The pleasures of a New York summer on the Speedway

New York in the summer can be a miserable place. But not on the Speedway—aka, the Harlem River Speedway. Here, ladies strolled in their light summer dresses and sportsmen on trotting horses took in the pleasures of open, airy Upper Manhattan along the bluffs of the Harlem River.

Painter and illustrator Jay Hambidge captured a glimpse of this splendid roadway in his 1898 painting “Summer on the Speedway.” The Speedway opened that year in July, spanning the riverfront from 155th Street in Harlem to Dyckman Street in Inwood, according to the Museum of the City of New York.

The bridge is the 1840s High Bridge, stretching from Manhattan to the Bronx—it’s perhaps the only thing in this painting that still exists in the city today.

In 1920, the Speedway was paved and open to motor cars. By 1940, it had become part of Robert Moses’ Harlem River Drive. But for a brief time in Gilded Age New York, it was a refreshing place to stroll and catch cool river breezes on punishing summer days and evenings.

Plus, wheelmen—aka, bicycle riders—were banned, which pleased the upscale, genteel crowd. Too many menacing scorchers!

[MCNY: 34.100.33]

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8 Responses to “The pleasures of a New York summer on the Speedway”

  1. beth Says:

    looks like a great place to be in the summer

  2. countrypaul Says:

    The Speedway to the east, Riverside Drive to the west – reminders of what at this remove looks like a kinder and gentler time – assuming, of course, that you had the money, time and staff for such indulgences. Still, i fantasize it often when driving up the west side north of the GWB, and find myself having occasional dreams of a green pre-developed Manhattan and The Bronx, too. I consider myself lucky to have experienced a little of that feeling growing up in post-WWII New Rochelle before it all got paved over. Same with parts of the northeast Bronx, particularly Baychester and the Coop City/Freedomland site, which I remember as ghost streets (some with street signs still up) plotted out as “paper streets” on old Hagstrom maps. Wish I had taken pictures, but my bike bag was too small for my funky box camera!

  3. Rob Says:

    When/If I get to NYC again (I’m 69 yo & have been there twice) I need to make a point of seeing all the bridges.
    Tat’s a neat looking bridge!

    • countrypaul Says:

      That’s the original construction in the picture. The middle spans were later (and are currently) replaced by a larger one to accommodate bigger ships. It’s still a beautiful bridge and open again for pedestrians.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Thanks Countrypaul for the info. It is the most beautiful and historic bridge in New York, and I make it a point to walk across it at least once a year. A beautiful view!

  4. velovixen Says:

    I love the High Bridge, too, and occasionally divert a bike ride just so I can cross it.

    You mention “scorchers.” Genteel society was also scandalized by female cyclists wearing shorter skirts, “bloomers” and other clothing less restrictive than the corsets and hoop skirts of the day.

    Can you imagine how they’d see me, astride my bike in shorts and a tank top? Even at my age, they’d say I am a “fast woman!”

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Oh definitely, in the Gilded Age your contemporary bike attire would give everyone the vapors! I like browsing newspaper ads from the 1890s, where the department stores advertised bicycling outfits for “wheel-women” who made it socially acceptable to get exercise and go out without a chaperone watching them at all times.

  5. China Dream Says:

    Reblogged this on dymoonblog and commented:
    I love this bloggers posts.. I can feel the heat.. such great research is done!

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