On December 15, 1955, the newly constructed Tappan Zee Bridge opened to the public. Construction began in 1952 and the bridge took 45 months to complete. It connected Nyack, NY in Rockland County on the west side of the Hudson River, and Tarrytown, NY in Westchester County on the east side of the river. It was part of a larger project constructing the Governor Thomas E. Dewey Thruway - one of the oldest interstate highway systems in the country and the longest toll road in the nation.
Watch the film below, created in the 1950s and held by the New York State Archives, about the construction and opening of the bridge. The film features lots of historic footage of how construction battled and depended on water.
The bridge opening was typical of many mid-20th century construction projects, featuring honored dignitaries giving speeches and throngs of people crowding to see and experience the new bridge first-hand.
December 15, 1955 South Nyack Celebration opening of the Thomas E. Dewey Thruway. Crowds gathered on a cold December 15, 1955 for the official opening of the Tappan Zee Bridge. There are flags, a color guard, and a band. Cameramen stand atop cars, surrounded by hundreds of spectators. Many cars and a bus are in line in the eastbound lane, ready to drive across the bridge. The bridge was named Tappan Zee after the Tappan tribe of Native Americans who once lived in the area - and for the Dutch zee, an open expanse of water. Later in 1994, the bridge would be renamed Governor Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge in honor of the former governor. Photo by Dorothy Crawford, 1955. Nyack Public Library Local History Collection.
The construction of the bridge dramatically changed the two communities it connected, both physically and demographically. Over 100 homes were removed or relocated via eminent domain in Nyack to make room for the Thruway and bridge, despite stiff opposition to the plan. Once the highway and the bridge were completed, both Nyack and Tarrytown, as well as neighboring communities, boomed with commuters and others seeking less expensive housing still within driving distance of New York City.
To learn more about the controversies leading up to the construction of the bridge, a historical timeline, the architecture of the bridge, first-person accounts, and more, check out this online exhibit.
The old Tappan Zee bridge was replaced with a new bridge and gradually demolished. Demolition was completed and the new bridge fully opened in 2018.
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