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.
“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.
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.