The effects of the Great Depression were one of the problems
that beset the Route 97 project. Due to the dismal state of the economy,
New York announced in January 1933 that as an economy move all workers
of the state highway department would be laid off without pay. The impact
on the completion of Route 97 could have been significant. However, the
inauguration of former, Franklin Roosevelt as president and the beginning
of the New Deal made available a huge fund of money for projects such
as this. It was hoped locally that the highway would be finished in 1934.
During work on the Hawk’s Nest portion, a deep fissure
in the mountain was discovered. The crack was about a foot and a half
wide and went deep into the mountain. Rumors circulated predicting the
face of Hawk’s Nest would fall into the river. Various suggestions to
deal with this problem were put forth but it was decided to build the
road over the fissure. By the fall of 1933, the Hawk’s Nest section was
nearing completion. The project included the construction of six “bay
windows,” as the scenic overlooks were called, on the river side of the
highway. The largest was to be near the old lookout at the foot of the
Hawk’s Nest. The new entrance to this section from Sparrowbush replaced the winding and indirect route of the old road, removing many of its dangerous and sharp curves. The bridge crossing the Mongaup River also had been built.
All of the materials used in the construction had been supplied locally.
Of particular interest was the fact that the contractor had used gasoline-powered
equipment in lieu of steam power.
In December 1933, the segment of the road crossing the
Hawk’s Nest was unofficially opened. Although the highway was not complete,
the state highway department and the contractor, Miller Brothers Construction,
allowed the road to be opened if drivers would maintain the 20-mile-per-hour
speed limit. The old, one-lane, dirt road that this
replaced had probably been built as early as 1859 and had been the main
artery between Port Jervis and Sullivan County.
During the construction of the entire length of the highway
along the Delaware River, only one construction fatality occurred. In
November 1933, Samuel Smirch, 21, a laborer employed on the section between
Barryville and Minisink Ford was
killed when a tree fell on him while clearing right-of-way. Another worker
was badly injured.