The short life of a lower Broadway footbridge

Think Broadway gridlock is bad now? Here’s what it was like in the 1860s—when the city’s busiest thoroughfare had two-way traffic, no marked lanes, and no lights.

“Carriages, wagons, carts, omnibuses, and trucks are packed together in the most helpless confusion,” wrote James D. McCabe in 1872’s Lights and Shadows of New York Life.

Geninbridgecolor“It is always a difficult matter for a pedestrian to cross the lower part of Broadway in the busy season. Ladies, old persons, and children find it impossible to do so without the aid of police, whose duty it is to make a passage for them through the crowd of vehicles.”

To make this stretch of safer for pedestrians—and of course, encourage more foot traffic to his shop—a well-known hatter named John Genin, whose store sat on the southwest corner of Broadway and Fulton Street, pressured the city to build a crossing steps from his door.

He’d dreamed of a footbridge here since the 1850s and drew up designs too, as this illustration above shows.

In 1866, the fanciful Loew Bridge, named after city politico Charles Loew, opened. New Yorkers used the lacy, elegant bridge to get across town as well as take in the view.

Loewbridgecloseup1867

Genin must have been happy. But anotherr hatter on the northeast corner of Broadway and Fulton, Charles Knox, was not. Shadows cast by the bridge put Knox’s shop in darkness, and he was convinced he was losing sales.

He and a group of hatters from his side of Broadway sued the city, forcing city officials to tear it down. Loew Bridge only lasted a year, undone by a fierce business rivalry in an industry that barely exists in the New York of today.

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4 Responses to “The short life of a lower Broadway footbridge”

  1. Carolyn Says:

    Equally intriguing is the variety of hats in the 2nd image. A photograph of my great, great grandfather, taken on Manhattan’s West Side towards the end of the 19th century, shows him wearing a tam like the young man in that photo. Perhaps these hats reflect the distinction in social norms.

  2. Mary Anne Eves, Vice President, Middletown Twp Historical Society Says:

    In 1850, when P.T. Barnum brought the singer Jenny Lind, “The Swedish Nightingale,” to America to perform at Castle Garden (today’s Castle Clinton) he persuaded his friend hat maker John Genin to purchase the first ticket to the concert. He then convinced another well known NYC entrepreneur a Dr. Brandreth, who sold patent medicines, to buy the first ticket. The result was a well publicized auction between Genin and Brandreth with Genin winning at a final bid of $225. This gimmick worked so well to generate interest and ticket sales for Lind’s concert that Barnum repeated it in other cities on the concert tour.

  3. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Genin sounds like quite a character.

  4. William Krause Says:

    Hats! You’re on to something with many possible implications, I think. A previous writer once opined that wearing one allowed the person to identify with a social class of one sort, or another—rich, poor, educated, traveled, etc. Not wearing a hat showed a failure to identify, or a desire to avoid such classification by others.

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