South Troy's Hudson River Bridge
by Mike Esposito
Early in the history of Troy, the prospect of bridging the Hudson River occupied the attention of residents and business people of the village. In 1804, George Tibbits and other civic leaders wanted a bridge at the foot of Ferry Street. A bill passed the State Legislature on April 9, 1804 to grant a corporation, the Troy Bridge Company, the authority to plan, finance, and build a bridge, but the project was not executed. Surrounding the discussion, planning and eventual construction of any of Troy's Hudson River bridges during the nineteenth and early twentieth century was the rivalry between Albany and Troy, each city haggling over which was the more desirable location for a bridge.
The rivalry extended through the 1930's with planning for the Troy-Menands Bridge. Discussion for a bridge in the South End of Troy was begun in early 1928. Cornelius Burns, Mayor of Troy, stated that a new bridge was necessary since 18,000 to 20,000 vehicles crossed the Congress Street Bridge daily and contributed to major traffic jams in the business district. At first Albany supported the new bridge as long as it did not interfere with plans for an Albany-Rensselaer bridge being planned at the same time. However, later in the process Albany County political leaders led an 11th hour opposition to paying what they believed was an excessive amount of their share of the cost. Competition for state funds for the two bridges was never an issue since Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt favored the construction of both. The controversy resulted in an impasse that held up construction. The governor appointed a Commission to study the dispute even as powerful Albany Congressmen Parker Corning urged Albany County supervisors not to delay their support of the Troy bridge. Additional support was rallied by the several area Chambers of Commerce and by Mayor Burns. Eventually both bridges, which were built from the same plans, opened within a short time of each other.
The entire staff of engineers in charge of planning and constructing the Troy-Menands bridge were graduates of RPI; Major Thomas F. Farrell (Class of '12), chief engineer of bridges and grade crossings; Harvey O. Schermerhorn (`03), assistant chief engineer, Samuel J. Whitehead (`19), engineer in charge of construction; Shortridge Hardesty (`08), designer, and Oscar Hasbrouck (`05), supervising bridge engineer. James A. Crosby of Troy, chief bridge electrician for this area, supervised the installation of the complicated set-up of electrical arrangements which, according to an article in the Troy Times, made the span the last word in lift-bridge construction. Contractor for the bridge proper was The Phoenix Bridge Company of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. The Spencer-McDonald Company of NYC built the sub-structure. Fitzgerald Bros. Construction Company of Troy built the two approaches.
The length of the bridge was built at 6,600', its width, 60' its center span, 2,800 tons of steel, rose to a height of 135' above the river. A bridge guard maneuvered the controls of the bridge from a small room built into the steel girders above the roadway. The first operators of the bridge were James Ryan, John Leonard, and William Winne; Troy natives Harold Paris and James "Bud" McGrath were among the last operators. The lift span was discontinued in the mid-1960's. An article in the Troy Record (October 10, 1933) reported that "contrary to general opinion, the state contract for the bridge was not awarded at a set price, but at a definite rate for each pound of steel of any particular grade, for each cubic yard of excavation or each yard of concrete poured. Because of that method of operation it is necessary to compute exactly the quantity of materials used in construction of the new bridge." Total cost of the bridge was $2.9 million.
News coverage for the opening of the bridge was extensive. Governor Herbert H. Lehman led an impressive list of dignitaries as 10,000 area residents attended the dedication on July 17, 1933. Eleven year old Florence Conroy of Stowe Avenue, daughter of Troy Police Chief John B. Conroy, along with Miss Adele Menand, a member of a prominent Albany County family, had the honor of cutting the ribbon across the center of the bridge. Mayor Burn's dedication speech was reprinted in the Troy Record: "Everyone knows that for years Albany and Troy have been rivals. The intense civic pride of the people of each for their own city is well known. Unpleasant, antagonistic feelings will subside. This will be replaced by the beginning of a spirit of cooperation for our mutual gain. It is an indication of a closer relationship between all cities of this area,"
Since its construction sixty five years ago the bridge has undergone several major repairs. In 1945 the existing asphalt overlay was removed and replaced. The existing lights on the bridge were modernized in 1962. During the 1965-70 rehabilitation, the lifting mechanisms, the original operator's house and other equipment were removed, the asphalt wearing surface on the structural deck was removed and replaced with a wire reinforce concrete wearing surface, the existing bridge rail system was replaced and timber fender protection for the piers and navigation lights for the river span were added. The lifting towers were to be removed and the bridge repainted, however this was never finished, since the contractor abandoned the project when the company went bankrupt. New spans were added as part of the interchange needed to connect the bridge to the 1-787 construction in 1966-67. The piers received new stone fill in cells for impact protection in 1980. Several repairs were made to the towers in 1989-1990. The bridge, excluding the towers, was painted in 1990. The towers were to be removed at a later date, however the contract was never let due to unsuccessful bids. In 1995, several spans received new steel reinforced concrete decks to replace the deteriorated original deck and overlay, new sidewalks were constructed and a new bridge rail was installed.
When it was built many believed that the new bridge or its environs, such as the terraced roadway at the Troy end of the new span, should have been a memorial to Connie Burns, the popular Troy mayor who served for sixteen years, before and during World War I and later during the Depression Era. Area newspapers reported that a short-lived contest to select an appropriate name for the bridge was canceled less then a week later when the Rules Committee officially designated the name as the Troy-Menands Bridge, much to the dissatisfaction of veterans' groups who wanted to name the bridge after a local war hero. Through the efforts of Christine O'Connell, and her many volunteers over the years and the Troy Beautification Council bridge clean-up last year, the Troy side of the bridge is becoming an attractive entryway to the city. Look for a clean-up date in April.
Sources used in preparing this article were the history texts, City of Troy and it's Vicinity, by Arthur Weiss and History of Rensselaer County, NY by Nathanial Bartlett Sylvester, articles from 1930 to 1933 accounts in Troy newspapers available at the Troy Public Library and information available from Tim Conway, Bridge Maintenance Unit at the NYS Transportation Department.
In cooperation with Troy United Ink Corp., a not-for-profit corporation