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Hojack Bridge

Below is my personal tribute to the Hojack Bridge (1905-2012).

The Hojack Bridge was built in 1905 crossing the Genesee River in Charlotte.  It was built by an outfit called the King Bridge Company  from Cleveland, OH.  At the time of its construction it was probably looked at as a bit of a "modern marvel".  My guess is that in the early days it was a very busy bridge and an important part of the local transportation infrastructure.  The last train crossed the bridge in 1995.  In March 2002, the United States Coast Guard ordered the owner, CSX, to remove it prior to March 1. 2003.  The way I understood it, CSX at the time claimed that it basically couldn’t afford to demolish the bridge.  As the same time a local group that was devoted to saving the bridge began actively seeking to save the bridge from destruction.  After more than a decade of nothing really happening, the bridge was dismantled in November 2012 and swept into the dustbin of history.

From the time the bridge went out of active service, I had very mixed emotions regarding the disposition of the structure.  As a boy, I was absolutely fascinated by the operation of the bridge.  We lived less than three miles from Charlotte and it was a favorite place for the family to go to enjoy the lake and the beach.  I still enjoy an Abbott’s Custard and a walk out the pier if I am in Rochester (although I liked the old Lighthouse better than the new structure - that's another story).  To watch the bridge slowly rotate into the closed position followed by a train crossing was very intriguing to a youngster like me.

I wasn't all that surprised that CSX abandoned the line and went as far as removing the rails leading up to the crossing.  This may seem unrelated, but in June 1993 I started riding the Virginia Railway Express daily from Manassas, VA to Washington, DC where I was stationed at the Coast Guard Marine Safety Center.  A part of the track we rode on was owned by CSX.  They treated the VRE with absolutely no respect.  I never liked anything about CSX and have always felt they were a shady operation.

It always baffled me how the bridge was no problem for 90 years but suddenly became some sort of hazard to navigation requiring a fast removal.  I could find no evidence of any accidents involving allisions with the bridge and it was well defined and equally well lighted.  There is a minimum of large commercial traffic in the Genesee River and the bridge in the open position actually created a sort of traffic separation scheme.

Of course, with no maintenance and the challenging environment it didn't take long for the bridge to begin to develop into an eyesore.  I remember my surprise at how bad the bridge looked when I visited Rochester for my 20th class reunion in 1998.  I wish I had taken a picture but there was already broken glass in the control shack and the paint was already looking bad.  It was a little painful to see it in the early stages of deterioration.  I found a report by the Army Corps of Engineers from 2001 regarding the bridge.  There are pictures contained in the report that show just how badly the bridge had deteriorated by then. (A link to the report is under the photo at the bottom of the page).

It was clear that CSX’s plan was to put off the Coast Guard as long as possible.  Fortunately for them, Bridge Administration is not exactly a high priority at District Offices and their inaction was basically ignored.  While I am sure they would have loved to sell the bridge, no one in their right mind would buy it and assume all the risk and responsibilities that came with it.  After several years of disuse, I wondered if the machinery would even operate.  At one point I saw a report with photos of the machinery and you didn't need to be a mechanical engineer to know it was in rough shape.  For a while there was a dreamer who had a vision (delusion is more like it) of using the bridge as part of a passenger trolley service.  Like most crazy ideas, it went nowhere. 

One big thing I have never figured out is why the Coast Guard was that interested in the bridge.  I could understand if the local population was screaming for its removal, but there seems to be absolutely no evidence of this being the case.  As a retired Coast Guard Officer, I was disturbed that our Headquarters essentially stonewalled a local preservationist in his efforts to get information regarding Coast Guard involvement.  That was completely unsatisfactory.  

I took the picture below in June 2008.  Even from a quarter mile away, it is clear that the bridge looks badly in need of repair.  Maybe it was the camera angle, but the bridge appears to be listing slightly towards the west and well as tilted to the south.  One thing was for certain; this bridge was never going to be closed and carry anything across the Genesee River.  I was never all that moved by the historic aspect, but still I hated to see a part of the past as one advocate stated "swept into the dustbin of history."  I was in Rochester in September 2013 for my 35th high school class reunion and my wife and I took a walk down the west pier.  It was kind of strange to look back up the river and see nothing but the new O'Rourke Bridge off in the distance.  In the end, I attribute to end of this structure to the complete indifference of the local community, save a few dedicated preservationists.  As my reunion I took an informal survey among my classmates and most of them weren't even aware the bridge had been removed.  Those that were aware were for the most part completely indifferent.

Below the photo is a link to a 2001 Corps of Engineers Report on the bridge.  In reading it you have to wonder what happened.

                             



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