Map of Hell Gate Bridge
The massive beauty and advanced technology of the Hell Gate Bridge (more properly the New York Connecting Railroad Bridge) contrast sharply with nineteenth-century descriptions of the channel that it spans. Named for the dangerous rocks and perilous waters at the confluence of the East and the Harlem Rivers, Hell Gate is surrounded by Manhattan, Queens, and three islands: Wards, Randalls, and Roosevelt (formerly called Blackwell’s, then Welfare). Philip Hone (1780-1851), writing of an 1844 visit there, described “the delightful scene: the clumps of fine old trees clothed in the gorgeous foliage of autumn, the lawn still bright and green, the mild, refreshing breeze, the rapid waters of Hell Gate covered with sailing vessels and steamboats -all combined to present a picture of consummate beauty.”
The construction of the Pennsylvania Railroad tunnel under the Hudson River and into Pennsylvania Station replaced the time-consuming and expensive water route for New York -bound passengers and freight from New Jersey and points south. Hell Gate Bridge -from the Sunnyside Yards in Queens across the Hell Gate to Wards Island, then across the Little Hell Gate to Randalls Island, and then over the Bronx Kill to the Bronx -was built to complete the linkage of the New York, New England, and Long Island rail lines with the Hudson River crossing. Together, tunnel and bridge created a direct route over the Bronx Kill to the Bronx.
The longest, heaviest, strongest steel arch bridge in the world at that time and the only four-track long-span railroad bridge ever built, Hell Gate Bridge marks the apogee of American railroad power and prosperity. Government regulation, poor management, and a proliferation of alternative methods of transportation -private cars, trucks, buses, and airplanes -eventually undercut the railroad’s primacy.
Engineer Gustave Lindenthal (1850 -1935) and architect Henry Hornbostel (1867 -1961) had previously been responsible for the redesign of both the Manhattan and Queensboro Bridges. Lindenthal, who served in 1902 -1903 as Commissioner of Bridges, firmly believed that a bridge could be both technologically sound and aesthetically pleasing. Despite his accomplishments and success, Lindenthal probably had no formal training in his chosen profession but apparently possessed “the extraordinary intelligence, energy, and self-discipline that enabled him to teach himself mathematics, engineering theory, metallurgy, hydraulics, estimating, management, and everything else a successful bridge designer had to know.”
See more pictures of Hell Gate Bridge at Wired New York Forum
Hell Gate Bridge at nycroads.com
Pictures of Hell Gate Bridge
The view of Hell Gate Bridge/New York Connecting Railroad Bridge from Triborough Bridge.
The view of Hell Gate Bridge/New York Connecting Railroad Bridge from Queens.
The view of Hell Gate Bridge/New York Connecting Railroad Bridge from Wards Island.