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Waterford bridge to get landmark designation

Wednesday, September 4, 2013
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The Union Bridge has linked Waterford and Lansingburgh for the last 200 years, first built when Thomas Jefferson was President. It will be designated as National Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks on Sunday, Sept. 8. The bridge is the first bridge over the Hudson River. Photo from Waterford side on Tuesday.
Photographer: Marc Schultz
The Union Bridge has linked Waterford and Lansingburgh for the last 200 years, first built when Thomas Jefferson was President. It will be designated as National Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks on Sunday, Sept. 8. The bridge is the first bridge over the Hudson River. Photo from Waterford side on Tuesday.

— The village’s impressive set of Erie Canal locks are already historic landmarks, but a local bridge will soon be recognized as another historic engineering accomplishment.

The bridges that have linked Waterford and Lansingburgh for the past 200 years — the first built when Thomas Jefferson was president — will be designated as National Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks during a ceremony Sunday.

“What’s unique is that there’s been a bridge there on the same piers that were installed in 1804,” said Frank Griggs, a civil engineer and historian from Rexford.

A ceremony will take place at noon Sunday at the Waterford end of the bridge, as part of the weekend’s Waterford Tugboat Roundup festivities. Local officials are expected to attend.

The landmark designation from the American Society of Civil Engineers will commemorate the first wooden bridge built across the Hudson River in 1804, known as the Union Bridge — and also the steel structure that replaced it in 1909. The latter is still carrying traffic today as part of Route 4.

The 1804 bridge was the first to be built across the Hudson north of the New York harbor, according to Griggs. Before that, traffic between the Waterford and North Troy communities was carried by ferries.

The location is just upstream from where the Hudson merges with the Mohawk River. There was already a ford and ferry crossing there when the decision was made to construct a bridge.

“At the time of its construction, both towns were sparsely populated and its construction was the largest building project of its time,” Griggs, a retired Union College engineering professor, wrote in a history of the bridge.

The Union Bridge incorporated more scientific design principles than most bridges of the time, Griggs said in an interview. “They superimposed an arch on the truss, which made it stronger,” he said.

Theodore Burr, the bridge’s principal architect, was an upstate New Yorker who also designed bridges over the Mohawk, Susquehanna, Delaware and Potomac rivers. Griggs said he lived in Schenectady’s Stockade neighborhood while building a wooden bridge across the Mohawk that lasted most of the 19th century.

The Union Bridge was covered with a wooden roof in 1814 and remained in service until July 1909, when a fire dropped three of its spans into the water. Six firefighters fell into the river when the spans collapsed, according to a contemporary account in The New York Times, though the paper said they weren’t injured.

The masonry piers were enlarged after that, and a four-span steel truss bridge was built to replace the Union Bridge. It opened in December 1909. Now commonly known as the Troy-Waterford bridge, it links Waterford at the southern tip of Saratoga County to its Rensselaer County neighbor.

The Union bridges are the second National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in Waterford, which throughout its history has thrived because of its location at the confluence of the two mighty rivers.

The other landmark is the series of five Waterford Flight Locks at the start of the Erie Canal — they have the largest lift over a 1.5-mile distance of any canal locks in the world. They were given the landmark designation in 2012.

 
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