CROTON-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. – Thirteen small, wire sculptures of bridges past and present that populated the Croton River are now on permanent display at the Croton Free Library. The bridges were created by now-deceased Croton centenarian Edward Rondthaler (1905-2009), who was 104 at the time of his death.
“He’d talk about the prehistoric glacier that formed the Croton River, he’d tell stories about the Native Americans, the Van Cortlandts, the way 'Croton Water' from the river saved and helped to create New York City. We hope this wonderful gift will keep Ed’s passion for local history alive in Croton," said Carl Oechsner, president of the Croton Friends of History, a group dedicated to preservation and education.
The small, black-wire bridges are themselves historical depictions in profile. They're linear, simple and playful, and for 60 years hung on a map Rondthaler painted on a wall in his home.
Archivists say one the highlights of the display is Rondthaler's sculpture of High Bridge, a covered wooden bridge built 60 feet above the Croton River, in 1842, after the collapse of the first Croton Dam, which washed away every bridge on the river. Rondthaler depicts a gondola tied up below the bridge, a harbinger of things to come.
Twenty-eight years after the collapse of High Bridge, on the same cliff, real estate developer Clifford Harmon built Nikko Inn and had gondolas made by Croton's Osborn Boat Works transport visitors up the river from the train station to his inn.
“When I look at the High Bridge sculpture I can hear Ed telling a story,” says Oechsner.
The display of Rondthaler's work has been a community effort. His friend and neighbor, Elton Robinson, contributed a large photographic portrait by Croton resident Thomas Kristich, taken in front of Rondthaler's beloved "picture tunnel." Oechsner and Marc Cheshire worked with the Croton Free Library to archivally frame Ed's work.
The sculptures start with a train crossing the bridge at the mouth of the Croton River and end with the bridge that crosses the spillway of the New Croton Dam. Along the way, viewers will see historic buildings, Van Cortlandt Manor, the Ferry House, the Underhill Mill and bridges that have long fascinated Crotonites, like the Revolutionary War "New Bridge" that George Washington crossed on the way to victory at Yorktown, and Quaker Bridge, one of the oldest bridges in Westchester County, archivists say.
More information about each bridge, and how Rondthaler was inspired by his neighbors, can be found on the Croton Friends of History website, which discusses several artists and historians living in and around Croton and Rondthaler.