Bronx Bridges  Part I

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The Harlem River, a branch of the East River, and Spuyten Duyvil Creek, a branch of the Hudson River, make a continuous waterway about six miles long through the City of New York, separating Manhattan Island from the larger portion of the city on the main land.

The first bridge over the Harlem River was built under a franchise for 99 years, granted in June, 1693, to Fredryck Flypsen or Philipse, to build and maintain at his own expense a bridge over the Spuyten Duyvil Creek, and to collect certain "easy and reasonable tolls" from such passengers as might cross it. The bridge was to be twenty-four feet wide and provided with a draw of sufficient size to permit the passage of small craft. It was further stipulated that it should be free for the passage of the King's forces, and should be called King's Bridge. This bridge was built during the same year, a little to the east of the site of the present structure which bears the same name. It remained in the hands of Philipse's descendants down to Revolutionary times, when it was forfeited to the State on account of the adherence of the family to the English Crown.

About 1759 public opinion became so strongly aroused against the payment of tolls that a second bridge, called the Free Bridge was built by public subscription at or near the site of the present farmer's or Fordham Bridge. This diverted all the travel from the old structure and the obnoxious tolls were finally suspended.

The next bridge was built at Third Avenue by J.B. Coles, in 1795 to 1797. He was at first reimbursed by tolls collected from the passengers over it. This bridge remained in use until 1855 or 1858 when it was torn down to give place to the bridge which has just been removed. The latter was completed and opened to the public in 1867. It was very low, being only 13.2 feet in the clear above high water, with an opening on each side of the centre pier of 82 feet.

In 1813 authority was granted to Robert Macomb to build a bridge with a draw where the Seventh Avenue Bridge now stands. He built it, however, without a draw and dammed the river at that point. About the same time, it was also dammed at King's Bridge and remained a tidal mill pond until 1836, when a number of Westchester farmers tore down the Macomb's dam and re-opened navigation. Later, a wooden bridge was constructed at the same place with a swing draw, known as Macomb's Dam Bridge, which was in constant use up to 1891, when it was moved a short distance up the river (See Scientific American of July 14, 1894) to make room for the new steel bridge, and was used while the latter was under construction.

The Fourth Avenue Railroad Bridge was authorized in 1840, and the railroad bridge over Spuyten Duyvil Creek was authorized in 1846. These bridges were built for railroad purposes only.

High Bridge was completed in 1849, and is a portion of the old Croton aqueduct, carrying the water across the valley of the Harlem. it extends from 175th Street and 10th Avenue to Aqueduct Avenue.

It will be noticed that the bridges referred to were erected previous to, and were in position in 1874, the date of the passage of the Act annexing the territory on the north side of the river to the City of new York.

At that time, while the lands under water on Manhattan Island were vested in the corporation of the City of New York, the lands under water on the Westchester side were in almost, if not in all, cases vested in the riparian owners by grants from the Commissioners of the Land Office at Albany. In some cases, the lands under water were secured to the riparian owners by patents granted prior to the Revolution.

The survey of the stream by the U.S. Government Engineers was authorized by act of Congress, June 23, 1874. The channel depth in the Harlem River and Spuyten Duyvil Creek is 15 feet at mean low water. In the channel along Dykman's Creek there is a depth of 18 feet at mean low water.

From the Third Avenue Bridge to the entrance of Dykman's Creek into the Harlem River, a distance of about five miles, exterior pier and bulkhead lines are laid out, 400 feet apart. The line through Dykman's Meadows, about one half mile long, is 350 feet wide. The balance of the stream to the Hudson River is 400 feet in width. The average rise and fall of the tide in the river is 5 ft. 9 in. at the East River end and 4 ft. 6 in. at the Hudson River.

The work of making the channel navigable between the Hudson and East Rivers was sufficiently complete at the close of the year 1894 to warrant the celebration by the North Side Board of Trade of the formal opening of the Harlem River Canal by a land and water parade, and a banquet on June 17, 1895.

The banks of the river on both sides for the greater part are admirably adapted to the building of wharves, slips, and basins, and will afford opportunity for the addition of new dock frontage about 14 1/2 miles in length through an important part of the city. At High Bridge and at Washington Bridge the land on both sides of the river is high enough to permit of approaches substantially level with the bridge floors.

Vested interests, and the rapid growth in wealth and population compelled a demand for more and better facilities for transportation over the river, and since annexation five new bridges, Northern R.R., 1877; Madison Ave., 1884; Second Avenue, 1885; Washington, 1889; and Broadway, 1894; have been built 24 feet above mean high water, to conform to the requirements of the War Department.

Two bridges of sufficient height to conform to the act of Congress, have been built to take the place of the Macomb's Dam Bridge and of the Railroad Bridge at Fourth Avenue. The new bridge at Third Avenue is now in process of construction.

The contract for the new Willis Avenue Bridge will soon be under way, having approaches at 125th street and Second Avenue and 134th Street and Willis Avenue, has not yet been awarded. The estimated cost of the bridge is $1,666,000.

The North Side Board of Trade asked the Commissioner of Public Works to make provision for a recreation park on one of the fixed spans of the north side of the bridge. Such a park, sixty-six feet wide, and several hundred feet long, affording a fine view of the East River, Ward's Island, and the valley of the Harlem River, in the near vicinity of a large tenement population, would prove a wise benefaction. The petition of the Board was not, however, treated with the respect it deserved.

The present plans of the Rapid Transit Commissioners include a bridge over the Harlem at Fourth Avenue, north of the present railroad bridge.

Chapter 986, Laws of 1895, authorizes the construction of a bridge at 149th Street to connect with 145th Street on the Harlem side, and soundings are now being taken. This bridge, when built, will be of great utility, as it will be the connecting link between two thoroughfares, making a practically straight line between the Hudson River and the East River.

An act was passed by the Legislature of 1897, providing for the acquisition of lands to connect the Macomb's Dam Bridge with the Concourse. it is proposed to build an ornamental iron viaduct, with two sidewalks, two roadways for vehicles and two bicycle tracks, to cost about $500,000.

Bridges over the Bronx River at Westchester Avenue, Woodruff Avenue, Tremont Avenue, and at Wakefield, to be built under the supervision of the Commissioner of Street Improvement, have been arranged for, and the plans are well under way.

Under Chapter 970 of the U.S. Laws of 1890, it provided that the Secretary of War shall fix the time during which the draws shall be opened, but that "said draws shall not be opened except for vessels propelled by steam, with or without vessels in tow; nor shall they be required to be opened at any times other than between ten o'clock in the forenoon and five o'clock in the afternoon." Experience has shown that the draws should not be opened between five a.m. and eight p.m., and that all steam tugs should be compelled to adopt devices to enable them to pass under the fixed draws at all stages of the tide.

With the completion of the new bridges having a clear space of 24 feet above high water, and the enforcement of the U.S. Law of 1890, and of the ordinance of the Department of Public Parks of November 30, 1892, many of the disadvantages associated with a territory separated by a navigable stream crossed by low level bridges from the old, wealthy, and thickly settled portion of the city of which it is a part, will be greatly lessened, and some practically removed.

The commerce of the river will be principally in building materials, fuel, and the product of factories along its banks. This bulky freight will be carried in steam-propelled vessels, adapted to passage under its bridges, which will in time become practically fixed bridges, affording uninterrupted transit; thus increasing the value of properties on the North Side to very nearly an equality with those of like character on Manhattan island, and stimulating growth in population and wealth in every section of the North Side.

The bridges re-built, to meet the requirements of the U.S. Law, those in progress of construction, and the others as arranged for, are all conspicuous examples of engineering skill and adaptation. For beauty of design and detail of mechanism, they are as fine examples of bridge construction as can be found anywhere.

The commerce of the Harlem River, above Second Avenue, for the year ending June 30, 1893, was, approximately, 2,666,526 tons, distributed as follows:

Handled by N.Y. & Putnam R.R................................166,066 tons.
Distributed along the river...................................2,475,275 tons.
Distributed along Spuyten D. Cr................................25.185 tons.
                                                                                        2,666,526 tons.

(Continue Part II)


Website: The History
Article Name: Bronx Bridges Part I
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: The Great North Side; or; Borough of the Bronx, New York, Anonymous; New York, Knickerbocker Press, 1891.
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