Crossing the Hudson: Historic Bridges and Tunnels of the River

Crossing the Hudson: Historic Bridges and Tunnels of the River

Crossing the Hudson: Historic Bridges and Tunnels of the River

Crossing the Hudson: Historic Bridges and Tunnels of the River


Fog, tide, ice, and human error--before the American Revolution those who ventured to cross the vast Hudson Valley waterway did so on ferryboats powered by humans, animals, and even fierce winds. Before that war, not a single Hudson River bridge or tunnel had been built. It wasn't until Americans looked to the land in the fight for independence that the importance of crossing the river efficiently became a subject of serious interest, especially militarily. Later, the needs of a new transportation system became critical--when steam railroads first rolled along there was no practical way to get them across the water without bridges.

Crossing the Hudson continues this story soon after the end of the war, in 1805, when the first bridge was completed. Donald E. Wolf simultaneously tracks the founding of the towns and villages along the water's edge and the development of technologies such as steam and internal combustion that demanded new ways to cross the river. As a result, innovative engineering was created to provide for these resources.

From hybrid, timber arch, and truss bridges on stone piers to long-span suspension and cantilevered bridges, railroad tunnels, and improvements in iron and steel technology, the construction feats that cross the Hudson represent technical elegance and physical beauty. Crossing the Hudson reveals their often multileveled stories--a history of where, why, when, and how these structures were built; the social, political, and commercial forces that influenced decisions to erect them; the personalities of the planners and builders; the unique connection between a builder and his bridge; and the design and construction techniques that turned mythical goals into structures of utility and beauty.


Bridges and tunnels are in some ways like great monuments. They have the same high visibility and inherent permanence that demand exhaustive public scrutiny and deliberation before they can be built, and like them, they develop histories of their own that say a good deal about why they were built, how they were built, where they were built, and about who built them.

Crossing the Hudson explores the histories of the historic bridges and tunnels that were built during the first two centuries that followed the end of the American Revolution. Before that war, not a single bridge or tunnel crossed the river, partly because the technology was not readily available, but mainly because a dozen or so ferries were already doing a decent job of satisfying the public’s still modest need to get to the other side. the American Revolution made the importance of being able to cross a subject of serious interest. Although military reasons for ensuring reliable crossings declined after the end of the war, an array of social, political, industrial, and commercial factors emerged to take their place.

The issue of defending and expanding their ability to cross the Hudson first surfaced for Americans at the very beginning of the Revolution, when the British in New York decided to tighten their grip on the river as a way of preventing the rebellious colonists from transporting men and matériel across it. Their strategy was to split the colonies in two, separating them with a river the colonists would not be able to cross. the Americans reacted aggressively by filling much of the lower Hudson with sunken ship hulls and then chaining it off in several places to keep ships from entering. None of these strategies worked. the British just sailed around or destroyed . . .

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