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Thread: The High Bridge aka Aqueduct Bridge

  1. #1

    Default The High Bridge aka Aqueduct Bridge

    Text from

    SUPPLYING AN EMERGING METROPOLIS WITH WATER: During the first decades of the nineteenth century, the rapid development of New York City required the construction of a far-reaching system to obtain clean water. Fires, pestilence and corruption ensued while the city's wells either ran dry or had become contaminated, providing impetus for the city's leaders to provide a long-term solution.

    In 1833, the city established a Water Commission to plan a water supply system. Among the options for the water supply were the Bronx River, Morrisania Creek, Rye Pond and the Croton River. Major David B. Douglass, a hero from the War of 1812 and a West Point engineering professor, supported using the Croton River. Although this was the most expensive option, it could supply 40 million gallons of water a day to the city. The Croton Reservoir was also situated at a high level, so that it could supply the upper floors of city buildings.

    On June 2, 1835, Douglass was appointed chief engineer of the Croton Aqueduct project. One of the centerpieces of the project was a high-level, multiple-arch bridge that was to "lend to New York some of the grandeur of imperial Rome." However, Douglas encountered early difficulties in Westchester County, the source of the Croton system. Local farmers demanded not only generous sums from the city, but also free water from the reservoirs. Nevertheless, the Water Commission suspected that the delays were due to corruption, and fired Douglas from his position.

    In 1836, the Water Commission tapped John B. Jervis, an engineer with experience constructing the Delaware and Hudson Canal (where the town of Port Jervis was named after him) and the Erie Canal, was tapped to head the Croton Aqueduct project. Initially, Jervis was hesitant to undertake a project to construct a high-level arch bridge over the Harlem River. Jervis, who believed that municipal structures should be economical, instead argued for a low-level arched bridge with a 50-foot-draw.

    However, local citizens argued that since the Croton Aqueduct was the greatest public work of its time, it deserved a monumental bridge - which was advanced earlier by Douglas - worthy of its nature. The "High Bridge" faction lobbied successfully for the New York State Legislature to pass a law requiring the aqueduct to either pass beneath the river by means of pipes, or to be placed on a high-level structure. Jervis reluctantly went along, and in 1837, the Water Commission accepted the High Bridge proposal. Construction of the bridge began two years later.

    DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION: Jervis tapped James Renwick, Jr., a young engineer, to assist in the construction of the High Bridge. Renwick later went out to oversee the construction of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan.

    From end to end, the High Bridge measures 1,450 feet in length. The original design consisted of 15 circular masonry arches, eight of which were 80 feet long (over the Harlem River and the New York Central-Harlem Line), and seven of which were 50 feet long (all of them over land). The arches over the Harlem River had a clearance of 114 feet above mean high water. Two 33-inch-diameter pipes were laid within the arch walls to conduct the water. Gate chambers at either end of the bridge regulated the flow of water across the bridge. Finally, a pedestrian walkway was constructed 135 feet above the Harlem River valley.

    While the High Bridge took its design cues from the Roman aqueducts, it included the most contemporary design conventions of its time. The loads from above the arch ring were made hollow, having only the material needed for strength. Passages were provided from the spandrel walls to the hollow space in the piers to allow water that might fall between the parapets to exit into an opening in the pier near the high water line of the river. This follow space between the sidewalls of the arch reduced the dead weight.

    In 1848, the High Bridge went into the service for the first time. When it was completed, the masonry Croton Aqueduct wound its way for more than 40 miles through forests, villages and cities from a dam on the Croton River to two high-walled, rectangular reservoirs in Manhattan, the Receiving Reservoir at Yorkhill (the site of the Central Park Great Lawn) and the Distributing Reservoir at Murray Hill (the site of the New York Public Library).

    DESIGN CHANGES ON THE HIGH BRIDGE: In 1860, a third, 90-inch-diameter pipe was added to the High Bridge, and the floor of the bridge was raised to accommodate it. In 1872, the High Bridge Watchtower was erected to equalize water pressure from the Croton Aqueduct.

    While the third pipe supplied the burgeoning population of Greater New York, still more water was necessary. In the early years of the twentieth century, the Water Commission oversaw construction of the New Croton Aqueduct and Catskill Reservoir systems. The New Croton Aqueduct system was completed in 1906, and the Catskill Reservoir system was completed in 1926.
    The original Croton Aqueduct inside the High Bridge closed not because of any structural defects, but because of security risks. On February 3, 1917, the same day that the German ambassador was sent back when the United States entered World War I, the Water Commission shut down the aqueduct. With tunnels supplying the city's water, and the threat of sabotaging the aqueducts removed, it was now easier to patrol the water supply.

    It was also at this time that the Army Corps of Engineers expressed concern that the High Bridge's narrow 80-foot-wide arches obstructed the navigation of large craft on the Harlem River. The Corps served notice to New York City officials, demanding that the bridge arches over the navigable channel have a horizontal clearance of at least 100 feet. To provide this minimum clearance, the Corps proposed removing two of the alternate bridge piers. Vertical clearances were to remain at 114 feet above mean high water.

    Responding to the Corps' requests, the New York City Commissioner of Plant and Structures advocated demolishing the High Bridge on the grounds that water no longer flowed through the structure, and that it was more expedient to demolish the bridge than to remodel it.

    Many professional organizations, along with ordinary New Yorkers, derided both the Army Corps of Engineers and the New York City Board of Plant and Structures proposals. The American Institute of Consulting Engineers, the American Institute of Architects, the American Society of Civil Engineers and the American Institute of Fine Arts all favored preserving the bridge. In a 1923 editorial in Scientific American magazine, destruction of the High Bridge was regarded as "an act of vandalism without precedent in the history of our country."

    The Army Corps of Engineers, the Board of Plant and Structures and citizen groups reached a compromise on the future of the high bridge. The plan involved removing five of the eight 80-foot-wide arches, replacing them with a single steel-plate girder arch that had a lateral clearance of 360 feet. The $1 million replacement project was completed in 1927.

    The High Bridge Watchtower continued to function as a pumping station until it ceased operating in 1949.

    PART OF "FORGOTTEN" NEW YORK? Although it was designated a landmark by a landmark by the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1970, the High Bridge has fallen into neglect in recent decades. That same year, the walkway was closed when a pedestrian threw a rock onto a Circle Line boat below, killing a tourist on the boat.

    However, the High Bridge may not be forgotten for much longer. In the late 1990's, Henry Stern, New York City parks commissioner, has announced it will pursue funding to reopen the unused High Bridge walkway. The Parks Department, which now has jurisdiction over the bridge, plans the following rehabilitation projects on the High Bridge:

    The department plans to spend $30 million to repair the main span. The work, which would focus on peeling paint, corrosion, loose mortar and frozen expansion joints, would be funded by state and Federal transportation and preservation dollars.

    In a separate project, the department plans to rehabilitate the existing stairways, build new bicycle ramps, and install soft floodlights on the span. This project is estimated to cost $6 million.

    No construction dates have been set for these projects. Reopening the span would require a safety inspection, which would cost an additional $1 million. The last detailed inspection in 1986 showed that the bridge was safe for pedestrian travel.

    The view of the High Bridge from High Bridge Park.

    The view of the High Bridge from Harlem River Drive.

    The view of the High Bridge from Harlem River Drive.

  2. #2

    Default High Bridge

    Of course they should open the walkway...

  3. #3
    Moderator NYatKNIGHT's Avatar
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    Oct 2002
    Manhattan - South Village

    Default High Bridge

    Edward, do you know if you can access High Bridge Park by bicycle now?

  4. #4

    Default High Bridge

    Unfortunately, there is virtually no access to the High Bridge Park, whether by bicycle or on foot. It's a large park, *extending from 155th Street to Dyckman Street for about 45 blocks.

    There is a stairway across the park somewhere around 159th Street. *The plaque on the stairway says "The Jonh T. Brush stairway presented by the New York Giants". You have to jump a fence to use the stairway. The area is called Coogan's Bluff (see some info below).

    The Highbridge pool and Highbridge Tower are at 173rd Street (again some info below).

    There are some trails in the park at several places. You find beatiful fences, staircases and promenades in a state of decay. See, for example the picture below of the area between Washington and Alexander Hamilton Bridges.

    It is sad to see the park in such a sorry state, it could be a great place for recreation if taken care of.

    Highbridge Park

    Coogan’s Bluff, a large cliff extending northward from 155th Street in Manhattan, once was the site of the fabled Polo Grounds, home of the New York baseball Giants, and the first home of the New York Mets. It sits atop a steep escarpment that descends 175 feet below sea level. In 1891, John T. Brush (1845-1912), the Giants’s owner, bought the land for the stadium from James J. Coogan (1845-1915), a real estate merchant and Manhattan Borough President (1899-1901).

    The Giants originally played in a polo field on 111th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Brush kept the name, Polo Grounds, when he moved the team to Coogan’s Bluff in 1891. In April 1911, the Polo Grounds, an elaborate wooden structure, burned to the ground. By October, the Giants were hosting the Philadelphia Athletics for the 1911 World Series in a rebuilt stadium of concrete and steel. The new Polo Grounds boasted box seats of Italian marble, ornamental American eagles on the balustrade, and blue and gold banners, 30 feet apart, flying from a cantilever roof. At the time, it was the premier Major League Baseball stadium.

    Baseball soon established itself as the quintessential American game, and the New York Giants made significant contributions to 20th century baseball lore. Mel Ott (1909-1958) and Willie Mays (b.1931) are thought to be among the finest players of all time; and the names of Christy Mathewson (1878-1925) and Carl Hubbell (1903-1988) are still mentioned whenever great pitchers are discussed. The Giants also provided baseball with one of its most dramatic moments: “the shot heard round the world.” In 1951, the Giants and their arch-rivals the Brooklyn Dodgers were in the ninth inning of the deciding game in a play-off to determine the National League pennant winner. With two outs left in the game, the Dodgers were ahead 4-2 when Bobby Thomson came to bat for the Giants and hit a 3-run home run winning the game for the Giants, and making baseball history.

    In 1957, the owner of the Giants, Horace Stoneham (1903-1990) broke many New York hearts when he announced that he was moving the Giants to San Francisco. The Polo Grounds remained for seven more years, serving as home to the New York Mets for the 1962 and 1963 seasons. In 1964 the stadium was demolished and now the Polo Grounds Towers, a housing project, occupies the site. All that is left of the original Polo Grounds is an old staircase on the side of the cliff that once led to the ticket booth.

    Today, Coogan’s Bluff is part of Highbridge Park, which was assembled piecemeal between 1867 and the 1960s, with the bulk being acquired through condemnation from 1895 to 1901. The cliffside area from West 181st Street to Dyckman Street was acquired in 1902, and the parcel including Fort George Hill was acquired in 1928. The park extends from 155th Street in North Harlem to Dyckman Street in Washington Heights/Inwood. The Friends of Highbridge Park are involved in preserving the park's history and the New York Restoration Project has cleaned the park and restored its trails.

    Highbridge Park

    The Highbridge Pool and Recreation Center were built in 1936. The pool was the fifth of eleven city pools built with labor supplied by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA). It opened during the hot summer of 1936, leading Fortune magazine to dub 1936 “the swimming pool year.”

    An avid swimmer since his college days as a freestyler at Yale, Parks Commissioner Robert Moses (1888–1981, Parks Commissioner 1934-60) created many facilities that increased public access to New York’s water resources. Moses began a flurry of pool construction when he became New York City Parks Commissioner in 1934. Highbridge Pool opened July 14, 1936 with great fanfare; Moses and Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia (1882–1947) both attended the opening, and after the Mayor turned on a switch lighting the pool, a swimming and diving exhibition ensued. When it opened, the pool’s hours were 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and admission to the pool was 20 cents for adults and 10 cents for children.

    Moses implemented many innovations to make the pools cleaner and more accessible to the public, including improved filtering systems and underwater lighting. He was able to build so many in part because, during the Depression, the Federal government was funding public works projects as a means of providing people with jobs. Moses and Mayor LaGuardia were able to secure a great deal of WPA funding for New York City, in part because its projects were so well organized. After the WPA disbanded in 1943, Moses continued to build pools, providing overheated New Yorkers with a place to swim, wade, or just beat the summer heat.

    The High Bridge, for which the park, pool, and the center are named, was built in 1848 to carry the Old Croton Aqueduct over the Harlem River. Begun in 1837, High Bridge was once part of the first reliable and uninterrupted water supply system in New York City, the Old Croton Aqueduct. It was one of the first of its kind constructed in the United States. The innovative system ran 41 miles into New York City through an enclosed masonry structure crossing ridges, valleys, and rivers. The High Bridge soars 138 feet above the 620 foot-wide Harlem River, with a total length of 1450 feet.

    Highbridge Park, located at 175th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, was assembled piecemeal between 1867 and the 1960s, with the bulk being acquired through condemnation from 1895 to 1901. The cliffside area from West 181st Street to Dyckman Street was acquired in 1902, and the parcel including Fort George Hill was acquired in 1928. In 1934 the Department of Parks obtained the majestic Highbridge Tower (1872) and the site of old High Bridge Reservoir. The recreation center and pool were built on the site of the old reservoir

    Parks’s Monuments shop has been located for decades underneath the pool complex, which was renovated in 1985 following a three year, $9.1 million project. The 165-foot by 228-foot pool was made handicap accessible, the main pool building, concessions building, and filter building were repaired, and new heating, ventilation, electrical and filtration systems. Mayor Giuliani funded a $305,000 renovation of the pool’s filtration system in 1996 and Council Member Guillermo Linares funded a $445,000 upgrade of the pool’s heating and ventilation systems. In 2001 Council Members Linares and Stanley E. Michels and Borough President C. Virginia Fields funded a nearly $1 million renovation of the recreation center that added volleyball and basketball courts, ensuring that the facility will continue to serve New Yorkers for many years to come.

  5. #5

    Default High Bridge

    Excellent articles! *And, such a rich history lesson to complement the photographs. Thanks, Edward. *I learn more in a week on this forum, (about NY) than I have in a lifetime.

  6. #6

    Default High Bridge

    Good news CMANDALA. Bike and camera ready.

  7. #7

    Default High Bridge

    Limits photo-ops. No big lenses.

  8. #8


    I got an email about the High Bridge reproduced below; anyone can collaborate the opinion?

    ... I don't know where the rumor that the High Bridge was closed in the early 1970s after a fatal rock throwing incident, but it is pure nonsense, the result of lazy newspaper reporters who don't know how to, or don't care to, research. I have been attempting to ascertain exactly when it was closed, and have thus far been unable to, but it was definitely between 1958 and 1968, and most likely between 1958 and 1962. I have conducted an exhaustive, extensive study of the New York Times Archives. On April 20, 1958, four youths threw bricks, sticks, and rocks onto the Circle Line as it passed under the High Bridge. Four people were injured, none seriously. When the New York Press ran a story on the High Bridge, someone wrote the next week, stating that he had moved to the Highbridge section of the Bronx in 1962, and the bridg had been closed even then. A New York Times reporter who followed the trail of the Croton Aqueduct in 1968 stated that the High ridge was closed.

  9. #9


    High Bridge, 1900.

    Washington Bridge, 1901.

  10. #10


    I don't know what year it closed, but it was already closed in the late 60s.

  11. #11

  12. #12

    Default High Bridge Watchtower

    Inside High Bridge Watchtower. 9 October 2005.

  13. #13


    Very neat. Impressive access, Edward.

  14. #14


    The view of the High Bridge from High Bridge Watchtower. 9 October 2005.

  15. #15

    Default drawings and paintings of the “High Bridge, New York City.”

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