A mystery bridge in a Harlem subway station

It’s a shame that the mosaics lining the walls of the 125th Street and Lexington Avenue subway station are so caked in grime. They depict a version of Harlem very different from its gritty urban image.


There’s a white church steeple, a house or two set among green hills, and a tidy little bridge stretching over a gentle river.

The steeple and houses seem to reflect Harlem’s past as a mostly rural village from the 17th century until the late 19th century. But what bridge are we looking at?


This New York times article calls it a steel-girder bridge.

And while it might depict one of the steel bridges that crossed the Harlem River at the time (or still cross it), I wonder if the image in the mosaic is actually based on the above illustration of the Harlem Bridge in the 1860s.

Subway mosaics like this one decorate many of the original IRT stations in Manhattan. The 125th Street station opened in 1918—just about when nostalgia for Harlem’s small-town past might be in vogue.

[Bridge illustration:New York Public Library Digital Gallery]

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6 Responses to “A mystery bridge in a Harlem subway station”

  1. Bob_in_MA Says:

    Wow, some excellent detective work there. Did you just happen to remember that image?

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    I looked at different bridge illustrations/photographs. I’m not sure it’s the one on the mosaic though, so the mystery is not officially solved….

  3. John David Howard Says:

    I wonder where the approximate location of this bridge would’ve been located. It could be where the present day Willis Ave. Bridge sits. The aforementioned church steeple made me instantly think of the shore side dutch church that sat on the current location of DOT bus depot on 126th street and 1st ave. http://harlemafricanburialground.wordpress.com/maps/

  4. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Interesting, thanks for that possible clue and for information about the burial ground there. I found references to the Harlem Bridge in newspaper archives but no clear location was given.

  5. T.J. Connick Says:

    An earlier Macomb’s Dam Bridge. See digital ID 800518 on NY Public Library’s Digital Gallery.

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