On the afternoon of Tuesday, November 29, 1921, over a thousand people gathered at the Kingston, NY Armory for a celebratory dinner. The dinner was part of a whole day of celebrations around the opening of the Rondout Creek Suspension Bridge, which connected the town of Port Ewen and the City of Kingston. One of the oldest suspension bridges in New York State (it predates the Bear Mountain Bridge by 3 years), and according to an article in the Daily Freeman ("Ten Thousand Hear Governor at Rondout Creek Bridgehead," November 30, 1921), the largest suspension bridge built in the county since 1909 (no word on which other bridge was built then).
The festivities included an enormous parade, speeches by New York State Governor Nathan L. Miller and other officials, and a ceremonial walk across the bridge, including a ceremonial meeting of the two towns in the middle of the bridge, represented by young women shaking hands. When the official festivities were closed, the general public was allowed to cross the bridge. So many people were crowded on either side that the Freeman reported, "So tightly was the crowd packed into a compact mass that if it had rained, few drops would have sifted through to the pavement. It is estimated there were 10,000 persons in the crowd." As nearly all the people walked across the bridge, the Freeman again commented, "It is hardly likely that the bridge will ever receive a more severe test or a heavier load."
The event was followed with a fireworks display.
So what's all this got to do with a shoe brush? This curious little souvenir from the Hudson River Maritime Museum archives was donated by John Wagman in 1994. A leather-backed brush meant to clean shoes or clothes, it features an image of the bridge on the back in gold and reads "Souvenir. Kingston, N.Y. Nov. 29, 1921" and below "Rondout Creek Bridge. State Highway Link to Kingston, N.Y. Catskill Mts. Ashokan Reservoir and the West."
The brush was a souvenir of all who attended the celebratory dinner at the armory. The same Freeman article had this to say about the brush:
"Wang Designed Brush Back.
"Many who received the souvenir brush at the bridge banquet at the armory were struck with the fine design of the bridge on the back of the brush. The design was the work of C. Y. Wang, a Chinese student who is with the state highway department, who furnished the art drawing of the bridge for the brass die used to stamp in gold the bridge picture on the backs of the brushes. Mr. Wang deserves great credit for his fine work of art."
Why a shoe brush was chosen as the souvenir for the event is unclear, but it may have become immediately useful to many attendees, as the Freeman also reported the prodigious amount of mud at the construction site, writing:
"Plenty of Mud.
"The rock cut was filled with water from the recent heavy storms and on either side of the cut the mod was deep. It was a clayey mud that made walking slippery, but thousands braved the mud to clamber up the hill and to look down upon the open space where the fireworks were set off.
"Those who had not the foresight to wear rubbers were kept busy when they got home in cleaning the mud from their shoes, but what was a little mud to a good view of the really excellent display of fireworks set off by the Pain Company of New York?"
Due to the weather, the bridge did not officially open to motorists until the spring. According to a Yonkers Herald article entitled "Rondout Bridge is Dedicated At Last" published December 1, 1921, "It will be a boon to motorists who have suffered long delays in crossing the slow-moving, antiquated chain ferry at Rondout."
The Wurts Street Suspension Bridge, as it is often known today, turns 100 years old this year, as does this shoe brush. Happy Birthday to them both!
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This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
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