Icons dedicated to Native Americans and settlers, industry and the Erie Canal are among dozens of artistic features planned for Amsterdam’s new pedestrian bridge.
Images of artwork that will adorn the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook are now emerging and the city’s historian, Robert von Hasseln, is planning public presentations.
The two-year, $16.5 million construction project expected to begin this year will culminate with a public park spanning the Mohawk River, replete with flowering trees, a large sculpture and highlights both Amsterdam and historic forces in the Mohawk Valley. The bridge is expected to be open in 2015.
Von Hasseln, who also serves as the city’s community and economic development director, is excited about the result of community meetings and input from artistic consultants and local officials.
These efforts, he said, will elevate what some have characterized as a “bridge to nowhere” to an attraction that people will see as a destination.
The bridge will link the city’s South Side with Main Street on the north side, but it’s not only “for people to go from one place to another,” he said. “It’s a somewhere in itself. People don’t go to cross them, they go to see them.”
The project’s designers considered and rejected a variety of features, including flags from all the nations whose immigrants influenced the city’s development.
Those involved in the design and development include Saratoga Associates, Ammann & Whitney, Shannon Rose and The Virginia Company.
Von Hasseln said the problem with flags is that they’d have to be replaced each year as they wear out, and the fact that immigration continues would lead to the need for additional flagpoles.
The name of the bridge itself was another point of contention. “Amsterdam Pedestrian Bridge” was considered, since that’s what it’s generally been called.
But von Hasseln said that name doesn’t reflect the bridge’s purpose and it wouldn’t draw guests to see it. They agreed on “Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook.”
A ripple design along the deck will mimic the view of the water and incorporate two circular plazas branching out from the main deck of the curvy, 475-foot-long span. The plazas will provide a bird’s-eye view of boats traversing the river and Erie Canal below and an open space in the center will be large enough to accommodate performances.
A five-piece, bronze plaque, 12 feet in diameter, will stand out as one major highlight that brings together the past, present and future of Amsterdam.
Shaped and designed like a compass, it puts the city in the center of the North and South Chuctanunda creeks — both important industrial power sources — that both empty into the Mohawk River near the new span.
The plaque will feature icons depicting elements of Amsterdam and Mohawk Valley life. A stainless steel sign will accompany it and provide the following description: “Here, above the river that spawned and nourished it, the City of Amsterdam celebrates the essence of its past and the promise of its future. Come, explore the stories of the people whose work built this place that is home to families of so many different origins whose vision and energy continue to give birth to new opportunities for the place they value above all others.”
Surrounding the center in circular fashion will be the words Living, Working, Moving and Renewing — key ideas von Hasseln said should get people thinking about Amsterdam.
“Those are the four things we want you to take away,” von Hasseln said.
Story icons, or symbols, will be positioned between benches in museum style, each with a plaque above explaining their local or regional significance.
They include elements of transportation such as the Erie Canal and the railway that runs through the valley.
Water power, the factories they fueled and products that made Amsterdam an economic powerhouse in the 1800s will be highlighted with icons, as will people, including immigrants, early settlers and Native Americans.
The Native American icon has the look of an arrowhead — a fitting symbol of dozens of artifacts drawn from the ground as part of the overlook bridge project’s early planning.
An archaeological dig in the vicinity of the bridge’s abutments revealed remnants of Native American life along the river named after them.
Sitting on a terrace above the north side of the river is the “Chuctanunda Terrace” archaeological site — one that couldn’t be worked around because of the discovery of projectile points 5,000 years old and others dating between 2,800 and 3,000 years old.
Archaeologists returned last year to complete digging and removing any remaining artifacts before construction could begin.
The collection is to be placed into the possession of the New York State Museum.
Visible from the overlook will be several of the city’s neighborhoods. The walkway itself will point each of these out and include a description on its history and famous children, such as the East End’s Isadore Demsky, better known as Kirk Douglas.
The South Side, Downtown, Market Hill, West End and Reid Hill will round out the identified neighborhoods.
Dates for informational meetings to detail artistic plans for the overlook bridge will be announced in the near future, von Hasseln said.