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Flashback: Walkway Over the Hudson’s Debut in the Valley

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Photos courtesy of Dutchess County Tourism

Arguably one of the Hudson Valley’s most beloved bridge spans, the Walkway Over the Hudson is a must-visit in Dutchess County.

The Hudson Valley would not be what it is today without the bridges that cross its river. The first such span was built by businessmen from Philadelphia, who wanted to move their anthracite (black coal) around New York City to New England. The bridge, crossing the Hudson from Poughkeepsie to Highland, opened to trains on New Year’s Day in 1889. At 6,767 feet long, it was—at least for a while—the longest bridge on the planet. “Among the great bridges of the world the one just erected at Poughkeepsie, and now thrown open for use, is not surpassed by any other completed bridge in magnitude, boldness of design or beauty of shape and situation,” the Poughkeepsie Eagle wrote. “The great bridge over the Firth of Forth, Scotland, will, when finished, be larger, but with this exception the Poughkeepsie Bridge is without an equal in the world.”

poughkeepsie bridge

During World War II, the bridge was an important conduit of men and material from the West to New England, carrying as many as 3,500 train cars a day. It continued both commercial and passenger service until May 8, 1974, when it burst into flames, spilling charred chunks of wood and metal onto Route 9 below it. Two years later, the bridge was sold to Conrail for $1 (yes, you read that right), and by the end of the century, it was slated to be torn down.

But in the early 1990s, a nonprofit known as Walkway Over the Hudson promoted an idea: turn the bridge into a pedestrian walkway linking other rail trails. It took plenty of political wrangling, and a lot of money, but that idea became reality on October 3, 2009, when Walkway opened to foot, bike, skate, and paw traffic as the world’s largest elevated pedestrian bridge.

walkway over the hudson

It’s also arguably the most successful, with nearly 650,000 visitors each year. The bridge has inspired similar walkways around the country, including the newly opened Skyway in Albany, the High Line in Manhattan, and Philadelphia’s Rail Park. But, soaring over 200 feet above the magnificent Hudson River with stunning mountain views, the Walkway, in our opinion, is the most beautiful.

Over the weekend of October 1–2, the Walkway will host the annual Walktoberfest Farmers and Makers Market, featuring over 120 farms, distilleries, breweries, wineries, restaurants, artisans, and more spread along the Hudson Valley Rail Trail and the Walkway’s Ulster Welcome Center Plaza. The event runs from 12–5 p.m. both days, and all proceeds benefit the Friends of the Walkway and Hudson Valley Rail Trail. General admission is free and gives you access to dozens of vendors. For $25, you can purchase tickets to sample wine, beer, and cider from local purveyors.

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