Demolition began in October 2012. Photograph by Jeno Horvath, November 14, 2012.
The Hojack Swing Bridge Is Gone
llustration by Phil BlissDespite a decade long effort by hundreds of people, this historic bridge, a Rochester landmark, was demolished in the fall of 2012.
It has joined a long list of treasures swept into the dustbin of history which includes the Bragdon Train Station, Security Trust Bank, The RKO Palace Theater, Genesee Brewery's Cataract Building, and many of the big mansions on East Avenue. Looking back we see what was lost. And the challenge to appreciate what we have and to take care of the treasures that connect us with our history, define who we are, and illustrate where we are going.
Photograph by F. Robert Bialkowski, January 2013.
New Book about the Hojack Swing Bridge
The Hojack Swing Bridge Its History—and Its Future
Edited by Richard Margolis
125 pages, 10 x 10 inches,
86 photographs, maps & drawings.
Edited by Richard Margolis with essays by
Joanne Arany, Stuart Bolger, Mary Hamilton-Dann,
Eric DeLony, Allan Isselhard, Emma Pollard Greer,
Jim LaVilla-Havelin, Richard Margolis, Joni Monroe,
Richard Palmer, Charles Roemer, Harold Russell,
Peter Siegrist, Alan King Sloan and John Walsh.
The Hojack Swing Bridge, built by the King Bridge Company in 1905, carried trains across the Genesee River, on the Rome, Watertown, and Ogdensburg line. It has been out of use since 1995 and the U. S. Coast Guard has ordered CSX Transportation to remove it because, they claim, it is a hazard to navigation. The bridge is the most interesting feature in the "Port of Rochester," is eligible for historic landmark status, and survived a similar threat ten years ago.
This book documents the history of the bridge, the region, and the railroads that used the bridge. Eric DeLony's essay describes the development of movable bridges, and Alan King Sloan, a descendent of the founder of the King Bridge Company, contributes an essay titled "Saving Old Bridges" that begins:
We save old lamps, old paintings, old quilts, old teapots, old cotton gins, old baseball cards, and old cars as valuable “collectables” to be admired and treasured for their artistic and historic merit. We do the same with old houses and factories, particularly if they can be “reused” for some modern purpose. But what about old bridges?
He goes on to answer that question.
There are lots of photographs, construction drawings, "stories about bridges," and a chronology that describes the campaign to save the bridge that started with Alan King Sloan's letter dated 1999. It traces the formation of the group SOB (that's "Save Our Bridge") and the sparring with various federal agencies over the future of the bridge. The book ends with possibilities for reuse.
Publication February 2012
$39.95 (soft cover, plus $5.00 postage and $3.60 sales tax); total $48.55.
Or send a check payable to
250 North Goodman Street
Rochester, New York 14607
Proceeds from the sale of the book will help with the effort to save the bridge!
Invitation to Exhibit
"Remembering the Hojack Swing Bridge"
in October, 2013
This exhibit, opening on the anniversary of the beginning of demolition of the Landmark Bridge in the Port of Rochester, will celebrate the 107 year life of the bridge and its unfortunate demolition.
The purpose of the exhibit is to encourage greater awareness of the value of our cultural heritage. We could have saved this bridge (and the Bragdon Train Station, and Security Trust Bank, and the RKO Palace Theater, and Genesee Brewery's Cataract Building, and many of the big mansions on East Avenue). Looking back we see what was lost. This exhibit will attempt to encourage more appreciation of our architectural heritage as we go forward.
What: Call for entries for a future exhibit, The Hojack Swing Bridge — in Memoriam
Date: October 2013 (around the anniversary of the beginning of demolition)
Location: The Center at High Falls
Medium: Mostly photographs, but could include poetry, drawing, painting, sculpture, and more
Note: This is tentative—can not be confirmed until May or June 2013.
Entry Fee: $25.00 per person
If you are interested please let Richard Margolis know so he can send more information.
Contact: Richard Margolis at richardmargolis.com/contact.php with "HSB Exhibit" included in the message.
Everyone is invited to submit work for this show. More information will be sent in June, and your read- to-hang work will be delivered at the beginning of September to a location to be announced.
Recent Developments with the Hojack Swing Bridge
Update Status, Origns–April 29, 2012
I've been trying to write this update for a couple of weeks—hoping for good news to report—unfortunately there isn't any.
In 1999, a group formed out of concern for the threat to the Hojack Swing Bridge because the US Coast Guard had declared the nearly 100-year-old bridge to be a hazard to navigation, and had ordered CSX Corporation to remove it from the Genesee River. The group that became "The Bridge Project" held meetings, gathered information, wrote letters, started petitions, attended city council meeting, nominated the bridge for city landmark status, and, for about a decade, seemed succeed in preventing demolition of the most interesting feature in the Port of Rochester (at least in my judgement.)
For the next five years, we who wanted to save the bridge were encouraged. When the US Army Corps of Engineers wrote a letter that threatened the status of the bridge there was an immediate reply from the New York State Office of Historic Preservation (SHPO) that rebutted their claim. When the US Coast Guard took the lead in threatening the bridge, SHPO reminded them of the obligation to preserve landmarks. SHPO wrote to the City of Rochester clarifying the status of the bridge and emphasizing that the harbor improvements would have no impact on the bridge. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, Society for Industrial Archeology, the King Bridge Foundation, and hundreds of local citizens all rallied in support of the bridge. There were financial contributions that helped with expenses, and several thousand signatures were collected on petitions.
The Fast Ferry seemed to be a serious threat to the bridge, at least according to then-Mayor William Johnson who staked his reputation on it, but the ferry was both a failure and financial disaster, and the bridge remained.
Between 2006 and about six months ago, the bridge seemed safe. We thought the Coast Guard had lost interest and CSX was not going to spend between 5 and 10 million dollars removing the bridge unless forced to do so. The future of the bridge seemed more secure and our group dwindled.
The Bridge Project did continue meeting during that time, but less often. We documented the history of the bridge, collected histories of the railroads, speculated over the future of the bridge and published a book about it in January (see top of page). We seemed to have accomplished a lot; we had certainly worked hard—and it looked like we had saved the bridge. What we had not done, though, was to find a viable use that would meet Coast Guard requirements. It sat in the river, sometimes glowing in the sun and often looking pretty sad. Boaters I talked to said that it served as a lane divider, and others said it was a rusty hulk that was only a roosting perch for pigeons.
Suddenly, last Fall the threat to the bridge re-emerged. Six months earlier the Coast Guard had written to CSX again and threatened penalties if CSX did not remove the bridge and CSX hired a demolition company to apply for the permits and finally remove the bridge. There was nothing in the news until mid-September, 2011, when Rachel Barnhart of WHAM News received a copy of the request for bids for demolition, and began making calls, looking for local reaction.
We discovered that between 2006 and the Fall of 2011 the entire issue landscape had changed. The Coast Guard and CSX were better prepared than they had been a decade earlier, and our resources diminished. The newspapers that had been so helpful before now barely mentioned the plans for demolition. SHPO was silent, The National Trust and other national preservation groups waited to see what the local reaction would be, and there was not much.
On September 16, 2011, the day Rachel Barnhart called about the plans for demolition, the first hint that there was trouble brewing, I filed a Freedom of Information Request with the US Army Corps of Engineers, the US Coast Guard, NY SHPO, and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation asking each of them for all documents related to the bridge for the past several years.
The US Coast Guard has not complied with this request, despite federal law that obligates all federal agencies to provide information. Initially the Coast Guard said that it had no documents related to my request. I appealed and included copies of Coast Guard memos and letters that were in DEC files. There has been no reply to that appeal. I filed another FOI Request asking for the permit for the bridge, because the Coast Guard had said that the permit required that the bridge be removed unless used for transportation. The Coast Guard sent a letter that said it had no permit in its files.
In January 2012, I filed another FOI Request, directed to the Cleveland District of the Coast Guard (that had written the letters to CSX) asking for all documents for the past two years. They sent eleven pages that were so heavily redacted that the documents are useless. The identity of the agency writing, and the recipient, are both obliterated as was much of the text. I filed an appeal of the redactions and only recently received a letter stating that there would be a high level review and of my several appeals that will be reviewed in the order received, and it was estimated that it would be several months before there is a resolution.
One of the documents requested would clarify if the Coast Guard initiated an enforcement action that required CSX to remove the bridge, or if CSX has decided to remove the bridge voluntarily. While the Coast Guard refuses to comply with Freedom of Information law, CSX continues to prepare for demolition. They plan to begin removing asbestos in August and when the navigation season ends in November to dismantle the bridge and the pedestal that supports it.
There is still a slim hope that we can find a way to reuse the bridge as part of the trail system that is making its way along the river. Or the bridge could be incorporated into the ever-changing plans for the Port of Rochester. Or the bridge could be relocated to public property on the west or to private land on the east side and used for a community center, or restaurant, or saved until creative ideas emerge in the future. Or it could be moved up river to Turning Point Park where it would not hinder navigation. Or, as one cynic suggested, it could be moved to the big hole in downtown Rochester that used to be Midtown Plaza. There is plenty of room for it there.
It's probably too late to have the charrette or brainstorming session to consider options for re-use that I've hoped would happen. For more than a decade City Hall has proclaimed that the bridge would be demolished. In that climate the engineering firms involved with the Port of Rochester or the Trail System, or or economic development projects will not risk offending their most important patron, and they have not.
At the present time the deadline CSX set for offers to buy the bridge is past. The Department of Environmental Conservation announced that the application for demolition is complete and that the procedure for public comment and perhaps hearings is underway. The agencies and departments seem to be progressing toward demolition. I/we do not see any way to prevent that unless someone were to offer a huge sum of money to wage a legal battle in court and/or offer to buy the bridge and relocate it. That is possible, but not likely.
I wish I could find an encouraging note for the conclusion—it escapes me.
Details, September 2011–April 2012
The effort by CSX and the US Coast Guard to demolish the bridge has flared again. Between 2006 and mid September, 2011 we seemed to be in a dormant state. On September 16, 21011 Rachel Barnhart, Channel 13 WHAM News, called me and asked what I thought of the plans to demolish the bridge. She had a copy of the Request for Bids (RFP) that CSX sent a local contractor who had forwarded it to her. That was a surprise!
I later learned that there had been correspondence between the Coast Guard and CSX that had started the previous April.
I filed a Freedom of Information Request (dated 9/16/2011) asking the US Coast Guard for all documents related to the Hojack Bridge for the past two years. In a letter dated September 28, 2011 the USCG FOIA officer in Washington said that no documents matched my request. On October 6, 2011 I filed an appeal and included correspondence between CSX and the Coast Guard to prove that there are documents in their file. There was no reply to that appeal. On November 22, 2011 I filed another appeal, by certified mail. There has still been no reply to that appeal.
On January 6, 2012 I filed another Freedom of Information Request, sent by email to the Bridge Chief, US Coast Guard in Cleveland, who had been engaged in correspondence with CSX. He called me and asked if he/they could delete personal information from the documents he was preparing to send in response to the FOIR 1/6/12. I agreed and received the 11 pages of redacted documents (PDF), dated October 7, 2012.
On March 8, 2012 I filed another appeal, (mailed to: Commandant [CG-611], ATTN: FOIA Officer, United States Coast Guard, 2100 2nd Street SW Stop 7101, Washington, DC 20593 - 7101), this time about the redacted documents.
The US Coast Guard letter dated April 2, 2011 (PDF) acknowledged receipt of my three appeals, said that they have combined all three of my appeals and assigned a Case Number. They said that because of reduced staff, backlog of appeals, new mandates regarding information security and privacy issues, and their policy of processing appeals in the order received, and because appeals are reviewed at "high levels to ensure the appropriate decision is made", they can not predict when I can expect a reply.
So while the US Coast Guard stonewalls my request for information about their possible enforcement action—it has now been 6 months since my first request—the effort to demolish the bridge continues in high gear. By the time the Coast Guard complies with my request for information the bridge may very well be gone. It seems that there is no way to enforce the Freedom of Information Law.
CSX has hired a contractor to file the applications for permits to demolish the bridge. They have set a deadline for purchase offers (PDF) and offered parts of the bridge, after it has been torn apart, to museums and organizations for educational exhibits.
The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, the agency responsible for negotiating conditions required for demolition, has announced that they have a received a completed application for demolition (24 MB PDF) and they posted a legal notice in the Democrat & Chronicle dated 4/10/2012.
There is some good news!
The book, "The Hojack Swing Bridge Its History—and Its Future", was published at the end of January and pre-order copies were mailed a couple of days later. The Landmark Society is helping promote the book and has offered it to its members at a discount. The Society for Industrial Archeology is also offering it to its members.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Preservation League of NYS are both involved in exploring options for re-use either in-place or a new location.
Legal options do exist, although we would have to raise funds for a court challenge. (The contributions we received from several generous patrons during the previous battle were used to pay for publishing the book.)
So where do we go from here?
I do not know. The threat level is higher than it was a year ago. CSX has announced that it wants to begin removing asbestos in August and complete demolition at the end of the 2012 navigation season. The Department of Environmental Conservation has not issued a permit for demolition, but that may happen in the next couple of months.
There will be a public comment period that I do not think has been announced yet, and there may be hearings. Unless there is serious intervention, the permit will be issued, the bridge will be cut apart and a few relics contributed to museums where they will reside in boxes in the basement.
You can help!
Mayor Thomas S. Richards
30 Church Street
Rochester, NY 14614
Remind him that the bridge is the most interesting feature in the Port of Rochester, that it is the what makes our port unique, unlike any other on the Great Lakes, and that the City of Rochester should consider alternatives while there is still time. Suggest that if the bridge can not remain where it is the city should explore options for relocating it. (There is a lot of available land on both the east and west sides, as well as at nearby Turning Point Park.)
Please send copies of your letter to me:
Art + Architectural Photography
250 North Goodman Street
Rochester, NY 14607
Other Preservation Issues
There are other preservation battles in Rochester. Genesee Brewery wants to demolish an important building that overlooks High Falls despite offers from developers. A working group formed around that issue is planning to continue encouraging reuse of our historic heritage.
- Flatiron Building, 696 University Ave.
- Cataract Brewhouse
- Lehigh Valley Railroad Station
- Hoyt-Potter House, 133 Fitzhugh St.
- Station 55, 55 Railroad St.
In the News
"CSX Plans Hojack Demolition in Fall"
WHAM 13 ABC News,
March 12, 2012.
"Hojack Swing Bridge to Come Down, CSX Says"
WHAM 13 ABC News, September 12, 2011.
to Revive Hojack Bridge Quietly Persists"
Democrat & Chronicle, Monday, January 23, 2006.
News Update: Letter
to the D&C Editor, Dated 1/24/06
News Update: 01/24/04
News Update: 04/05/03