HIGH BRIDGE REBUILDING, Washington Heights

High Bridge, which spans the Harlem River between High Bridge Park at about West 174th Street and University Avenue (MLK Boulevard) and West 170th Street in the Bronx, is hard to photograph these days, as construction has closed off the immediate area in High Bridge Park and the tall stone towers are mostly enclosed by construction netting.

Work is proceeding steadily if slowly to once again open the bridge to pedestrian and bicycle traffic. In 1970 the bridge was closed because local youth were throwing projectiles from the bridge onto passing ships in the Harlem River, and soon after that the city nearly went bankrupt and High Bridge descended into ruin. In ensuing years, there was no great movement to reopen the historic structure, but Manhattan has undergone something of a renaissance (yes, some have benefited more than others) and there has been a push to restore historic places where possible; witness what has happened with Southpoint Park in Roosevelt Island and almost the entirety of Governors Island.

Since mid-2013 the city has been replacing the walkway, installing new lighting, and new fences that hopefully will protect against any mishaps, yet allow for a full and  capacious view. Work was supposed to finish by fall 2014 but as you can see, there’s still a way to go [as of September 2014]. The new schedule calls for a spring 2015 opening, though that may also be delayed if the winter is harsh as it was in 2013-2014.

High Bridge is the oldest extant bridge in NYC that spans two boroughs, though when it was built in 1838 [John Jervis, arch], the Bronx was still a southern extension of Westchester County. It was actually the third bridge to cross the Harlem River: the original Kings Bridge spanning the river was built by the British in 1693 and the original Macombs Dam appeared in 1814; the present Macombs Dam Bridge, the third on the site, was built in 1895.

High Bridge was built as a conduit to water to the city from the upstate Croton Aqueduct. Originally, High Bridge featured massive stone arches (like Roman aqueducts had) for its entire length. The arches survive on the Bronx side, but the steel span was constructed in the 20s to allow navigation on the Harlem River. Water was carried in two 33”-diameter pipes, later replaced by a more massive 90” pipe. It was able to conduit as much as 24 million gallons of water per day.

High Bridge has always featured a walkway, although it never had roads for auto or horse traffic. Edgar Allan Poe, a Bronx resident toward the end of his life, enjoyed frequenting the bridge. The walkway features attractive cast iron hand railings and interlocked red brick paving stones, along with views of High Bridge’s neighboring spans across the Harlem, the Alexander Hamilton and Washington Bridges. These architectural elements are being rebuilt for the bridge’s reopening.

9/15/14

 


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5 Responses to HIGH BRIDGE REBUILDING, Washington Heights

  1. Dr.sliderule says:

    We are all excited about the anticipated reopening of the High Bridge and all the other developments in Highbridge Park. Does anyone have any information on a new bicycle rental shop opening that would cater to the bicycle tourists that are going to be “Riding the High Bridge”?
    To read all the latest information on the Bridge, the Park, and related items go to highbridgeparkdevelopment.blogspot.com.

  2. Jeff B. says:

    I clearly remember the “locally indigenous personnel” hurling items off High Bridge. As a teen I got to take the Circle Line boat tour (it was 3-1/2 hour long then) on 31 July 1970. The neighborhood kids were waiting on the bridge as the boat approached and had already begun the rain of rocks. The boat stopped in front of the Precinct house which was on Undercliff Av (I don’t think it’s there any more), blew the horn a few times and a few moments later an RMP with lights on rolls up to the Bronx side of the bridge and the kids take off. Once it was safe, our boat proceeded upriver.

    • Dan S. says:

      That was good thinking on the part of the boat captain. Or maybe the procedure had been pre-arranged between Circle Line and the NYPD? Anyway, the police station is still there (on Sedgwick Ave., not Undercliff) but it is no longer a regular precinct, the sign on the door reads “Bronx Task Force”.

  3. Dan S. says:

    At least they really are working on it now. I think it was originally supposed to open in 2012, but they hadn’t done anything on it at that point. I look forward to walking across the bridge when it finally reopens.

    As for the history of Harlem River bridges, you left out the Free Bridge or Farmer’s Bridge, which crossed the original course of the Harlem River along today’s 225th St.

  4. Fred Mayer says:

    I’m glad it’s being restored. The bridge brings back memories of our trips to Jersey from Queens; across the Triborough, up Harlem River Drive and under High Bridge to the GW Bridge before the Cross Bronx was finished. (old joke) Do you know why Jersey has the toxic waste dumps and NY has all the lawyers? NJ had first choice. (Sorry, that was lame).

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