Wednesday, December 18, 2013

"A Gateway to Better Things:" The Opening of the Original Great Western Gateway Bridge

Rendering of proposed Great Western Gateway Bridge. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Documents Collection.

"East side, west side,
From city to the town.
Now at last we have a bridge,
We know it won't fall down.
An aid to bigger business,
Our enterprise will pay;
Our gift to all posterity,
The Great Western Gateway."
 - Excerpt from song "The Great Western Gateway," words by Scotia High School student Joseph Foley, from Great Western Gateway Bridge opening brochure, 1925.

On December 19, 1925, the original Great Western Gateway Bridge was opened to traffic. After four long years of construction, the bridge was finally complete. The bridge, which comprised 24 spans and measured 4420 feet in length, cost about $2,500,000 to construct.

Original Great Western Gateway Bridge under construction, 1925. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

New York State officials, local leaders, and members of the general public participated in a celebratory lunch, held at the Hotel Van Curler the day of the bridge's opening. Following the luncheon, an estimated 2,500 cars lined up in Scotia in anticipation of participating in an "automobile parade" to open the bridge at 1:15 p.m. Curtains of American flags hung at the Scotia end of the bridge, and fireworks were exploded to mark the parting of the curtains and the bridge's unveiling. The bridge's first moments of being used included both ceremonial and regular traffic. "A parade . . . had hardly started from from the Scotia to the Schenectady end of the bridge, when an actual traffic stream, made up of cars and tourists, commercial travelers and business trucks, began flowing in the opposite direction -- an immediate utilization of the new transportation lane."

Photographs of opening ceremonies for the Great Western Gateway Bridge on December 19, 1925 from Knickerbocker News. Image from clipping file.  

The village of Scotia was the focal point of the celebration, where in addition to a parade, the Scotia Methodist Church sponsored a dinner and a reception was held at Scotia High School. In the local press, village President Alvin Spitzer "expressed his hope that Schenectadians generally will visit Scotia for the afternoon and note the improvement throughout the community." Every household and business along Mohawk Avenue between the new bridge and Reynolds Street was encouraged to decorate their business or home.

Program for the opening of the Great Western Gateway Bridge in Scotia. From Grems-Doolittle Library Documents Collection. 

Local press hailed the opening of the new bridge. An editorial in Albany's Knickerbocker Press touted the new bridge as being "a gateway to better things," praised the beauty of the structure, and claimed that "nothing to equal this restoration of the earliest commercial center of Schenectady has occurred in three centuries." It was hailed as a safer and more efficient means of traveling between Schenectady and Scotia than the old toll bridge that extended from the foot of Washington Avenue.

Image of the completed Great Western Gateway Bridge, ca. 1930. Photograph from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

Although the opening of the bridge to traffic was certainly a significant event for the denizens of Schenectady and Scotia, it was dwarfed by an even larger public celebration for the bridge was held several months later, when the bridge was celebrated with a nine-day exposition from June 11-19, 1926, and dedicated on June 26. Decades later, the bridge was considered to be structurally unsound, and the curve of the bridge was sometimes referred to as "Dead Man's Curve," due to the accidents which frequently occurred there. A new Western Gateway Bridge was constructed to replace the original, and the original Great Western Gateway Bridge was demolished in 1974.

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