‘I have a bridge to sell you’: The rest of the story

Courtesy of the Greene County HIstorical Society’s Vedder Research LibraryImage from the cover of the souvenir booklet prepared for the opening of the Rip Van Winkle Bridge in 1935.

Last week I wrote about Coxsackie’s efforts to site a Hudson River bridge in the town as opposed to where the Rip Van Winkle Bridge ended up in Catskill. In 1926 Coxsackie town fathers formed a committee led by the American Legion Post 166 to petition legislators and New York state officials. The Coxsackians were convinced they had the best natural site and were not being given serious consideration by the state.

The Coxsackie group did get their hearing. On Feb. 26, 1926, the Catskill paper The Examiner reported “Bridge Must Be South of Hudson,” with the subheading “Coxsackie Delegation Given Cordial Reception, But Claims Advanced Fail to Alter the Situation.”

The paper reported the Coxsackie delegation was led George S. Marsh, president of the Board of Trade. Assemblyman Bentley, representing Greene County and sponsor of one of the bills to place the bridge in Catskill, also joined them. The group made its case to the New York State Superintendent of Public Works Colonel Frederick S. Greene.

It was further reported that Col. Greene listened attentively to Coxsackie’s claims, but in the end told them that for economic reasons and for the greatest service to traffic, the location of the new bridge should be between Catskill and Hudson, as proposed. It was further stated that there were three bills in the legislature calling for a survey of the Catskill site; one by Assemblyman Bentley from Greene County, one by state Sen. Webb of Dutchess County, and one by Assemblyman James of Columbia County. In Col. Greene’s opinion, the latter two legislators felt so strongly about the Catskill location that they would oppose another location.

Of course, you know the rest of the story. The Rip Van Winkle Bridge opened on July 2, 1935, with much fanfare, but it was not all smooth sailing. Windham Assemblyman Bentley proposed legislation in 1930 to build the bridge. Gov. Franklin Roosevelt vetoed the bill because he felt the state could not afford it (the Great Depression was deepening). At the same time the governor suggested the creation of a separate state entity to issue bonds to finance the new bridge and repay them with toll revenue.

In 1932, the newly created New York State Bridge Authority passed a resolution to apply for a loan from the Federal Reconstruction Finance Corporation in order to build what would become known as the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. The Frederick Snare Construction Corporation of New York City won the bid for construction and the New York State Department of Public Works supervised the construction, which began in 1934.

The grand opening was a magnificent affair and even Gov. Herbert H. Lehman was on hand. Approximately 3,000 cars crossed during the initial “free hours” and at 6 p.m. the first toll was collected. At that time tolls were collected on both ends of the bridge.

According to the New York State Bridge Authority over 400 people applied for the eight toll collector positions. Recall this was also in the midst of the Great Depression.

As we circle back to the Coxsackie proposal, I think we must agree when considering all factors, the bridge was built in the most logical place. Catskill was, and still is, the most populous town in Greene County and roads leading west from the bridge provide the best direct access to all the towns on the mountaintop.

To reach columnist David Dorpfeld, email gchistorian@gmail.com or visit him on Facebook at “Greene County Historian.”

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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