After a fire severely damaged the tracks in 1974, though, nearby communities debated whether to tear down the railroad relic. The bridge sat idle for nearly 20 years before local advocate Bill Sepe began promoting the idea of restoring the landmark as a pedestrian walkway.
Built in 1888, the 1.25-mile Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge launched out across the Hudson River in New York. Considered a technological wonder, the mammoth structure towered 212 feet above the water and became the longest railroad bridge in the world. It connected downtown Poughkeepsie on the east bank and Lloyd on the west, providing an important link for trains carrying Pennsylvania coal to factories in New England. At its peak, the route serviced 3,500 train cars a day.
On October 3, huge crowds swelled the bridge to celebrate its grand opening. “It was awesome,” says Erik Kulleseid, deputy commissioner for open space protection with New York State Parks. “We had 40 to 50,000 people there. We thought we were going out on a limb projecting the bridge would get 267,000 annual visitors, and we had 300,000 in the first month and a half! It’s been extraordinary.”