The Rip Van Winkle Bridge
In January of 1930, New York State Assemblyman Ellis W. Bentley of Windham sought to appropriate $450,000 to finance a new span across the Hudson River at Catskill. It was to be only the third span over the Hudson between New York City and Albany.
While the bill passed the State Legislature the following year, it was vetoed by Governor Franklin Roosevelt on April 21, 1931. In the depths of the Great Depression, Roosevelt maintained that tax revenues were in such short supply that the state couldn’t afford the project.
However, in what may be the first hint of Roosevelt’s “New Deal”, he suggested the creation of a separate state entity to issue bonds which would be repaid by tolls to finance the new bridge. In 1932, the newly created Bridge Authority passed a resolution to apply for $3,400,000 from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in order to build the Catskill-Hudson Bridge.
Dedication ceremonies took place on July 2, 1935, in combination with a celebration of the founding of the City of Hudson. Events included a luncheon, a parade of 50 official cars, and site activities. The ribbon-cutting was performed by Mrs. Frederick S. Greene on the Greene County side, and Laura Carter Miller on the Columbia County shore. Approximately 3,000 cars crossed the bridge during the "free hours" that followed and the first toll was collected at 6 P.M. that day.
The toll schedule was complicated when the bridge opened. Passenger cars were charged $.80 plus $.10 per passenger up to a maximum of $1.00. Trucks were subject to a charge ranging from under a dollar up to $1.50. Motorcycles were charged $.20, or $.35 with a sidecar. The lowest toll was $.10, for pedestrians and bicycles. There was also a provision for 1- and 2-horse wagons and all tolls were charged in both directions.
Over 400 people applied for the eight toll collector positions when the new bridge opened during the Great Depression.
A natural boulder from the site excavation served as a pedestal for the bronze dedication tablet provided by George W. Williams, a state road engineer. Today, that same boulder can be seen near the toll plaza.
In 1985, the Rip Van Winkle Bridge turned 50 with a spectacular fireworks display in the night sky above the bridge.
The approved 13-span cantilever bridge design was to be 5,040 feet long, and 145 feet above the river to allow passage of freighters to and from Albany. The Frederick Snare Construction Corporation of New York City won the bid for construction of the new bridge.
Despite the fact that the Bridge Authority was financing it, supervisory responsibility remained with the New York State Department of Public Works.
The western approach for the bridge was supposed to be built on land owned by Thomas Cole, an artist of the renowned Hudson River School. The state was prepared to pay up to $15,000 for the land, or condemn it if necessary. Thomas Cole's heirs, though, felt the historic value of the land should bring a price of at least $100,000. The controversy dragged on, and the state decided to expedite construction by modifying its design plans, and moved the approach to the north of the Cole property.
Steel was brought to the bridge site by way of a temporary narrow-gauge railroad on the east, and barges and trucks on the west. Cranes were also used to haul steel to the decking level directly from the river when weather permitted.
There was one strike during construction, in September 1934. Men had been earning a dollar an hour for a maximum of 30 hours per week, as dictated by law. The settlement called for the continuation of the previous hourly wage, but extended the week to 40 hours. To get around the law, an emergency was declared stating that "steel beams were hanging over the tracks of the New York Central Railroad."
By September 1934, the administration building on the west end was nearly complete, and all 13 piers were in place. Seven of the individual sections of the span were constructed and plans were underway to start placing them from the west anchorage to pier 1 and pier 2. Two cranes moved back and forth, putting steel girders in place, followed by men who would bolt and rivet them into place.
Eleven sections of the bridge had been built by November 1934 and at the end of December, 60 men were busy closing the last 100-foot gap over the main channel. The last link was put in place on January 18, 1935, the two cantilever arms of the main span being jointed by the use of sixteen 300-ton hydraulic jacks.
To accommodate more than one lane of traffic at a time and toll in only one direction, the toll booths at the Rip were rebuilt in the late 1960's. The new plaza also allows bigger vehicles to pass through.
In 1991, a new maintenance facility was built behind the administration building with the same Dutch-colonial architecture as the main building.
The bridge buildings can be clearly seen from the historic site at Olana just across the river, so the maintenance building was built to be historically and aesthetically pleasing as part of the Bridge Authority’s ongoing mission to be an integrated part of the history and heritage of the Hudson River Valley.
The new maintenance building was dedicated to Edward Burns and Aloysius Curran, original toll collectors at the "Rip" who worked for the Bridge Authority for over 40 years each.
Rip Van Winkle Bridge
Catskill / Hudson Crossing – State Route 23