The Bridges of Westchester County, New York

Goldens Bridge. Photo taken by Kent Findley in 2017

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New York City and its boroughs are well known for their iconic crossings which have stood the test of time. When people think of the largest city in the US, the first bridges to come to mind are the Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg and Queensboro Bridges along the East River, the Triborough Bridges and the structures built by Othmar H. Ammann, including the Bronx White Stone, Bayonne, George Washington and the Verrazano Narrows, the last of which is still the longest suspension bridge in the US.

Yet going north away from New York is Westchester County. If there is one county that has a wide array of historic bridges spanning different bodies of water in the state, Westchester would be in the top five in the state. It’s well known for two of the crossings over the Hudson River- the Bear Mountain Bridge and the Mario Cuomo Bridge (which replaced the Tappan Zee Bridge in 2017).  Little do people realize is that the county has several bodies of water where one can find many historic and unique crossings scattered all over the place. For starters, northeast of the Cuomo Bridge is Rockefellar State Park, where as many as six stone arch bridges spanning the Pocantico River can be found within a five mile radius of each other. There’s also the Croton River, a major source of water for the New York City area. There one can find a large batch of bridges along the river, including those along the New Croton Reservoir, like the AM Vets Memorial Bridge, Gate House Bridge and North COuntry Trailway. Also included in the mix are Goldens Bridge and Plum Brook Road Bridge at Muscoot Reservoir, which also belong to the Croton River crossings. Four historic bridges including Deans Bridge in Croton Falls round off the tour along the Croton River before the river crosses into Putnam County. As many as a dozen historic arch bridges built in the 1930s spanning historic parkways and four historic bridges along Annsville Creek round off the tour of Westchester County’s finest bridges, that feature as many as seven different bridge types and a span of over a century and a half of bridge building that started in the 1870s.

Deans Bridge. Photo taken by John Reidy in 2016

Sadly though, the number of historic bridges in Westchester County is dwindling. Many bridges that have been out of service for at least 20 years are scheduled to be removed. Three of them- Deans Bridge, Goldens Bridge and Plum Brook Road- are scheduled to be torn down by sometime in the next year. Each crossing has some unique characteristics and historic value that justify not only their listing on the National Register but also rehabilitation and reuse for recreational purposes. Goldens Bridge has a Whipple through truss design with Phoenix columns. Deans and Plum Brook have unique portal bracings that are rare to find in the state, let alone the US.

Yet the bridges in Westchester County are very popular among locals and one of them even produced a gallery of paintings of these unique structures. That with some facts fan be found in the Gallery of Paintings of Westchester County’s Bridges, available via link. A whole list of crossings, both past and present, can be found in the bridgehunter.com website- the link is found as well.

It is unknown whether these galleries will help preserve these structures, but by looking at them, it will bring attention to the readers who may want to visit them in the future. May through a visit and a tour will the interest in saving them for future use increase substantially, even in these hard times like we’re having at present.

Plum Brook Road Bridge. Photo by John Reidy

So have a look at two sets of galleries and enjoy! 🙂

 

Links to Tour Guides:

Gallery courtesy of Bridgehunter.com: https://bridgehunter.com/ny/westchester/

Gallery of Bridge Paintings: https://bridgesofwestchester.wordpress.com/gallery/

Muscoot Reservoir Bridge. Photo taken by John Reidy

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Sunset at Tappan Zee Bridge in New York

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If one has to go, it should go gracefully. It should go off into the sunset, foot-by-foot, mile by mile and in the case of the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York City, bit by bit.

Fellow pontist and photographer Dan Murphy had an opportunity recently to take a photo of both the new bridge and the old one, spanning the Hudson River connecting New York with New Jersey, and with that, the suburbs on both sides. The new structure, a pair of cable-stayed suspension bridges, whose towers are V-shaped are now opened to all traffic, providing a key connection to the Big Apple and other key areas along the East Coast and into New England via Thruway.  The old structure, a 1954 steel cantilever through truss bridge with Warren truss design is slowly disappearing into the sunset.

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And as one can see much more clearly, work has already begun taking apart the cantilever bridge itself after removing several deck truss spans, one by one.

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The old bridge is scheduled to disappear into the sunset by the end of this year. However, not everything will be scrapped, recycled and reused for other purposes. The bridge will be reused in multiple sections in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, which includes the City of Pittsburgh. How and where they will be reused is unknown. It is known that the bridge will disppear with the setting sun soon. And with that, a piece of history that will be seen in the history books, unless one wishes to see sections of them in Steelers country.  😉

Special thanks to Dan Murphy for allowing use of the photos to be posted. More can be seen in the Bridges page on facebook.  To learn more about the Tappan Zee Bridge, check out this article here.

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Tappan Zee Bridge Coming Down

62-year old cantilever bridge being demolished after the opening of a twin-span cable-stayed bridge.

 

NEW YORK CITY-  When you boat along the Hudson River or travel along the Interstate into the Big Apple, you will probably see a lot of cranes lining up along both sides of three bridges: a twin-span cable-stayed suspension- looking brand new and modern- and a steel cantilever suspension bridge with deck truss approach spans- empty and appearing to be taken apart. Since October 6th, all traffic has been shifted over to the new bridge, while decommissioning the old one, awaiting it removal. The Tappan Zee Bridge was a 62 year-old bridge built by Emil Praeger, an architect whose credits also include the construction of the Henry Hudson, Throgs Neck and Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Bridges all in New York, plus Pier 57 and Shea Stadium in New York and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, to name a few. The total length of the bridge was 16,100 feet (3.4 miles)/ 4.9 kilometers,  with the cantilever span was 1212 feet (369 meters).  The truss spans were all Warren with riveted connections; the portal and strut bracings were V-laced. After 58 years plus daily traffic jams causing wear and tear on the structure, construction started on the new bridge 2013. Despite delays due to weather and contract disputes, north-west bound traffic began using the new north span on August 25 of this year; the south-east bound traffic then joined onto the bridge on October 6. At the present time, the south bridge is in the process of being built with plans of completion being slated in June of next year. By the time the twin spans are open, they will be one of the widest bridges in the world, with a width of 184 feet per bridge and having four lanes in each direction, one in each direction more than its predecessor. The bridge has been named after former New York Governor Mario Cuomo. As for the Tappan Zee Bridge, the bridge is being demolished. Sections of the spans are scheduled to be reused, whereas the rest of the bridge will be recycled for reuse. The removal is expected to be completed at the same time of the completion of the project in June.

One pontist, Dan Murphy has been documenting the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge and after receiving agreement for the use of his photos, we’re presenting a gallery, illustrating the process of dismantling the 1955 span. When looking at the photos, note the cross-section of the spans being removed. The bridge was unique for its extensive use of steel for construction and hence the web-shaped steel connections, which contributed to holding hundreds of thousands of cars crossing the bridge on a daily basis.

Enjoy the photos but think about the legacy of the girl that served New York well- one that will soon become a memory.

 

 

 

The new bridges still carry the Interstates 87 and 287 as well as the New York Thruway, all of which go through the northern sections of New York City, careening Manhattan and going through the Bronx and Queens. Attempts are being made to carry over the Tappan Zee name onto the Cuomo spans as a way of continuing its legacy. Whether this will be successful remains to be seen. See the details here.

 

Author’s note: Special Thanks to Dan Murphy for allowing use of his photos for this article.

 

Book of the Month for July 2012: Bridges: The Spans of North America by David Plowden

Newell Bridge in Ohio over the Ohio River: one of hundreds of bridges featured in Plowden’s book. This photo was taken by the author in August 2010

There are many ways to look at a bridge and determine its value, both aesthetically as well as historically. From an engineer’s point of view, the bridge is built to function as a vehicular crossing until it is rendered obsolete and considered for replacement. From a historian’s point of view, each bridge has its own history and identity to the community, going beyond the bridge builder, the dimensions and unique value that make it eligible to be protected by preservation laws. From a photographer’s point of view, each bridge has a beauty that makes it fit into the landscape, whether it is a truss, arch, cable-stayed or suspension bridge.
In the case of David Plowden, each bridge not only presents a beauty that warrants a black and white photo worth remembering, but it contributes to the history of the American architecture, infrastructure and transportation. 

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Born in 1932, Plowden started his photography career at the age of 25, providing the readers with a look at the development of American society, from the steel mills to the farming community, from the slums of the big cities, to Main Street USA, where small talk and hard work are the norms. He has published over 20 books including his latest one on the state of Iowa (which was released earlier this year), where a traveling photography exhibition of the state and its hilly landscape is currently taking place until 2014.
In the book Bridges: The Spans of North America, published in 2002, Plowden combined his photographic genius with some history to provide readers with an insight into the development of bridges in North America, beginning with those made of wood in a form of covered bridges, followed by brick and stone bridges,  the metal bridges (both in terms of short- and long river crossings) and finishing with the bridges made of concrete.  The over 400-page work provides the reader with an in depth look at the types of bridges that were developed, the bridge builders who used them for their crossings and where the bridges were located. While some of the bridge types mentioned in the book are well-known to the bridge community and historians, such as the Bollmann Truss Bridge at Savage, Maryland the concrete arch bridges of Pennsylvania and Oregon, and the common suspension bridges, like John Roebling’s suspension bridges, there are some others that had been mentioned briefly in other documents but were brought to life in this book, like the Whipple-Murphy truss bridges, many of which were constructed along the Missouri River between Sioux City and Kansas City under George S. Morrison in the 1880s, the Poughkeepsie Suspension and Railroad Bridges in upstate New York or even local bridges like the Bellefountain Bridge in Mahaska County, Iowa.  Plowden provides a tour into the life of each bridge engineer and his contribution to the American landscape with examples of bridges that bear his name and were meant to serve traffic for many years.


As for the bridges themselves, the photos taken by Plowden were genuine and provide the reader with an inside look at the structure’s appearance from a photographer’s point of view. Some bridges were photographed in areas that were run down and were not part of the urbanization movement in the 1960s, such as the outer suburbs of Pittsburgh, for example. Some bridges in his book were taken in heavily industrialized areas, like New Jersey. And then there are others in the book that had a unique natural background, like the bridges of Oregon and western Canada. In terms of how they were photographed, there were many bridges that were photographed at a portal view- meaning the entrance of the bridge, presenting the reader the bridge’s facial feature before entering the structure. This includes the past bridges, like the Point Bridge in Pittsburgh as well as those in the present, like the railroad bridge at Beaver, Pennsylvania.  While some of the bridges are known to the bridge community today, there are many that were rarely recognized but brought to the light by pushing the snapshot button and presenting a black and white picturesque view that definitely belongs to an art gallery somewhere. While many of these bridges, such as the Central Bridge over the Ohio River in Cincinnati and the St. Mary’s Bridge in West Virginia, a sister of the Silver Bridge, which collapsed in 1967 killing 46 people, have long since been demolished, Plowden photographed most of them in the 1960s and 70s, giving the reader an idea what they looked like before they were replaced.  Each bridge photographed in the book has some information on its history and the status at the time of its publication.

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It is very difficult to write a book on the history of bridges and how they were developed without having to narrow the focus down to the key aspects. In the case of the books on the bridges of Erfurt, Germany, one was focused on the technical aspects; the other on the historical aspects. One cannot have insight into the bridges without having to read both pieces of literature, even though they are both in German. In the case of Plowden’s book, he divided the subject up into the materials used for bridge construction, followed by the bridge types that were used and the engineers who built the bridges. To a certain degree, when focusing on bridges on a scale as large as North America’s it is a good idea, for it provides an overview into the development of the bridges from the beginning to the present time. This has been used in a couple other literary pieces, the latest of which will be the book of the month for August on Minnesota’s bridges by Denis Gardner (which falls nicely into the five-year anniversary of the I-35W bridge disaster in Minneapolis).

Beaver River Railroad Bridge over the Ohio River in Pennsylvania. This was one of many Ohio River crossings Plowden portrayed in his book. The author photographed this gigantic monster in August 2010

Yet when looking at the content of the book, most of its focus was on the development of bridges in the United States, together with the photos he took, with a small fraction being focused on Canada’s bridges (like the Lethbridge Viaduct in the province of Alberta and the Quebec Bridge). Most of the information and photos of the bridges came from those in the northern half of the US along the major rivers and in the northeastern part of the US, such as the Ohio River Valley, the Hudson River, and the Mississippi. These areas were the breeding ground for bridge development that spanned over 150 years and expanded into the Plains Region and beyond. If a person was to be picky about the content of the book, and focus on the history and development of bridges per se, then perhaps Plowden could have had two different books on the subject- one for the US and one for Canada. After all, despite the fact that this history run parallel in both countries, each one had its own set of bridge builders and bridge types with much of Canada’s bridge designs being imported from Europe as it had close ties with Great Britain and France.

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But there are two main reasons why Plowden chose to incorporate the two countries into one for the book. First of all, the history and development of the bridges were interchangeable. Canadian bridge builders immigrated to America to start their business and prosper. Bridge companies in the US had exceptional influence in Canada. The designs used for bridge construction were mostly similar in both countries, with a few minor exceptions. That means we have cantilever truss bridges in both countries, and we competed with each other to construct the longest and tallest bridges. And through their exchanges in information and designers, both prospered during the Industrial Age of the late 1800s.

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The other reason is the fact that Plowden is a photographer by heart. He not only provides people with a look into the lives of others in black and white, but he also provides them with unique scenery through the photos of antique works of art that still rules the streets (even though the numbers have dwindled rapidly over the years). He does not just showcase the photos for people to see. That would be too easy to do, especially in today’s technological age where anyone can post their pics on facebook, flickr and other websites. But each bridge that is photographed is accompanied by a story of its existence and the bridge builder responsible for erecting the structure and sharing his success to others so that they can either follow the lead or challenge it. The book provides the reader with general knowledge of the development of the bridges and the role of the engineers that contributed their history. And even if the majority of the readers are not engineers, bridge fanatics or historians, and even if one is unable to read the entire book from cover to cover, looking at the bridge photos themselves is enough to tell the story of how it was built and how it became part of North American history.

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So to end this review process, get your cameras ready and set out to go bridgehunting. Find a bridge that means a great deal to you, regardless of its appearance and surroundings, its history and identity to the region and regardless of its age and whether you can cross it or spend time walking to it. As soon as you find it, start shooting. Show the bridge to others and make it known to the public of its value through your camera lens and point of view. After all, there are more people interested in historic bridges than you know. Plowden knew about it and therefore, the book is sitting in my bridge library, waiting for me to open the page and have a look at the work that he did. Pride can help you prosper and people will take note of that.