A Look Back at Turn-of-the-Century Bridge Plans

Originally scheduled for print publication, this story was cut due to lack of space. Photos from when the Tappan Zee Bridge was built are courtesy of the New York State Thruway Authority.

Forty-one months ago and with the recently-closed Governor Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge as his backdrop, President Barack Obama spoke about his transportation bill, announcing a new infrastructure plan that included fast-tracking the bridge replacement project.

“At times you can see the river through the cracks of the pavement,” Obama had commented about it. “Now, I’m not an engineer, but I figure that’s not good.

* * * * *

The idea to build a bridge across one of the widest points in the Hudson River began as early as 1905 with a bridge (railroad) Piermont to Hastings. Calls continued for the next 20 or so years.

Craig Long, historian for Rockland County, the villages of Montebello and Suffern and the Town of Ramapo, recalled Pearl River resident and state assemblyman Fred Horn — nicknamed “Father of the Bridge” — proposed a bill in 1930 for a bridge from Piermont to Hastings with Hook Mountain and Rockland Lake as other locations.

During the next two years, Horn proposed that idea and a bridge/tunnel from Snedens Landing to Dobb’s Ferry; however, the site was within the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s 25-mile jurisdiction. Those ideas failed as did Horn when he ran for re-election.

Long said via email that in 1935, the Rockland Causeway-Tunnel Authority was created with a drive to bridge the Hudson from Nyack to Tarrytown. “As studies begin, no determination is made as to whether Upper Nyack, Nyack, or South Nyack will be the bridge’s terminus. In August of that year, it is central Nyack; by October it is South Nyack, Voorhis Point.”

The following March (1936) Grand View was chosen as a potential landing site; by August the War Department approved it and Tarrytown on the Westchester side. While Hook Mountain again a choice the northern location didn’t sit well with Zoning Commissioner Elmer Hader, who gained support for nixing the idea, or with residents.

“This is the beauty spot of the Hudson Valley, which should not be destroyed by a bridge,” Zoning Commissioner Elmer Hader protested. New York State governor Thomas E. Dewey, and local legislators, received hundreds of telegrams and letters protesting the proposed 3.25-mile crossing, according to an editorial in The New York Times said.

South Nyack’s business district and Tarrytown riverfront estates were sacrificed and paved the way for this Hudson Valley crossing more than 60 years ago that lasted beyond its time. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute alumnus Emil H. Pager of Madigan-Hyland designed the $81 million Bridge for a 50-year service life that resulted in a utilitarian appearance, RPI Professor Michael Symons noted.

Foundation piers and steel false work were constructed near Haverstraw at Grassy Point. Rive water was dammed off to lower its level, and when the piers were completed, the dams were broken to release the water. Those newly-constructed sections were then towed downriver to the project site.

Ten days before Christmas 1955, the new bridge opened to traffic, connecting I-87 northbound from New York City to Albany, and later connecting to I-287 (Cross Westchester Expressway). Legislation signed by Governor W. Averell Harriman on February 28, 1956, officially named it the Tappan Zee Bridge to honor the Tappan Indians of the Lenape tribe and Zee for “sea” in Dutch.

Twelve-year-old Paul Anderson surprised everyone at the ribbon-cutting ceremony — including Nyack resident and actress Helen Hayes MacArthur, Thruway Authority Chairman Bertram D. Tallamy, and other dignitaries — by walking across the bridge, earning him a ride in the governor’s black Cadillac.

In 1994, the structure was rededicated and renamed when Governor Malcolm Wilson’s name was added on the 20th anniversary of his leaving the governor’s office.

A 27-mile stretch of Thruway from Suffern to Yonkers opened only 18 months after the first cars drove on the thruway upstate. Not what you’d expect four days after opening was a major traffic accident when four cars traveling from Rockland to Westchester at dusk bumped into each other.

The bridge was eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places (under Criteria A and C in Appendix D – Preliminary Section 106 and 4(f) Analysis for Tappan Zee Bridge). The purportedly-100-year-old wood barge and its coal cargo submerged below – reminiscent of the river’s role in industry and commerce, and in the construction zone – was also recommended for the same prestigious award.

Coincidentally, March 1952 marked the start of construction, and 60 years later (March 2012) came a Request for Proposal (RFP) for its replacement — the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge — whose westbound span recently opened. As eastbound traffic was moved to that span ahead of schedule, crews are dismantling the TZB’s landings so the new bridge’s eastbound span can be completed.

I’d like to know what you think.

Copyright © Janie Rosman and Kaleidoscope Eyes 2017

6 comments so far

  1. penneyvanderbilt on

    Reblogged this on PenneyVanderbilt.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Alan L Englander on

    Interesting details, indeed! I have known about the plans to build a crossing at other locations to south of the Tappan Zee, and that they were frustrated by the 25 mile jurisdiction of the Port of Authority. I never realized the efforts were started as early as 1905. I cannot begin to understand why the Tappan Zee Bridge was designed to last only 50 years — other than that it needed to be built fast, and with what money was available at the time, in order to allow the Thruway to connect to New York City, and still allow for the tolls to be retained by the Thruway and not the Port of Authority.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nykeypad on

      Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute alumnus Emil H. Praeger designed the bridge for a 50-year service life because he was limited by material shortages after the Korean War, RPI Professor Michael Symans said. I spoke with him after the school’s engineering students visited the project site a few years ago. Click here to read about their experiences.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alan L Englander on

        This fully explains the reason for the 50 year life span. It also explains why the issues with steel used in the bridge has been questioned by some people. Yes, this was right in the midst of the Korean War — which started in 1950. The designer of the Tappan Zee Bridge was associated with one of the best engineering schools, and I am sure he did all that he could to produce the best project. The fact that it served close to 40 percent beyond the 100,000 vehicles per day for so many years that it was designed to serve speaks volumes for the quality of his design!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Did you take one more ride across the bridge last week? Hope all is well and those Halloween decorations you highlighted on Twitter are sure to attract many! 😀

    Like


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