Old New York In Postcards #18 – Bridges

Some Unusual and Rare Postcard Views of New York City Bridges

An unusual circa 1900 postcard view of the Brooklyn Bridge promenade with elegantly attired ladies

We don’t think too much about New York City’s bridges except when driving across them. Then you want to know if they are free from traffic, tolls and potholes.

Besides being civic utilitarian objects, on occasion they can be considered architectural masterpieces like the Brooklyn Bridge and George Washington Bridge.

But many of the old bridges crossing New York waterways had great thought put into their design. Unfortunately unless you are stuck in traffic or you bicycle or walk over them, you probably would not take the time to notice the turrets, iron flourishes and fine details that decorate and beautify most of New York City’s early bridges.

Let’s take a look at some 100+ year old bridge postcards and sprinkle in some interesting facts and stories.

Williamsburg Bridge at 6 pm 1906

The Williamsburg Bridge’s tower can be glimpsed in the background, but what makes this view interesting is its vantage point on Delancey Street. While not dated, the postcard has the printing year of 1906 and the time as 6:00 pm. Hundreds of Brooklynites make their way to the bridge to walk or take a trolley or elevated train back home.

If the Williamsburg Bridge seems crowded that’s because it is. In 1906 an estimated 1,191,000 pedestrians; 3,548,900 passengers and drivers of vehicles; 51 million surface car (trolley) passengers; 56 million elevated car passengers; and exactly 1,149,543 vehicles and 33,375 horses led by hand, crossed the bridge.

The Williamsburg Bridge was opened on December 19, 1903. The cost of the construction of the bridge with the land was $23,277,560.

Manhattan Bridge at night circa 1910

It is a snowy night and and the roads leading onto the Manhattan Bridge have a light coating of ice, snow and slush on them. The scene is brilliantly lit and there are vehicles or pedestrians in the scene. The Manhattan Bridge was opened for vehicular traffic December 31, 1909 and opened for pedestrian travel July 18, 1910. Including the land, the bridge cost $24,105,200.

Tolls were eliminated on the Williamsburg, Manhattan, Queensboro and Brooklyn Bridge on July 19, 1911 by order of Mayor Gaynor.

High Bridge is the oldest extant bridge in New York. Designed by John B. Jervis and completed in 1848 the bridge cost $963,428. The pedestrian bridge originally contained two three foot pipes which brought New York City fresh water from the Croton River, 41 miles away. The amount of water these pipes could carry was found to be inadequate within a dozen years. The side walls of the bridge were expanded and between 1860 -1864 a seven foot diameter water pipe was laid on top of the original two pipes.

The bridge was modeled after ancient Roman aqueducts, High Bridge’s 15 stone arches graced the river until the early 20th century. During World War I the bridge was declared a menace to navigation. Two proposals were put forward in 1918 to either remove two arches and replace that section with a steel span or entirely demolish the bridge at a cost of $150,000. A compromise of sorts was reached. By order of the War Department in 1927-28, five of the the arches over the river portion were removed and replaced by a single steel arch to facilitate navigation of the Harlem River. The stones removed from the five arches of High Bridge were re-used to build a retaining wall that today lines Riverdale Avenue in the Bronx from 231st Street to 235th Street.

Water remained flowing through the bridge until 1958. After being closed to pedestrian traffic for over 50 years the bridge was reopened to the public in 2015.

This view is from the Bronx side looking south towards the High Bridge water pumping station tower. I’ve never figured out for sure on the Manhattan side, north of the bridge what the large white house is. The house appears in many photographs and postcards of High Bridge. Rest stop, hotel, refreshment stand or private dwelling? Perhaps it is the Speedway Inn which is the only named structure near High Bridge shown in the Belcher Hyde 1912 atlas of Manhattan. In 1908 the Speedway Inn was not being used as an inn and was rented by John McDonald as a private dwelling.

Washington Bridge c. 1906 by Thaddeus Wilkerson

The Washington Bridge connecting University Avenue in the Bronx to Amsterdam Ave, in  Manhattan was completed in 1888. This real photo view by Thaddeus Wilkerson shows the roadway, waiting shelter and its ornate light poles. The original gas lighting system was replaced by Edison arc lights on August 26, 1905.

Ivy crawls up the side stone walls of the arch bridge. On this day with the exception of a few pedestrians taking in the views of the Harlem River, the bridge is almost devoid of any traffic. The one vehicle seen here is a trolley car belonging to the Interborough Railroad Company which began service across the bridge on May 31, 1906.

This advertising postcard for The Prudential Insurance Co. of America shows an unusual view of the Queensboro Bridge. Looking up Avenue A (now Sutton Place) we can see a few motor vehicles and low rise buildings. Almost every one of the buildings seen here were demolished beginning in the 1920s and replaced with fancy high rises.

The Queensboro Bridge opened March 30, 1909. Including land, the bridge cost $17,874,253.

Willis Ave Bridge from water c. 1906

Connecting First Avenue and 125th Street in Manhattan with East 133rd Street and Willis Avenue in the Bronx,  the Willis Avenue Bridge opened to traffic August 22, 1901.

It cost $2,372,194.14 including land and approaches.

When the original bridge was replaced in 2010 with a new bridge it cost $612 million, including new ramp approaches to the FDR Drive and Bruckner Boulevard.

The Macombs Dam or Central Bridge at 155th Street

The Macombs Dam Bridge seen here in about 1905 was originally situated at 155th Street and Seventh Avenue in Manhattan and 162nd Street and Jerome Avenue in the Bronx.

In 1814 a bridge with a dam occupied this spot and was built by Robert Macomb. A group of citizens breached the bridge with a coal barge in 1839 claiming that it was an impediment to navigation. The courts upheld that the bridge was indeed a public nuisance.

In 1861 a swing bridge was built on this same spot and called the Central Bridge. On May 1. 1895 a new steel swing bridge replaced the older Central Bridge. Its total cost with land was $1,572,956.26. In 1902 the Central Bridge was officially renamed the Macombs Dam Bridge. In 1992 the bridge was designated an official New York City landmark.

George Washington Bridge as proposed 1926 by architect Cass Gilbert

As we previously wrote, the Hudson River Bridge as designed in 1926, was originally going to have its steel towers encased in stone. Renamed the George Washington Bridge before opening in 1931, the stone encasement idea was abandoned. The hooks meant to attach the stone are still there waiting – hopefully never to be used.

1 thought on “Old New York In Postcards #18 – Bridges

  1. Vicki Mack

    Hi. I found one of your NY postcards on line and then your great site.

    The one I am interested is NY (I think 1903) taken in the center of Broadway looking North at Chambers St. It is colorized and has a woman in a white dress, a street car, a cop, etc.

    Do you have the postcard or a higher-res version? I would be happy to pay for either one if you would be so kind as to share.

    Please feel free to contact me any time.

    Thank you for putting such interesting and thoughtful material.


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