Then & Now

West Point cadets and the sex-and-drug ’60s; IBM, Luckey Platt, and ice harvesters; airports, bridges, and those famous ferries. Join us for a look back at the last 100 years of Valley history


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building the Poughkeepsie BridgeReprinted with permission from Hudson River Bridges by Kathryn W. Burke

Bridge to the Future

Then: By the late 19th century, with American industrialization in full swing, the need to transport materials across the Hudson was greater than ever. Freightliners hauling Pennsylvania coal and Midwest grain had to trek all the way to Albany to reach New England — almost 100 miles out of the way. The Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge, dubbed “The Great Connector,” not only provided a more efficient route, but was (at the time) an engineering marvel: Upon completion in 1888, the one-and-a-quarter-mile steel cantilever span was considered the longest in the world.

In May 1974, after 85 years of service, a fire started on the bridge’s eastern (Poughkeepsie) viaduct, which was most likely caused by sparks from an earlier train. With a chunk of rail warped and the deck destroyed, rail traffic on the bridge ceased.

Firefighters try to douse the Poughkeepsie Bridge the day it catches fire in 1974


an illustration of the walkway, to be constructed by October 2009Walkway illustration courtesy of Bergmann Associates

Now: In 1998, after nearly a quarter century of abandonment and changing ownership, the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge was officially acquired by the nonprofit organization Walkway Over the Hudson. With support from the Dyson Foundation, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, local officials, and the community, Walkway has made tremendous progress in converting the structure into a linear public park — and the longest working pedestrian and bicycle pathway in the world. The construction, which began last March, is slated to be completed by fall 2009 — just in time for the state’s Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial celebration.


If you like what you see here, check out, the Web site of Arcadia Publishing. The leading publisher of history books in the U.S., the company generously supplied many of the vintage photographs for this article. Their list includes a large number of titles that profile Valley cities, towns, and other popular locations.

Next: Bard College


Click on any image below to view more historic photos from 'round the Valley


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