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Poughkeepsie Journal—Sunday, July 2, 1972
'The Lady' Has Aged

A memorial to forgotten dreams; the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge stands, stark against the sky 86 years after the first engine crossed its trusses.

Called by its boosters in the late 19th century Poughkeepsie's "great hope," it is still used by the railroad daily but has never lived up to its promise of bringing Poughkeepsie's population to the 50,000 mark.

So now it stands, its black form looking more and more like a forgotten plaything.

It was once the darling of the town, once its greatest pride.

Now, when one hears a city resident speak of the bridge it is in terms of "how long can it last?"

The architect of the George Washington Bridge is reputed to have said, "With minimal care, by that I mean painting, that bridge should last forever."

The Railroad Bridge will probably not last forever, but its long history does suggest that there is "life in the old girl yet."

When completed in 1889, the bridge had taken over 20 years to construct.

Its building was not an easy process.

But Poughkeepsie knew that if it were to tap the great rail networks that were snaking their way across the landscape it would have to provide not only north-south rail service but east-west as well.

The idea of the bridge received its first impetus in the editorial column of one of the Journal's predecessors, and soon the business community had sponsored a company to build the great span.

The design chosen for the bridge was what is called an unequal length cantilever.

This means that the trusses of the bridge, the supports branching off the piers, are of unequal length, in this case ranging from 525 to 548 feet in length.

This was supposed to allow for greater stresses at different points of the bridge.

Being a cantilever bridge and using trusses and girders, the weight of the bridge and its passing load is transferred through the structure to the supporting piers.

Because of its design, the bridge is not rigid but is basically a counter-stressed hinged structure.

Thus when one stands under the bridge, one can feel the passing of a train. The structure flexes under the load much like a living creature.

However, in 1912 when the rail-roads began using what were called the "Santa Fe" type engines, heavier than previous models, the bridge had to be strengthened and made more rigid.

It was then that the middle girder in the bridge was added.

Originally, the two side girders that stretch the length of the bridge carried the principal load.


Now the third, middle, girder shares it with them, making the bridge much more solid.

Despite the third girder, the hoped for traffic between the coal fields of the west and the markets of the east never materialized. In fact, the bridge never fulfilled its promise and was sold, along with its rather small railroad, to the New Haven Railroad in the early part of this century.

The Penn Central then received the bridge as part of its merger, when it was forced to acquire the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad.

Now the bridge's girders support but a fraction of the traffic they were meant to bear and its black countenence speaks almost of mourning for its neglected status.

The Journal was inside those girders recently to take a closer look at its condition and found that the Penn

Central has, in spite of financial difficulties, made substantial efforts to maintain the bridge.

The. tour was conducted by E J Brady, New Haven Division bridge And building supervisor, and Stanley Dutten, general bridge and building foreman for the Railroad Bridge.

Starting at the Highland side of the bridge and walking over the entire span to Poughkeepsie, we had a first hand chance to see what condition the bridge is in.

On the Highland side to about the middle of the bridge there is evidence of a fairly recent paint job.

This painting covers up much of the aluminum paint that went on in the mid-50s. It turned out that the aluminum paint would not adhere to the old steel and simply washed off.

The new paint was applied four years ago, but the job was stopped for lack of funds.

Some painting has started from the Poughkeepsie end of the bridge, but the largest section of the bridge has not seen new paint in many years.

In spite of this, the bridge looks tremendously strong from its interior.

We I climbed down the entire length of one of the piers, over 230 feet, to inspect the lower beams.

The ladders that stretch from the heights of the bridge to its piers were installed to ease the task of inspectors who look over the condition of the bridge several times a year.

Straight down massive rusty girders, descending into the bowels of the bridge, one cannot help but think that this, much steel cannot give way.

The bridge may show its years but the grand old lady of the Hudson can still carry her load from all we could see.

Still, traffic over the Hudson is not what it used to be, and the day can be envisioned when the bankrupt railroad is going to decide that the traffic over the bridge doesn't pay for its maintenance and the old lady will be shorn, stripped, and removed from our sight.

The bridge … it was meant to give this city life, but the perils of national commerce have removed that hope.



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