Until the construction of a bridge across the Wallkill River, citizens of New Paltz depended on a rope-pulled scow as a ferry.
Only three bridges have spanned the river. The first, which was approved in 1845 and completed around 1850, was an imposing 153 foot long and 18 foot wide wooden covered bridge supported by a Town lattice truss and auxiliary arches.
The New Paltz covered bridge then was connected in 1856 with a dirt-surfaced turnpike as a toll wagon road between New Paltz in the Wallkill Valley and Wawarsing in the Rondout Valley via a route over the Shawangunk Mountains. Tolls were collected at the gap that is now spanned by the Trapps–Steel–Bridge. Within a few years, the toll road went bankrupt and the road from one valley to the next became a public road. Nonetheless, this route contributed significantly to the viability of the Trapps Mountain hamlet that had emerged on the ridge.
During repairs to the covered bridge in January 1869 folks crossed over on the frozen river ice to its north.
The covered bridge was replaced around 1891 by a “modern” single-lane iron bridge with a garden-variety Pratt truss that proudly showed the emblem of the Groton Bridge Building Company that was headquartered in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.
As shown in this historic image, there was a small facility adjacent to the iron bridge that offered boats for rent to those who wanted to enjoy paddling along the Wallkill River.
Both the wooden and the iron bridge each lasted about 40 years. The old iron bridge was condemned in 1938 but not immediately dismantled. In 1941, when its successor was completed, the iron components were sold for scrap that was melted to make weapons for the war effort.
In 2008, the already aging bridge, which officially had been known as County Bridge No.135, was formally named for Carmine Liberta, a lifelong resident and Korean War veteran who had been active in local veterans’ affairs and served as Vice-chair of the town Republican committee for 25 years. On the eastern approach to the bridge, there is an etched plaque that displays Liberta’s portrait with a United States flag in the background. Today, all news reports appropriately call the bridge ‘The Carmine Liberta Memorial Bridge’.
In early 2014, it was announced that a new bridge would be completed across the Wallkill River by 2017. Local stakeholders met with representatives of County Government in 2015 to discuss what type of replacement structure should be built. By June, a consensus had emerged that a weathered-steel Cambridge arch bridge was preferred.
The replaced bridge will be a critical link in the emerging River-to-Ridge trail that will connect the Wallkill River to the Shawangunk Ridge, and of course provide connections to the Wallkill Rail Trail and even to the routes that reach the Walkway Over the Hudson and beyond.
Then (iron bridge, winter): Vivian Yess Wadlin Collection
Then (iron bridge, boat rentals): Vivian Yess Wadlin Collection
Now: Carol Rietsma