Status: Active - Pedestrian
- Total Length: 6,767 feet
- Main Span Length: 546 feet
- Spans: 548'×2; 546' (center); 525'×2 (anchor); 201'×2 (shore); 2,641' (east approach viaduct); 1,033' (west approach viaduct)
- Deck Width: 35 feet
- Total Height: 212 feet
- Lombardi, Kate Stone. “The Maybrook Line And Its Rise and Fall.” New York Times, 5 Feb. 1995, p. WC13.
- Mabee, Carleton. Bridging The Hudson: The Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge and Its Connecting Railroad Lines. Purple Mountain Press, 2001.
- “History.” Walkway Over the Hudson.
- Wolf, Donald E. Crossing the Hudson; Historic Bridges and Tunnels of the River. Rivergate Books, 2010.
- Poughkeepsie Eagle, 1 Jan. 1889.
- “Strengthening of the Big Bridge a Remarkable Engineering Feat.” Poughkeepsie Eagle, 14 Dec. 1907, p. 1.
- “‘The Lady’ Has Aged.” Poughkeepsie Journal, 2 Jul. 1972.
- Hartley, Scott. New Haven Railroad: The Final Decades. Railpace, 1992, p. 96.
- Drury, George H. The Historical Guide to North American Railroads: Histories, Figures, and Features of more than 160 Railroads Abandoned or Merged since 1930. Kalmbach Publishing, 1994, pp. 222–229, 248.
- Swanberg, J.W. “Railroad Blueprint: Maybrook, New York.” Trains Magazine, Jan. 2005, pp. 50–59.
- Cruz, Roberto. “Railroad bridge fire 40th anniversary: Fire in the sky.” Poughkeepsie Journal, 7 May 2014.
- Sutherland, Joseph. “Fire Closes Rail Bridge 3 Months.” Evening News, 9 May 1974, p. 1.
- “Fate of Poughkeepsie Rail Bridge Up to Court.” Evening News, 30 Aug. 1974, p. 4A.
- “Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge Funds Reviewed.” Evening News, 16 Dec. 1975, p. 4A.
- “Carey Asked to Fix Bridge.” Evening News, 9 Apr. 1976, p. 4A.
- “Bridge Help Refused.” Evening News, 22 May 1976, p. 3A.
- “Donald Pevsner: Worked on Bridge Preservation.” Hudson River Valley Institute, 27 Jan. 2009.
- “In Poughkeepsie, a rusting bridge evokes dreams and anger.” New York Times, 29 Jun. 1986, p. A54.
- “Order Instituting Proceeding and Order to Show Cause (case no. 98-E-0439).” New York State Department of Public Service, 26 Mar. 1998, p. 2.
- Malone, Michael. “Rusty Bridge, Great Views and Soon, a Walkway?” New York Times, 21 Jan. 2007.
- Merchant, Robert. “History buff plugs for bridge: Yorktown man joins fight for railroad span.” Journal News, 27 Nov. 2006.
- “Walkway group takes wraps off Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge plans.” Mid-Hudson News, 5 Jun. 2007.
- “Walkway Opens, Thousands Explore Unique State Park.” Poughkeepsie Journal, 3 Oct. 2009.
- Flanagan, Sharyn. “New welcome center opens on Highland side of Walkway Over the Hudson.” Hudson Valley One, 1 Jul. 2018.