Monsey Memories: The Bear Mountain Bridge to Mark Centennial

Monsey Memories: The Bear Mountain Bridge to Mark Centennial

Yitzy Fried

One hundred years ago, The Bear Mountain Bridge, ceremonially named the Purple Heart Veterans Memorial Bridge, was being constructed. At some point during that year, construction crews posed for an iconic image atop the bridge’s towers. One century later, repair crews gathered once again to reenact that same pose over the suspension bridge.

Thus, this is a good time to take a look at the history of this legendary bridge, which carries US 6 and US 202 across the Hudson River between Bear Mountain State Park in Orange County and Cortlandt in Westchester County.

As noted, Construction on the 2,257-foot-long bridge began in March 1923—since the popularity of nearby Bear Mountain State Park, which opened in the 1910s, led to the need for a span across the river to replace the ferryboats that could no longer accommodate the crowds and their automobiles.

At the time of its opening in 1924, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world! But the Bear Mountain Bridge did not hold this record for long: nineteen months later, the record was beaten by the Benjamin Franklin Bridge between Philadelphia and Camden.

When the bridge formally opened on November 27, 1924, it was the longest suspension bridge span in the world and the first of its type to have a concrete deck. It was the first automobile bridge to cross the Hudson south of Albany and surpassed the 1888 Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge as the southernmost crossing of the river.

Construction methods pioneered on the Bear Mountain Bridge influenced much larger projects to follow, including the George Washington (1931) and Golden Gate (1937) bridges.

The New York State Bridge Authority purchased the Bear Mountain Bridge from the Bear Mountain Hudson River Bridge Company on September 26, 1940, for $2,275,000. One of NYSBA’s first achievements was to lower the basic passenger car rate from $.80 to $.50 each way. On January 1, 1942, the toll was lowered further to $.35 and then to $.25 each way on July 15, 1945.

Since the Bridge Authority assumed stewardship of the Bear Mountain Bridge, annual traffic has grown from just under 483,000 vehicle crossings at the end of WWII to more than 7.8 million in 2019, its 95th anniversary year.

In 2018, the bridge was ceremonially renamed the "Purple Heart Veterans Memorial Bridge" in tribute to veterans who have earned this distinguished medal. 

Photo Credit: NYS Parks

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