This 2000 photo shows the Rip Van Winkle Bridge (NY 23) from the Catskill shoreline, looking east toward Hudson. Note how the cantilever span is flanked by several truss spans. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
PLANNING, DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION: In 1930, Ellis W. Bentley, a New York State Assemblyman from Windham, proposed legislation to appropriate $450,000 to study a bridge across the Hudson River between Catskill, Greene County and Hudson, Columbia County. Franklin D. Roosevelt, at that time the governor of New York, vetoed the bill, arguing that the state did not have the authority to finance construction. Instead, Roosevelt recommended the creation of a separate entity, the New York State Bridge Authority, to sell construction bonds. In 1932, the new authority applied for $3.4 million in loans from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), a Depression-era agency, in order to build the Catskill-Hudson Bridge.
Designed under the auspices of the New York State Department of Public Works (NYSDPW), the proposed bridge featured a main cantilever span of 800 feet, side cantilever spans of 470 feet, and an eastern approach comprised of ten 330-foot-long truss spans. From end to end, the Catskill-Hudson Bridge, named after the Washington Irving character Rip Van Winkle, measures 5,040 feet long.
Controversy surrounding condemnation proceedings on the western approach delayed construction. The Catskill approach was to be built on land owned by Thomas Cole, an artist of the Hudson River School. The state was prepared to pay up to $15,000 for the land, or condemn it if necessary. However, Thomas Cole's heirs believed the historic value of the land should bring a price of at least $100,000. To expedite construction, the state decided instead to locate the approach to north of the Cole property.
Construction of the Rip Van Winkle Bridge in April 1933. To haul materials to the construction site, roads were constructed on the western shore, a temporary narrow-gauge railroad was built on the eastern shore. In addition, cranes were used to hoist steel and other materials from barges in the Hudson River. Two cranes moved back and forth, putting steel girders in place, followed by men who would bolt and rivet them into place.
By September 1934, all 13 steel piers were erected, as were seven of the individual truss spans. Two months later, following a strike that delayed construction, work resumed on the three remaining individual truss sections. The last link was installed on January 18, 1935, when the two arms of the main cantilever span were jointed by the use of sixteen 300-ton hydraulic jacks.
During the spring of 1935, workers installed the two-lane roadway, and completed the Dutch-colonial-style toll plaza and administration building. The Rip Van Winkle Bridge opened to traffic on July 2, 1935, at a cost of $2.4 million and three lives. When the bridge opened, a toll of 80 cents per passenger car, plus 10 cents for each passenger (up to a maximum total of $1.00) was charged.
DEVELOPMENTS ON THE BRIDGE: To accommodate more than one lane of traffic at a time and toll in only one direction, the tollbooths at the Rip were rebuilt in the late 1960's. The new plaza, which was constructed in the same style as the original plaza, also allows larger vehicles to pass through.
During the 1990's, construction crews replaced the deck of the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. In addition, a new maintenance facility was built behind the administration building with the same Dutch-colonial architecture as the main building.
According to the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), about 15,000 vehicles cross the Rip Van Winkle Bridge each day (AADT). The bridge, which carries NY 23, connects to the west with US 9W and NY 385 in Catskill, and to the east with NY 9G in Hudson. While bicyclists are permitted on the bridge, they must share the two-lane roadway with motor vehicles. Along the outboard of the superstructure, the bridge has narrow sidewalks reserved exclusively for pedestrian use.
Two views of the Rip Van Winkle Bridge in 1935. LEFT: Aerial view of the completed span. RIGHT: The original Rip Van Winkle Bridge toll plaza in Catskill. (Photos by New York State Bridge Authority.)
Type of bridge: Construction started: Opened to traffic: Length of main cantilever span: Length of side cantilever spans: Total length of cantilever and truss spans: Width of roadway: Clearance at center above mean high water: Structural material: Deck material (bridge and viaducts): Pier material (viaducts): Cost of original bridge:
Cantilever and truss April 1, 1933 July 2, 1935 800 feet 470 feet 5,040 feet 30 feet 145 feet Steel Steel Steel $2,400,000
SOURCES: "Bridges Spanning the Hudson" by Krisy Nigro, Marist College (1999); IPA Systems, Inc.; Modjeski and Masters; New York State Bridge Authority.
NY 23 shield by Ralph Herman. Lightposts by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.