By Liz Morrish
Several of the bridges hail from the 1930s Great Depression era. That was the period of infrastructure construction financed by President Roosevelt’s Work Projects Administration, when America’s solution to unemployment and economic depression was to build bridges, not walls. We hope that this international swim will transmit the same ethos of connection and cooperation, as our swimmers embrace the tides and currents of the mighty Hudson River.
Rip Van Winkle 1935
The race starts under the great stanchions of Rip Van Winkle bridge built as part of the 1930s Great Depression reconstruction. It connects Catskill on the west side to Hudson on the east. The bridge has a cantilever design and stretches 5040 feet shore to shore.
This bridge replaced a ferry crossing that was unreliable in winter. Imaginatively named after its east and west shore departure points, it was originally intended to be a suspension bridge, but political concerns ensured that the bridge had to move to a location that was unsuitable for this design. Instead, a continuous under-deck truss construction was used. It has a total length of 7,793 ft (2375 m).
This was the second of the three Hudson River suspension bridges to be built. It is a parallel wire cable suspension bridge, 5000 feet in length (1524 meters) and construction took place from 1925-1930. It was expensive to cross – the original toll was 80¢ per car, with each passenger costing another 10¢.
This is another bridge that replaced a ferry crossing. Ferries had become unpopular as they were often unreliable in winter, although George Pataki resurrected the ferry service in 2005. The bridge has a pier caisson construction (deeply excavated reinforced concrete) with a steel superstructure and it now carries Interstate 84.
Bear Mountain 1924
This was the first of the three Hudson River suspension bridges and it was the world’s longest. It was built in 1923-1924 to allow access to the Bear Mountain State Park for residents on the west bank of the river.
Tappan Zee 1955
This bridge spans the widest point of the Hudson at 3 miles long, and was built to connect separated stretches of the New York State Thruway. It was named after the Tappan tribe of Native Americans who were the original inhabitants of the area. The bridge has concrete pier and roadbed construction and a central cantilevered section.
George Washington 1931
Constructed from 1927-1931, it is extraordinary to think this was the last of the three suspension bridges on the Hudson, joining, as it does, New Jersey and New York City. It is anchored in thousands of tons of concrete on the Fort Washington side, and in the rock of the Palisades on the New Jersey side. Look out for the Little Red Lighthouse made famous in the children’s book The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, by Hildegarde Swift.
Verrazano Narrows 1964
This bridge is seen as the gateway to New York Harbor. It is a double-deck suspension bridge and was one of the last public works of New York City and it opened in 1964. A lower level was opened in 1969. It has a total length of 13,700 feet (4,176 m), and connects Staten Island and Brooklyn boroughs of New York City across the tidal strait known as The Narrows. This is the point at which the Hudson meets the Atlantic, and is the end point of our swimmers’ journey.
Anyone who wants to know more detail about the bridges and their construction should go to this excellent source: 7, published by Arcadia in 2007. She writes, “Politics and economics of each particular time determined everything about the bridges”. Indeed. From the materials used to build them – timber, steel or concrete, their design, to their purpose (railroads and cars replacing ferries, connecting growing towns or developing tourism), the economy of this part of New York State was key to the commissioning of more and more bridges across the Hudson.