The Great Bridge At Poughkeepsie

poughkeepsiebridgenight01

It is years later. Trains no longer run over the bridge; instead it is a walkway. Bernie Rudberg took a great nighttime picture from the walkway.

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pokbridgemuralcaption

Muralist Seth Nadel has painted a 5′ by 10′ wall mural in the 5th floor lobby at One Civic Center Plaza in Poughkeepsie, NY. The mural, entitled “Hudson Valley’s Bridge to the Future,” is a scene of the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge spanning the Hudson River. Walkway Over the Hudson, in cooperation with the Poughkeepsie Area Chamber of Commerce and the building’s owner, Eagle-Riverview Group, Inc, sponsored a reception at the official unveiling of the mural on Thursday, February 9th, 2006. In addition to providing food and refreshments, Walkway had a display of information on the history of the Poughkeepsie Highland-Railroad Bridge and on the project to turn it into a walkway and bike path, as well as information on the rail trail connection the bridge will make between Hopewell Junction and New Paltz. There was a good turnout of public officials and business leaders including Assemblyman Joel Miller and Senator Steve Saland. Former Westchester County District attorney Pirro was a special guest. The event was well attended to the point of being crowded and everyone got a 13″ X 19″ signed color print of the mural.

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cneproposedbridge01

Artist sketch of the proposed bridge across the Hudson River.

From the collection of the late Austin McEntee

When the bridge was finally completed in 1888 it was a bit different than the one in this drawing.

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cneproposedbridge02

From the collection of the late Austin McEntee

There were many different versions of what the Poughkeepsie RR bridge would look like. When the bridge was finally built it was not a suspension bridge and the rails were 212 feet above the river to allow large ships to pass under it.

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cneproposedbridge03

From the collection of the late Austin McEntee.

The finished bridge did not look anything like this artist version.

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cnefalsework05

From the collection of the late Austin McEntee

A project the size of the Poughkeepsie RR Bridge required a lot of labor and material. The above photo was taken from the Highland side of the river looking northeast. This structure is called falsework. It supports the work of building the actual bridge on top. When the bridge is completed ,the falsework is removed.

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cnefalsework06

From the collection of the late Austin McEntee

The photographer was standing on the east shore of the Hudson in the south side of Poughkeepsie looking northwest. You can see the falsework between the bridge piers and the highland end of the bridge at left.

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cnehighlandconstruction07

From the collection of the late Austin McEntee

The view is looking north along the west shore of the Hudson River at Highland. The west shore line normally had two tracks but a third track was added to carry construction material for the Poughkeepsie RR bridge. The third track was later removed.

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cnehighlandconstruction08

From the collection of the late Austin McEntee

This view of bridge construction is from atop the cliff on the Highland side of the river. The City of Poughkeepsie is in the background. Note the men standing in the open on top of the construction more than 200 feet over the river. There were no safety nets.

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cnefirstsection09

From the collection of the late Austin McEntee

Here is the first section of the Poughkeepsie RR bridge in place and the falsework removed from under it. The view is from the Poughkeepsie shoreline looking northwest. The west shore railroad station is on the far shore in the center just above the empty bridge pier.

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cnesectionoverpok10

From the collection of the late Austin McEntee This section of the bridge is being built over the waterfront of Poughkeepsie. If you look closely you can just make out the hand made ladder used to get up to the small crane platform on the right end. The sloping section in the middle seems to be a ramp to slide parts up to the top level.

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cneconnecting-sections11

From the collection of the late Austin McEntee

As construction progressed on the Poughkeepsie RR bridge, sections were fastened together in a high wire circus act 200 feet over the waters of the Hudson River. This view is looking north along the Highland shoreline.

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cnepoughkeepsiematerial12

From the collection of the late Austin McEntee

The Poughkeepsie waterfront was used to store much of the material for the big RR bridge. There is a steep cliff on the Highland side which left little room for storage.

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cnejoiningoverpok13

From the collection of the late Austin McEntee

These sections of the bridge are about to be joined over the waterfront of Poughkeepsie.

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cnealmostcomplete14

From the collection of the late Austin McEntee

In this view from the Poughkeepsie waterfront, the bridge is nearing completion. The falsework has been removed from the western section and the center has been connected. Only the section over Poughkeepsie is incomplete.

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cnefinishedbridge15

From the collection of the late Austin McEntee

The Hudson River looks a bit chilly in this photo of the finished bridge. The first train trip across the completed Poughkeepsie RR bridge was in December 1888. The steel work looks to be rather flimsy in this view considering the weight of train traffic on the double tracks on top. As trains got heavier and traffic increased, additional steel was added. Still later the double tracks on top of the bridge were modified to a “gauntlet” configuration to keep train weight in the center. The disadvantage then was that only one train could cross the bridge at any one time.

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cnefinishedbridge16

From the collection of the late Austin McEntee

Here is a portrait of the completed bridge with the City of Poughkeepsie in the background.

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cnedeck17

From the collection of the late Austin McEntee

This view of the deck on top of the finished bridge shows the City of Poughkeepsie in the background.

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cneviewnorth18

From the collection of the late Austin McEntee

Here is a view from the deck of the bridge looking north along the Poughkeepsie waterfront. The New York Central main line runs north along the shore of the Hudson River. In the upper right corner you can see the rail connection which was called the Hospital Branch. It went up the hill and used a switchback to deliver coal to the Hudson River State Hospital. There was also a connection to the Smith Street yard in Poughkeepsie providing access to the P&E and the P&C which connected to the line on top of the bridge. The rails on top of the bridge later became know as the Maybrook Line.

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cneviewsouth19

From the collection of the late Austin McEntee

A view looking south from the center of the bridge shows the waterfront of Poughkeepsie and the wake of the Highland ferry crossing the river. Today this view would include the highway suspension bridge that connects Poughkeepsie and Highland.

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cnevassarbrewery20

From the collection of the late Austin McEntee

This view looks over the bridge railing to the southeast over the Poughkeepsie waterfront. The large white building at left was the Vassar Brewery. Matthew Vassar used his beer making fortune to found Vassar College and Vassar Hospital. The dark buildings in the center are the Foster Lumber Yard. Right of center, at the foot of Main Street you can see the Poughkeepsie Highland ferry in the ferry slip. The larger white boat at the right side is the night freight boat.

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cnemainstreet21

From the collection of the late Austin McEntee

This is where Main Street in Poughkeepsie reaches the Hudson River. The buildings are for the Hudson River steamboats and the Highland Ferry. At right is the Foster lumber yard. Horse drawn cars served Poughkeepsie and Arlington as far east as Vassar College. There was also a connection north to the Hudson River State Hospital. The big railroad bridge is to the right of this scene. Today this spot is a city park.

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maybrook_journal859

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cnebridgefire22

Fast forward the scene to May 1974 and the Poughkeepsie waterfront looks very different. Traffic on highway US 9 is diverted onto Main Street to avoid debris falling from the burning bridge. Fire fighters had a difficult time getting water onto the fire. It was too high to work from the ground and the bridge approach had burned. They finally stretched hoses across the bridge from Highland and stopped the advancing fire. Creosote soaked railroad ties make a very hot fire.

After the Penn Central era, CONRAIL had taken over the bridge and the Maybrook Line. They did not really want it. They wanted to route all the rail traffic on their own rails through Selkirk yard and a bridge near Albany New York. The Poughkeepsie bridge had a reputation for having small fires from train wheels but they were quickly put out by the bridge fire watch personnel. As a cost saving measure the fire watch was canceled. They also allowed the bridge sand barrels and water pipes to run empty. It was only a matter of time until the bridge burned.

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cnebridgemanonice101

A very frozen Hudson River at Poughkeepsie about 1900.
Notice that this was before the Mid- Hudson highway bridge was built.
From the collection of the Beacon Historical Society.

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cnebridgepostcard102

Postcard view of the Poughkeepsie RR bridge dated 1904. Note what looks like a steam powered single passenger car train on the bridge. It is probably the New Paltz/Poughkeepsie commuter shuttle.

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cnebridgetraincrosses103

Undated postcard view of the Poughkeepsie RR Bridge from the Poughkeepsie shore. Note the last few cars of an eastbound freight train on the bridge

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cnebridgeaerial104

The Poughkeepsie RR Bridge from high over the west end with the City of Poughkeepsie in the background.

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cnebridgecolorpostcard105

Postcard view of the Poughkeepsie RR Bridge.

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cnebridgepostcardboat106

Postcard view of the Poughkeepsie RR Bridge.

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cnebridgefromferry107

View of the Poughkeepsie RR bridge from the deck of a ferry boat with the City of Poughkeepsie in the background.

From the Art Church collection.

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cnebridgedayboattrain108

Postcard view of the Poughkeepsie RR Bridge.

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cnebridgehendrikhudson109

Postcard view of the Poughkeepsie RR Bridge with the Day Line steamer Hendrick Hudson leaving the wharf heading south.

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cnebridgehudsonline110

View of the Poughkeepsie RR Bridge from the NYC Hudson Line just north of the Poughkeepsie RR station.

Photo by the late Austin McEntee.

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1968bridgewalkways111

Poughkeepsie RR bridge walkways in 1968.
Photo by Roger Liller
The City of Poughkeepsie and College Hill are in the background.

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1968smithstreetconnect112

Smith street yard connection to the left at the east end of the Poughkeepsie bridge in 1968.
You can see the bridge control tower in the distance.


Photo by Roger Liller

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1968bridgeeast113

East end of the Poughkeepsie bridge in 1968.
Photo by Roger Liller
The building at left is the traffic control tower.

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1968controltower114

Control tower at the east end of the Poughkeepsie RR Bridge in 1968.
Photo by Roger Liller

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1968controltower115

Control tower at the east end of the Poughkeepsie bridge in 1968.
Photo by Roger Liller

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1968pokfreighthouse116

Poughkeepsie freight house in 1968.
Photo by Roger Liller
Track to the right goes into the Smith Street yard.

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