Town of Lloyd Historical Preservation Society
Fog Bells on the Hudson
The completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 increased traffic on the Hudson River dramatically, and the need for navigational aids became obvious. The following year, the first lighthouse on the Hudson River was constructed at the Stony Point Battlefield below the southern border of Orange County. But the light couldn't be seen in the fog, so a wooden fog bell tower was added to the station in 1857. This served until 1876, when the bell was removed from the decayed tower and suspended from a bracket affixed to the lighthouse. A total of 40 lighthouses were built along the Hudson; only 7 of these exist today.
Ringing the fog bell was not a "one-time" event; foggy conditions could last for days. There are stories of heroes (and heroines) who physically rang the bell for hours, but the demand for an automated mechanism was soon apparent.
This is a diagram of an early ringing mechanism (1872). It was wound like a grandfather clock and the falling weight powered a hammer that rang the bell every 20 seconds. Over time, more advanced designs with different powering mechanisms were developed.
If you'd like to read more about the various ringing mechanisms, this website has a lot of interesting information, including diagrams and photographs: https://uslhs.org/fog-bells
A fog bell was installed on the Poughkeepsie Bridge (i.e. the Railroad Bridge). Based on a Light List including Fog Signals, Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, published by the U.S. Department of Commerce in 1931, we know the fog bell on the Poughkeepsie Bridge was located on the east end of the pier, 46 feet above the water. It was on a green platform, on steelwork above the masonry and it was established in 1912. It rang once every 30 seconds and was maintained by the Central New England Railway Co. According to this article, it was activated by a barometer attachment.
Apparently the fog bell on the railroad bridge was operational by 1913:
The fog bell in Esopus rang throughout the evening of Septemeber 28, 1950. Were the fog bells in Poughkeepsie ringing? This article doesn't say, but it describes the mayhem that occurred when a tug, pulling a string of barges, hit one of the piers of the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge.
Carleton Mabee, in Bridging the Hudson, writes "Though it was not required in the charter, bridge operators also assisted passing navigators by keeping a fog bell ringing on the bridge. In 1918, this bell was kept ringing by storage batteries which were charged by jars of acid. When the maintenance men replaced the acid in these jars, they poured the spent acid over the edge of the bridge. Inspectors found it difficult to persuade them to stop doing it, even though they explained to them that as they emptied the jars, the wind often blew the acid onto the bridge structure, causing the "rapid deterioration" of the steel."
Ferris Davis, a bridge maintenance man when the bell was later powered by an electric cable, remembered the bell as being brass, 18 to 20 inches high. It hung on the pier in the water which was closest to the Poughkeepsie shore, and was loud enough to hear across the river.
Another fog bell was part of the new Mid-Hudson Bridge when it was completed in 1930. Based on a Light List including Fog Signals, Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, published by the U.S. Department of Commerce in 1931, the fog bell on the Mid-Hudson Bridge was located on the westerly side of the easterly pier. It was established in 1930 (the year the Mid-Hudson Bridge was completed). It was described as "electric, group of 4 strokes every 15 seconds. Maintained by the State of New York."
The fog bell in Esopus rang throughout the evening of September 28, 1950. Were the fog bells in Poughkeepsie ringing? This article doesn't say, but it describes the mayhem that occurred when a tug, pulling a string of barges, hit one of the piers of the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge.
The fog bell on the Mid-Hudson Bridge was still in operation in 1964, when bids were accepted to recondition the fog bell and its mechanism.
By 1976, radar technology had made the fog bell obsolete. The NYS Bridge Authority donated the fog bell from the Mid-Hudson Bridge to the Highland JayCees. Hans and Bob Muhfield used it to make a replica of the Liberty Bell which was featured in the Bicentennial Memorial Day Parade. Bob has recently donated the bell to the Town of Lloyd.
Watch for an update on the future of this bell.
Town of Lloyd
Joan de Vries Kelley