TWO BRIDGES, Harlem River

by Kevin Walsh

I have written about Manhattan between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges previously, and way uptown there is also a pair of bridges fairly close to each other that connect two boroughs: the Alexander Hamilton Bridge and the Washington Bridge (without the “George”).

I was able to get a quick photo of both of them recently while on board a train on the Metro-North Hudson Line. In the foreground is the Alexander Hamilton, constructed in 1963 to expressly connect the new Cross Bronx Expressway with the George Washington Bridge via the Trans-Manhattan Expressway. Since the bridge rises high above the Major Deegan Expressway, its circles of connecting ramps are called “the corkscrew.” The steel arch bridge is 2, 375 feet in length and rises 103 feet above the Harlem River.

The Washington Bridge, in the background, is the much older of the two. It originally connected Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan and University Avenue in the Bronx, but ramps have been added at its east end to connect it with the Cross Bronx Expressway. Traffic intending to proceed across the Hudson River uses the Hamilton Bridge, as the Washington Bridge brings traffic onto West 181st Street in Washington Heights. After the George Washington Bridge to NJ opened in 1932 and before the Hamilton was built, tunnels led traffic to West 178th and 179th Streets and thence to the GWB.

The Washington Bridge opened to horse and buggy traffic in December 1, 1888. It is also a steel arch bridge and also stretches 2,375 feet in length. There are masonry arches on both ends resembling the nearby High Bridge. In 1913, daredevil John Bruns jumped off the bridge into the Harlem River and survived.

The Washington Bridge’s original concrete railing is still in place. I’ve only walked it once, and it’s a surprisingly lengthy trip by foot given the relatively narrow Harlem River; but in the Bronx it gets over steep cliffs and penetrates a fair distance inland to University Avenue. My preferred Harlem River walk since 2015 has been the High Bridge, which reopened that year.

Check out the ForgottenBook, take a look at the gift shop, and as always, “comment…as you see fit.”

11/17/20

4 comments

Andy November 17, 2020 - 12:05 pm

When I attended NYU Uptown on University Avenue in the late 1960’s, I crossed both bridges many times on trips to and from the campus. One minor correction – the ramps at the Washington Bridge’s east (Bronx) end don’t lead to and from the Major Deegan Expressway, but to and from the Cross-Bronx.

At the west (Manhattan) end, ramps originally built to carry George Washington Bridge traffic to/from tunnels below 178th and 179th Streets now carry traffic to/from the Trans-Manhattan Expressway. These ramps enable Washington Bridge vehicles to easily access the GW Bridge and the Henry Hudson Parkway.

The Washington Bridge carries no less than five NYC Transit bus routes across the Harlem River. All but four were originally trolley routes converted to bus in 1947-48. The 170th Street Crosstown route, BX-11,has always been a bus route.

Reply
Sergey Kadinsky November 17, 2020 - 2:18 pm

There’s a new park underneath these bridges that I’ve written about.

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Andrew MacDougall December 1, 2020 - 10:42 am

Where were you going on MetroNorth Kev? To see the foliage up the Hudson?

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Bill February 6, 2021 - 1:44 pm

Does anyone have any information on what that plaza under the Hamilton used to be/look like before the skate park was built? It would be awesome if they were any photographs of the area.

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