Crossing That Bridge When You Come to It!

By Don Rittner


It's pretty amazing how we take travel ling for granted. Our modern fuel injected autos whiz us to and fro seemingly at the speed of light. High tech suspensions barely register a bump in the road. Climate control lets us stay cool in summer and warm in winter. Getting to Albany from Troy is ten minutes, and to Schenectady, fifteen minutes at most. Boston is a 2 1/2-hour trip and you can reach the "City" in three. We base our destination times on minutes instead of days. Ah, nothing like the comforts of 20th century America.

Travelling across imposing geographical restraints like rivers, or through forests, wasn't so convenient if you lived in Troy two centuries ago. It took hours or days to get somewhere and you still had to pay for the trip. Luxury wasn't part of the deal either.

If you wanted to cross the river, you took the ferry, powered by men, horses, and later (1826) steam. Traveling over land was a series of pay-by-the -mile toll roads that were often full of ruts, and if you weren't taking your own horse or buggy the stagecoach was not the ride of a Lincoln.

It wasn't until 1835 that a railroad carried passengers to Troy, and 1861 when horse drawn and later electric trolleys made travelling more pleasant.

For the very early settlers of our region, a ferryboat, owned by the Vanderheyden family, plied between Ferry Street and Stony Point (Watervliet), as early as 1707. Troy was known in those days as Van der Heyden's Ferry, or Ferry Hook in 1786. When Captain Stephen Ashley leased the ferry operation, it became known as Ashely's Ferry. For a few pennies you could take across wagon and horses, boarding when you heard the blowing of a conch shell a few minutes before leaving.

Reference to the Ferry ceased when the newly created village was named Vanderheyden, and later Troy in 1789. However, by the late 19th century, there were four ferries crossing the River at Troy. A Supreme Court decision took away the exclusive ferry rights of the Vandeheyden heirs in 1854.

In 1798 Mahlon Taylor created a ferry service in the south part of Troy at Washington Street. They were large flat bottom boats propelled by iron pointed poles. Historian Arthur Weise says that later they were attached t o ropes stretched across the river. Taylor's ferry took off at the landing near the Clinton Stove Works and landed at a point where the Arsenal is now.

A ferry was established at the foot of Broadway, landing on the south end of Green Island. On Oct 13, 1854 one of them sunk and eleven passengers drowned. Apparantly, the passengers stood to prevent the swells from the steamboat Alice from getting in the boat and capsized the boat.

The fourth Ferry was at the foot of Douw Street landing at the foot of Tibbits Street in Green Island. In 1911, one went over the dam killing three people.

While these early ferries did their job, enterprising Trojans began the construction of two major overland turnpikes - the Northern Turnpike to Vermont and the Troy-Schenectady Turnpike to Schenectady,

The 50-mile Northern Turnpike started in 1799 at the corner of 124th St and 4th Ave in the Burgh, and ended at the line in Rupert, Vermont. The 16-mile Troy-Schenectady Turnpike (now Route 7, Troy-Schenectady Road) was built in 1802 and was designed to funnel trade from the Mohawk Valley to Troy instead of Albany. Both of these were toll roads.

Later roads were laid with planks to make it easier for travelers. One of the earliest was the Troy and Berlin Turnpike in 1840. Part of Fifth Avenue in the Burgh was a plank road. These plank and toll roads were welcome by Stagecoach lines.

A stage began at the Phoenix Hotel in the Burg in 1786 and went to Troy and later Albany. A stage between Troy and Schenectady made its first trip on May 5, 1823. A trip from Troy to Albany took two hours. In 1846 a stage to Montreal took four days. Ouch!

If you didn't like the ferries or coaches, you could take a walk or ride over a bridge. The first bridge to span the Hudson actually was built in Lansingburgh. The Union Bridge constructed between Waterford and the Burg was built in 1804. This covered bridge was 800 feet long and 30 feet wide. Horses and wagons (later trolleys) drove through the center and pedestrian walkways flanked each side. You paid to cross. The bridge burned in 1909 and an iron bridge replaced it.

The Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad Company tried to lease the bridge but Burgh residents declined, so the company built a wooden covered bridge on 8 stone piers and spanned 1600 feet from Chatham Square to Green Island (now the Green Island Bridge). This bridge was the first between New York City and Waterford. The first passenger cars ran over it on Oct 6, 1835. It also had a carriage road and footway where you paid a toll. This bridge burned in 1862 taking most of Troy's business district with it. A new iron bridge was built in 1876 and 84 - it too charged tolls. The eastern end fell into the river in 1977 (I drove over it an hour before it fell).

The Congress Street Bridge was built in 1872 and crossed from the foot of Congress and River to Watervliet. It was built by the Troy and West Troy Bridge Company and was paid for by tolls. It was replaced in 1915-17 by an electronically controlled drawbridge, which had to be blown up, when it was replaced in 1971 by the ridiculous bridge that goes under Ferry Street.

In 1920, tolls were abolished.

In 1880, Cohoes was connected to the Burg by a toll bridge, but was replaced by an iron bridge with wood floors. In burned in 1920 and was replaced by a concrete bridge in 1923. Before the new bridge was erected, a walk way was constructed over the river and some old timers tell me it swayed in the wind as you tried to walk over it. Indiana Jones would have been proud.

The last "old" bridge constructed was the Troy-Menands Bridge in 1933 and still serves though it looks like it's two centuries old.

So the next time you're driving to work, consider how lucky you are that enterprising Trojans created the connections that allow you to transverse over the mighty Hudson River or the rolling hills on land unimpeded.

Got history? Contact don at or 251 River Street.

©1999 Don Rittner