The Fascinating History of NYC’s Bridges
There are roughly 2,027 bridges in all of New York City — far too many to list in a single blog post. Of these, ten are considered historic landmarks: The Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge, Queensboro, Washington, University Heights, Carroll Street, Macombs Dam, George Washington Bridge, Highbridge, and Hell Gate Bridge. Each possess unique histories that make the Big Apple’s infrastructure exceptional.
NYC’s first bridges
King’s Bridge, later called Kingsbridge, was built first in 1693. It earned its name by charging everyone that crossed money, save for King’s soldiers. The wooden bridge was rebuilt in 1713 and allegedly demolished in 1917, though some maintain that it remains buried in the landfill between the Southern Bronx and Manhattan where Spuyten Duyvil Creek once was.
New York City’s oldest still-standing bridge, on the other hand, is the High Bridge, also between the Bronx and Manhattan. It was was built in 140 feet over the Harlem River in 1843 to carry water as part of the Croton aqueduct. Use of the bridge for water supply ceased in 1949, and it remained out of use for decades. In 2015, the High Bridge was renovated and reopened for pedestrian usage.
The oldest vehicular bridge in New York City is the Brooklyn Bridge, built in 1883. At the time (and even still today) the Brooklyn Bridge was considered an architectural wonder — it was the largest extension bridge in the world at a stunning 1595.5 feet long. When the Williamsburg Bridge was built in 1903, it overtook the superlative for length at 1600 feet.
The Brooklyn Bridge and Williamsburg Bridge are two of the four major bridges built along the East River between 1870 and 1910. Both the Queensboro Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge were completed in 1909.
Further into the 20th century, the George Washington and Verrazano-Narrows Bridges were completed, the former in 1931 and the latter in 1963. Both overtook the title of longest suspension bridge at the time of their opening — the Verrazano, at 6,690 feet, remains today the longest in America and the 11th longest in the world.
The George Washington Bridge is the most heavily trafficked bridge not only in the city, but the world. In a single year, the bridge accommodates over 51 million cars, trucks, and other vehicles, or 280,714 a day as of 2010.
Today, 21 major bridges connect to the island of Manhattan, with thousands more within and connecting the five boroughs. Though many claim Pittsburgh has the most bridges (as it may, per capita), New York City is otherwise only beat by Hamburg, which has as many as 2500 bridges, in total number.
Though over a century has passed, New York City’s bridges — especially the historic and record-breaking ones — remain beautiful, iconic and integral to the city. For hundreds of thousands that cross daily, treated to a spectacular view of the skyline and Lady Liberty, it’s the saving grace of their commute.
Featured image: Thomas Hawk via Flickr