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  • esopushistorymuseu

By: Heather Adams

Photo Credit: David W. Longendyke

Location: Kingston, NY

Time Period: 1921 - 2021

The crowd waited with anticipation while American flags blew from the approach of the new Kingston-Port Ewen Bridge. Moments later, a member of each Rondout Creek community shook hands signifying the first bridged connection on Wurts Street. The turnout for the dedication ceremony was a huge success with Kingston’s Mayor, Palmer Canfield Jr., and New York Governor, Nathan L. Miller present. Current and former Highway Commissioners attended—Herbert Sisson and Colonel Frederick Greene, respectively—along with a crowd of ten thousand excited people(1). Though it would still be several months before the bridge would officially allow motorists to cross it, the enthusiastic energy at the dedication ceremony was a positive premonition for the future of transportation.

For nearly fifty years, travelers begged for an alternative route to pass over the Rondout Creek. Prior to the now century-old suspension bridge, the only way to cross directly between Kingston and Port Ewen was by taking a chain ferry. Infamously known to users as “Skillypot” (from the Dutch word “schildpad” for a variety of terrapin), the chain ferry was slow, unreliable and, more importantly, outdated(2). With the rise in popularity of automobiles, it was common for motorists to wait several hours to cross the creek. Finally in 1916, the people’s voices were heard; the New York State Highway Commission approved the building of a suspension bridge. Unfortunately, because of political and financial difficulties as well as material shortages caused by World War I, construction did not begin until 1920 and lasted for about a year(3).

The opening of the Kingston-Port Ewen Bridge was a significant feat in New York history. This bridge symbolized the inevitable change the United States would have to make for the increased popularity of automobiles. Following the west bank of the Hudson River, the bridge was also essentially the final connection in the state’s first direct highway system between New York City and Albany(4). Gone were the days of unproductive waiting around for the chain ferry to take passengers across the Rondout Creek. Now travelers crossed the 1,145ft from Port Ewen to Kingston faster than ever and for the first time, at their own convenience(5). If the ten-thousand-person turnout for the dedication ceremony did not speak enough volume for the excitement surrounding this suspension bridge, then perhaps its century-long legacy has.


November 2021 will mark the centennial anniversary since the formal dedication of the Kingston-Port Ewen Bridge. The opening ceremony dedication was a huge celebration which included dinner in the State Armory at Kingston followed by a parade and fireworks(6). Sadly, there will not be a celebration this time around. In September of 2020, the Department of Transportation condemned the bridge due to its poorly maintained structure. However, there is still good news for those appreciative of this local history. In October of 2021 began an approximately $44.6 million rehabilitation project. At the projected completion in 2023, the Kingston-Port Ewen Bridge is expected to welcome pedestrians and cyclists to and from both Rondout Creek communities once again(7).

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1. “Rondout Bridge Dedicated; Kingston and Esopus Celebrate Fruition of Fifty Years Effort,” New York Times, November 30, 1921.
2. “The Rondout Bridge,” New York Times, December 3, 1921.
3. “Kingston-Port Ewen Suspension Bridge,” National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/kingston/k22.htm.
4. “The Rondout Bridge,” New York Times, December 3, 1921.
5. “Rondout Bridge Dedicated; Kingston and Esopus Celebrate Fruition of Fifty Years Effort,” New York Times, November 30, 1921.
6. “Rondout Bridge to Open; Nov. 29 Will See It Supersede the Old Chain Ferry,” New York Times, November 15, 1921.
7. Cloey Callahan, “Upgraded Wurts Street Bridge to reconnect Esopus and Kingston,” Times Union, October 18, 2021, https://www.timesunion.com/hudsonvalley/news/article/Upgraded-Wurts-Street-Bridge-Kingston-16542959.php.




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  • esopushistorymuseu

By: Heather Adams

Photo Credit: David W Longendyke

Location: Kingston, NY

Time Period: Oct. 1921

News reporters flocked to Kingston, New York in the fall of 1921 to see Catherine Nelson; a woman with overalls on, and blow torch in hand, who awed everyone around her. Nelson was employed to work as a welder for the construction of the Kingston-Port Ewen Suspension Bridge.

While at work, it was reported that observers wouldn’t be able to tell her apart from any of the men she worked alongside, especially when they hang 300ft in the air. Nelson’s years of experience and undeniable work ethic defied the typical feminine role; however, it appears the tenacious woman did not sacrifice her femininity for her work, as she could be seen embroidering during her break time or caring for her children when she went home. As a widowed young mother, Nelson took up welding to better support herself and her children(1). Nelson was a rarity for the time and, unknowingly, a trailblazer for future generations.


During the First World War, women working mechanical and technical jobs—including welding—was a novelty. However, the dozens of newspaper articles about Catherine Nelson proves it did occur (it became a practice more common in the Second World War)(2). Women were able to learn these mechanical and technical trades while working in shipyards. Typically, these working women were poor or young, single women and worked in the textile industry or factories.

During the time of the Kingston-Port Ewen Bridge’s construction there were many widowed women because of World War I. Though Catherine Nelson was widowed prior to the First World War, she was an example of the new generation of women who did not sit idly in their prescribed gender role(3).

Catherine Nelson’s work as an electric welder is another significant case that deepens the history of women defying gender norms. Today American women and girls are allowed to pursue opportunities that were once exclusive to men because of these historic women. From welding careers to being star high school quarterbacks, the limits on what females are allowed to do are becoming less and less. Nelson represents women both of past and present generations, who personify what it means to be a “strong, independent woman” by overcoming obstacles. By turning Nelson from just the whispers of local lore and into a solid identity, we begin to validate the long legacy of strong women in the Hudson Valley.

 
1. “Stelton Woman, Who Works with Men on Bridge Span, and Under Vessels Has One Great Ambition, Yet to be Satisfied and That is to Hike Across Continent,” The Central New Jersey Home News, October 27, 1929.
2. Sarah Wassberg Johnson, “Woman Welder on the Rondout,” Hudson River Maritime Museum (Blog), March 31, 2021, https://www.hrmm.org/history-blog/woman-welder-on-the-rondout.

3. Alice Kessler-Harris, “Where are the Organized Women Workers,” in A Heritage of her Own: Toward a New Social History of American Women, ed. Nancy F. Cott and Elizabeth H. Pleck, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979), 343-366.








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