The “Jews’ Highway” crossing the East River

Williamsburgbridgepraying1909As the second (and some say much less attractive) bridge spanning the East River, the Williamsburg Bridge didn’t score the same adulation as the Brooklyn Bridge did.

Opened in 1903 and until the 1920s the longest suspension bridge in the world, the humble Williamsburg sparked the migration of thousands of Jewish immigrants from the cramped Lower East Side to slightly more spacious Brooklyn.

The bridge scored such heavy traffic from Jewish New Yorkers in the early 1900s, the tabloid-ish New York Tribune called it the “Jews’ Highway.'”

“In its early years, the walkway, which was wide enough for pushcarts, was so crowded with peddlers transporting their wares to and from Manhattan that one newspaper dubbed it the ‘Jews’ Highway,'” writes Victor Lederer in the Brooklyn Historical Society’s Williamsburg.


Watch a fantastic news clip of opening day on the bridge and the top-hatted dignitaries who ceremoniously walked across it first.

[Photo: Jews praying on the Williamsburg Bridge, New Year’s Day, 1909, from the LOC]

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11 Responses to “The “Jews’ Highway” crossing the East River”

  1. penelopebianchi Says:

    I live in California…….(third generation….an unusual thing!)

    I love reading about this wonderful story. I did live in New York City for almost a year…..1969-1970!

    The city was going bankrupt; there was an enormous financial collapse….(I still understand NOTHING about it!!)

    I did understand one thing! I was 23 ; I saw houses on the east river (above Sutton Place; my in-laws had an apartment at 2 Sutton Place South); I saw those townhouses with gardens across the street….and I wished I liked New York better to live there!

    Those divine townhouses were selling for nothing….( sounded like nothing to me….the house I bought in Pasadena that year….$39,500.00!

    Last time it sold, $1.500,000.00! Yikes!

    I love New York to visit…..and I love your blog! The time I lived there I was sleuthing around!

    and it is my very favorite place on earth to visit!

    Thank you for the lovely connection!


  2. Keith Goldstein Says:

    My grandparents lived in Brooklyn, where my parents, me and my siblings were born. My mother’s father worked a pushcart in Harlem. By the time I was born he was retired and sadly passed away when I was 2. My earliest memories were of him taking me to the beach. I always had so many questions for him and what he did.

  3. Joe R Says:

    The writer Henry Miller was a Williamsburg native. In his autobiographical novel “The Tropic of Capricorn” he mentioned the sudden influx of Jews from the LES into “his” neighborhood once the bridge had opened. He wasn’t happy about the change.

  4. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Miller had strong feelings about his Williamsburg childhood. He called the neighborhood “tender with violence,” his youth there a “sojourn in paradise.” And his old home still stands:

  5. Searchingforamerica Says:

    Love your blog. Always fascinating how we got to where we are now. Thanks

  6. William Krause Says:

    Your ‘ephemera’ lives again, reminding one of how difficult it can be for newcomers to America, eager to fit in, to survive. Thank you.

  7. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    You are welcome, thanks for reading!

  8. Linkage: Revelations in Menachem Stark Killing; Behold, Supermoon! | LIBERTY ALLIANCE Says:

    […] be vulgar on the street, you dick [Gothamist] · Looks like Lyft is illegal [WSJ] · “Jews’ Highway” on the Williamsburg Bridge [ENY] · Bushwick warehouse to become restaurant [BBH] · Private school chauffeurs steal […]

  9. Upstate Ellen Says:

    Great news clip! Love the hats and coats that the men wore.

  10. Amedeo Mantone Says:

    Always wondered why they had a “Jewish Sign” on the rest room
    in the tower on the Manhatten side which I use to walk across in the 30’s & 40’s

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