Posts Tagged ‘Harlem River Bridges’

Walking Macombs Dam Bridge in Upper Manhattan

November 26, 2018

Completed in 1895, Macombs Dam Bridge is the third oldest bridge in New York City—a graceful metal truss swing bridge over the Harlem River linking West 155th Street in Manhattan to the South Bronx.

A walk across it doesn’t take long. But as you stroll along the pedestrian pathway at the edge of the span, past its 19th century stone towers, finials, and decorative lighting fixtures, you’re treated to a unique panorama of a city waterway few New Yorkers ever see.

It’s a view early 19th century residents who lived in the sparsely populated areas on both sides of the Harlem River knew well. They’ve been crossing the river at this point for more than 200 years.

The first Macomb’s Dam Bridge—it originally had an apostrophe—went up in 1814. (Above and below, about 1850.)

A few years earlier, a Bronx miller and landowner named Robert Macomb sought permission to build a dam here to help power his new grist mill on the Harlem side, states nycroads.com.

The state legislature gave the okay (the Bronx was in Westchester County at the time) with two stipulations: the dam had to allow ship traffic, and it couldn’t flood the salt meadows along the river.

So Macomb built his bridge, but it was a huge headache for local people. They didn’t like the toll they had to pay to cross it, first of all (half the toll fees were supposed to help the poor). Also, the bridge hindered other vessels.

In 1838, fed-up neighbors reportedly paid the crew of a coal barge to hack the dam with axes. Another story has it that one local resident used his own ship to sabotage the dam in 1839.

A court later determined that the dam and bridge were a “public nuisance,” and New York and Westchester County were told to build a new free bridge.

The second bridge was constructed in 1861 (above). Made of iron and wood, it was technologically advanced.

But the wood planking on the roadway wore out quickly, and it had to be repaired and partially rebuilt many times.

This was a major problem in part because upper Manhattan and the lower Bronx were rapidly filling up with people, hence more traffic.

“Macomb’s Dam Bridge, over the Harlem River, is a rickety old structure, and its vibrations when crowded with vehicles and people are alarming,” wrote the New York Times in 1883.

“On days when there are races at Jerome and Fleetwood Parks, between 3,000 and 4,000 carriages cross Macomb’s Dam Bridge,” another Times article from 1885 stated, referencing popular racetracks in the Bronx.

“If there is a more awkward, dangerous, and disreputable bridge across any stream within the city limits, an effort should be made to find it.”

Ultimately, the city decided that it would cost too much to fix the second bridge. The new one—the current bridge—made its debut 12 years after the Brooklyn Bridge opened.

Today, walking Macombs Dam Bridge can make you feel very exposed. Before you stroll high across water, you walk above what was once the Polo Grounds, and today is the Polo Houses.

Once you’re a hundred or so feet over water and closer to the Bronx side, the view is astounding. There’s Yankee Stadium straight ahead, and the glorious High Bridge, which leaps across the Harlem River about 20 blocks north.

[Top photo: Wikipedia, 2014; third image: MCNY 58.300.44; fifth image: NYC Bridges; sixth image: New York Times 1885; seventh image: N-Y Historical Society; eighth image: MCNY 2010.11.8556]

New York City’s other Washington Bridge

March 31, 2014

There’s no scandal surrounding this lovely, smaller-scale steel-arch bridge, which links Washington Heights to the Bronx.

This postcard is undated, but it depicts a very sleepy Upper Manhattan.

Washingtonbridgepostcard

The Washington Bridge isn’t very well known and gets little love by New York residents.

But it should. It opened to pedestrians in 1888 and vehicles in 1889, making it older than its similarly named, much bigger counterpart by a good 40-odd years!

Two beautiful bridges of an older New York

June 10, 2013

Most New Yorkers have never crossed either of these beauties.

Hell Gate Bridge, which has connected Queens and Randalls/Wards Island since 1916, is used by railroads only.

Hellgatebridgepostcard

High Bridge, built in 1848 and spanning the Harlem River between Upper Manhattan and the South Bronx, has been closed since 1970.

It’s supposed to reopen to pedestrians in 2014 after a lengthy renovation—fingers crossed!

Highbridgepostcard

In the meantime, there are ways to experience them up close though. To really absorb the loveliness of the Hell Gate, head to Astoria Park, particularly the enormous public pool there. The bridge looms large in the background.

High Bridge is a little trickier. Highbridge Park in the Bronx affords wonderful views, and you can get close to the iron bars that blocks access to the bridge’s pedestrian walkway.

A mystery bridge in a Harlem subway station

April 1, 2013

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.

HarlemIRTbridgemosaic

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?

Harlemriverbridge1861

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]