The battle over naming the Queensboro Bridge

What’s in a name? Plenty, especially among certain factions of New Yorkers at the turn of the last century.

That’s when the city began building a great bridge that would link Manhattan to Queens. City officials planned to name it the Blackwell’s Island Bridge, after the spit of land (now Roosevelt Island) it would skip over in the East River.

But real estate bigwigs from Manhattan and Queens objected; they felt the name had bad connotations. Blackwell’s Island at the time was infamous for its poorhouse and prison.

The real estate guys were afraid New Yorkers would shy away from the bridge—and their neighborhoods—to avoid the unsavory assocation.

On the other hand, many Irish residents were opposed to the Queensboro name because they felt it sounded too British.

The leader of one Irish group even suggested calling it the Montauk Bridge, thinking it had a more American ring to it.

In the end, Queensboro was selected as the official name before the bridge opened in 1909. And it’s stuck ever since.

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18 Responses to “The battle over naming the Queensboro Bridge”

  1. petey Says:

    in manhattan tho’ it’s known as the 59th street bridge. not official perhaps, but that’s the name i grew up hearing [/manhattan chauvinist 🙂 ]

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    And what you call the bridge if you grew up hearing that Simon and Garfunkel song….

  3. Alex Says:

    This topic is making me feel groovy

  4. Paul Says:

    There’s another bridge with a bit of a naming controversy. The Triboro Bridge is now called the RFK Bridge.

  5. David Says:

    I grew up in Queens and we called it the 59th Street bridge. So did Simon & Garfunkle and they also grew up in Queens. I’m feeling groovy!

  6. Nabe News: May 10 - Bowery Boogie | A Lower East Side Chronicle Says:

    […] the Queensboro Bridge (aka 59th Street Bridge) opened in 1909, City officials actually had another name in mind for the span. Blackwell’s Island Bridge [Ephemeral […]

  7. Paul Says:

    It had a bad association with Blackwells Island, a place that housed an insane asylum. Hence Queensboro, a generic name if there ever was one. Calling it the 59th Street street is accurate only to the tastes of Manhattan centric people.

  8. Kaz Says:

    I grew up in Queens and alternately called it the Queensboro or the 59th Street, depending on where I was going or coming from (and also which popped into my mind first-it was almost like a slot machine). And, Paul, I certainly wouldn’t refer to myself or my family as Manhattan centric.

  9. Steve Kaufman Says:

    Regrettably, it has been renamed the Edward I. Koch bridge. Mayor Koch had no particular connection whatsoever to Queens.

  10. What’s a trolley station doing off second avenue? « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] alone (and recently fenced off) on a concrete island off Second Avenue and 60th Street, where the Queensboro Bridge approach […]

  11. chris (@chrismaximus) Says:

    I’m a Queens native and I, and virtually everyone that I knew, always called it the 59th Street Bridge.

  12. A bronze lamppost guards the Queensboro Bridge « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] before the Manhattan-side entrance to the circa-1909 Queensboro Bridge is this beautiful bronze […]

  13. Stan Says:

    Not only was it ALWAYS called the 59th Street Bridge (except on signage) I remember the defunct trolley tracks that exited into an underground station at the Manhattan side.

  14. A traffic-free Queensboro Bridge in the 1950s | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] was even a push to name it the Montauk Bridge (Queensboro sounded too British to some Irish New […]

  15. The never-built East River bridge at 77th Street | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Almost two decades after the Brooklyn Bridge opened, and only a few years since Brooklyn and Queens became part of greater New York City, plans for a bridge were drawn up again . . . resulting in the graceful cantilever span known as the Queensboro Bridge in 1909. […]

  16. Blue and white tiles line the Queensboro Bridge | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] cantilever span itself is graceful and elegant, of course. But what sets the Queensboro apart might be the smaller design motifs and decoration the bridge architects insisted on before it […]

  17. The factories of Queens sparking to life in 1910 | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] York, too, where he captured the congestion and manufacturing happening on the Queens side of the new Queensboro Bridge in “Tugboats in the East River, New […]

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