Passaic Street Bridge, Lodi

Passaic Street Bridge

Passaic Street Bridge

Crosses: Saddle River
Location: Carries Passaic Street over the Saddle River in Lodi, NJ [satellite map]
Carries: 2 vehicular lanes, 2 pedestrian sidewalks
Design: Through-girder bridge
Date opened: 1903

The Passaic Street Bridge carries Passaic Street (which becomes Passaic Avenue and feeds into Main Street) across the Saddle River in Lodi, New Jersey. It was built by the American Bridge Company in 1903. It is a through-girder bridge that rests on stone abutments. In 1939 (and again in 1971), the girders underwent repairs and welded plates were added to strengthen them. Also in 1971, much of the original concrete encasement on the floorbeams was removed and a metal deck was installed. Some of the original metal railing remains on the span, and one partially-broken plaque gives information on the bridge’s construction. New Jersey’s 2002 Bridge Survey notes that the bridge is one of more than 20 of its type in the state, and due to the construction on it over the years, “the altered span has lost its visual integrity and it is not distinguished.” [1]

plaque

Bridge plaque

Though the bridge may not be unique in its construction, it is of a type that is frequently replaced with more modern spans, and over its 110-plus years in existence it has been witness to much change in Lodi.

Industry on the Saddle River

The town of Lodi has existed in some form since Revolutionary times, and the township of Lodi was organized in 1825, taking  its name from a town in Italy. The Saddle River was important to the growth of the town into a manufacturing center. By the late 1800’s, the river provided the power to two grist- and saw-mills, a bleaching and dyeing factory called United Piece Dye Works, and the Lodi Chemical Works. [2]

The borough of Lodi was incorporated in 1894 out of Lodi Township and Saddle River Township, during New Jersey’s period of “Borough Fever” of the late nineteenth century. Starting in 1894, New Jersey allowed new boroughs to be formed by petition, rather than as a special act of the state legislature. Bergen County took particular advantage of this–56 out of 70 total municipalities in the county are now boroughs.

United Piece Dye Works

The late 1890’s saw an influx of immigrants, mainly from Italy, coming to Lodi to work at the United Piece Dye Works. The factory was  just upstream from the current location of the Passaic Street Bridge on the Saddle River. The dye made there became a part of the landscape. Anthony Taormina, who was born in Lodi in 1954 and went on to become the director of its library from 1986 until his retirement in 2011, described the Dye Works’ effect on the the river:

“I remember my mother telling me about walking over the Passaic Street bridge on her way to school, looking at the different chemical colors coming down the Saddle River. One day it would be green, one day it would be blue, depending on what color they were dying that day.” [3]

Chemical Manufacturing

Plaque in Lodi Memorial Park commemorating the victims of the Napp Technologies explosion

Plaque in Lodi Memorial Park commemorating the victims of the Napp Technologies explosion

During the Great Depression, much of the textile business that had been in and around Passaic, NJ  moved south in order to cut labor costs. United Dye Works closed in the 1950’s and soon chemical manufacturers moved into the town.

An explosion tore the roof off a building at the B.L. Lemke Company in April of 1969, killing one person and wounding six. In August of 1973, an explosion at the Mallinckrodt Chemical Company killed seven employees. After that incident, the town cracked down somewhat on the industry: it prohibited new chemical companies from moving in and prevented the existing ones from expanding further.

B.L. Lemke later became Napp-Lemke Chemicals, and later still Napp Technologies. In April of 1995 another explosion rocked the complex, killing five and injuring seven. Approximately 400 residents of Lodi were evacuated. The Saddle River turned a fluorescent green color from the chemically contaminated water runoff generated by firefighting efforts at the plant.

Lodi’s problems with chemicals weren’t limited to explosions. The town once got its water from natural wells, run by the Lodi Water Works. In 1983, they were shut down after it was discovered that they had been contaminated by thorium, a radioactive chemical made in Lodi by another chemical company. Water has been piped in from elsewhere ever since.

Legislation introduced after the Napp Technologies explosion prevented the company from reopening in Lodi. The area it once occupied now is parkland and a shopping area.

Flooding

The Saddle River has flooded many times over the years. In March 1902 the water rose 14 inches above the previous bridge. Though no information has been found to support this, it can be speculated that the bridge was replaced in 1903 because of damage done during the 1902 flood (this was the case with many bridges over the nearby Passaic River). An even larger flood occurred in October of 1913: the Saddle River reached a height of six-and-a-half feet above the bridge [4]. Floods continue today and local officials have attempted to pass legislation which would allow for dredging of the river, but the estimated cost of $100 million has held the project back [5].

replacement metal deck

Replacement metal deck

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Mill Creek Footbridge

Replacement Mill Creek Footbridge, 2013

Replacement Mill Creek Footbridge, 2013

Crosses: Mill Creek
Connects: Jersey Avenue and Liberty State Park, Jersey City [satellite map]
Carries: Pedestrian/cyclist sidewalk
Design: Arch bridge
Date opened: May 23, 2013

The Mill Creek Footbridge connects Jersey Avenue in downtown Jersey City, NJ with Philip Street in Liberty State Park. The current bridge replaced an older structure that was destroyed on October 29, 2012, during Hurricane Sandy. Mill Creek feeds into the Morris Canal Basin (now used as a marina) and then the Hudson River.

Original Bridge

Little information is available about the original bridge. Taking into account that maps may be inaccurate, it appears that a Jersey Avenue road bridge crossing Mill Creek was built sometime between 1874 and 1889. A railroad bridge running parallel to it was constructed by 1904. The railroad trestle carried both the Lehigh Valley Railroad and the Central Railroad of New Jersey. Both lines terminated before crossing the Morris Canal to the north (the canal was located just south of Grand Street). The road portion was demolished at some point between 1928 and 1955. Following the decline of the railroads in Jersey City, the trestle was abandoned and the bridge was converted into a footbridge sometime thereafter. The Jersey Journal notes that city officials do not know exactly when the bridge became a footbridge, and Sam Pesin (president of the group Friends of Liberty State Park) thinks it was there when the park opened in 1976 [1].

Original Mill Creek Bridge, 2010

Original Mill Creek Bridge, 2010

The Jersey Avenue Extension

Various proposals have been made over the last twenty years or so to extend Jersey Avenue over Mill Creek, connecting Downtown with Liberty State Park, as well as providing additional access to the New Jersey Turnpike. The city applied for an $18.4 million federal grant in 2011 to fund the extension. The proposal argues that the extension would ease traffic in the nearby Bergen-Lafayette neighborhood. However, it has also sparked debate among residents over how much local streets would be impacted by cars exiting the Turnpike to avoid traffic at the Holland Tunnel; cars cutting through local Downtown streets have long been an issue. The proposal acknowledges this and tries to defend its position:

The city is also mindful that this new direct connection could be perceived as a short cut for out-of-town commuters by using the 1.2-mile corridor between New Jersey Turnpike Exit 14B and Grand Street to access Jersey City’s central business district or the Holland Tunnel. This corridor traverses Liberty State Park and residential development areas. To achieve the overall goal of improved connectivity and access without increasing traffic speeds and/or inducing additional traffic through the environmentally sensitive park areas or future residential neighborhoods, a series of modern roundabouts are proposed in the park segments and a more pedestrian friendly “complete street” is proposed in the northern segment of dense urban development. [2]

The city was not given the grant and the footbridge was destroyed the following October during Sandy. Initially, it was speculated that the city would not replace the footbridge at all, in hopes that it would be able to begin construction on the Jersey Avenue Extension, which would include a pedestrian pathway. However, it was decided that the footbridge would be replaced (a widely-held suspicion is that it was given priority because 2013 is an election year). In March of 2013, Jersey City was awarded $500,000 by the federal government to do a feasibility study for a road extension; that proposed bridge would run parallel to the new footbridge, which was set to open by Memorial Day weekend.

Hurricane Sandy damage, November 2012

Hurricane Sandy damage, November 2012

Hurricane Sandy damage, November 2012

Hurricane Sandy damage, November 2012

The new Mill Creek Footbridge was delivered on May 1 and opened on May 23rd. It is a prefabricated arch bridge that is painted white; it has a somewhat higher clearance over the creek than its predecessor. It was scheduled to cost about $750,000 and wound up costing about $800,000. Jersey City has applied to the Federal Emergency Management Administration, which could reimburse the city for most of the cost of the bridge. It is officially called the Ethel Pesin Liberty Bridge, in honor of a founding trustee of Friends of Liberty State Park (and wife of Sam Pesin). She died in February, 2013, at age 98.

Original walkway, 2010 (left); Replacement walkway, 2013 (right)

Original walkway, 2010 (left); Replacement walkway, 2013 (right)

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South Front Street Bridge

South Front Street Bridge in open position

South Front Street Bridge in open position

Crosses: Elizabeth River
Location: Carries South Front Street over the Elizabeth River near its outlet into the Arthur Kill, Elizabeth, NJ [satellite map]
Carries: 1 vehicular lane, 1 pedestrian sidewalk
Design: Strauss heel trunnion bascule bridge
Date opened: 1922

The South Front Street Bridge is located just before the Elizabeth River opens up into the Arthur Kill, along the waterfront in Elizabeth, NJ.

Plans for a movable bridge at South Front Street were approved on July 3, 1916 by the Secretary of War. A riparian grant (a deed granted for normally state-owned tidelands) was obtained for $260 from the state of New Jersey in 1917, officially allowing the bridge to be constructed by the City of Elizabeth. The American Bridge Company built the bridge, beginning in 1920; it opened to traffic in 1922.

Design

The South Front Street Bridge is a Strauss trunnion bascule bridge; it was designed by the Strauss Bascule Bridge Company, headed by Joseph Strauss in Chicago. Strauss patented the Strauss bascule design of the trunnion type, which open on a fixed axle. The South Front Street Bridge is a heel trunnion, which is a variation on the design, and is the only remaining road-carrying bridge of its type in New Jersey (though there are still several heel trunnion railroad bridges in the state). The heel truss has the advantage of taking up less space than traditional bascule designs, thus requiring less construction material.

The bridge is skewed, so its trusses are of different lengths: 131’ 8” on the west side and 116’5” on the east. The bridge’s substructure and massive counterweight are made of concrete, which has undergone repairs several times. A small brick bridge house is located adjacent to the bridge; inside are the controls. The machinery which operates the bridge is on the bridge above the road; it consists of original gears and electric motors which were added in 1940.

The bridge was originally built with a wooden roadway, but it was replaced with a steel deck in 1956. The pedestrian walkway is still constructed of wood, though not the original wood deck. The bridge underwent significant repairs in 1976.

bridge deck

View from the bridge deck; the Chemical Control site is to the left.

The Elizabeth River’s Decline

The Elizabeth River was once home to six movable bridges, to accommodate its heavy use by ocean-going vessels. However, shipping on the river came to an end soon after the the 1951 opening of the New Jersey Turnpike. The U.S. Corps of Engineers deemed that three of the movable bridges would become fixed later in the 1950s. Another of the six (the Baltic Street Bridge) had been left isolated by the Turnpike construction, and it was sold for scrap in 1954. The South First Street Bridge, built in 1908, suffered a fire in the bridge tender’s house in 1984. With its control center gone, it permanently remained closed. The bridge was replaced completely in 2010. This leaves the South Front Street bridge as the only remaining operational drawbridge in all of Union County.

Only a few hundred feet of the Elizabeth River are still navigable, so the waterway only sees vessels designed for recreation, not industry. Still, a 2003 publication about Elizabeth estimated that the bridge was opened an average of 2,000 times a year [1].

Contamination Next Door

The bridge sits adjacent to the former site of the Chemical Control Corporation, a notorious part of New Jersey’s history with chemical dumping. The property, bordering on the southeastern end of the bridge, was originally marshland, but was filled in when Elizabeth developed much of its land for industrial use during the latter half of the 19th century. The Chemical Control Corporation was in operation from 1970 to 1978 as a disposal facility for hazardous waste. The company, which began as a legitimate business, became more notable for its practice of disposing of waste illegally, and was cited repeatedly until the state forced it to close in March of 1979.

concrete counterweight

concrete counterweight

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection began cleanup at the site shortly after; about 400,000 gallons of bulk solids and liquids, infectious and radioactive waste, and explosive liquids were removed. In May, upon hearing that the cleanup had uncovered nitroglycerin and other potential explosives, Elizabeth’s mayor Thomas G. Dunn declared a state of emergency in the area a half mile around the site, restricting pedestrian and vehicular traffic. The cleanup and restrictions were fortunate, because on April 21, 1980 there was an explosion at Chemical Control which led to a fire of spectacular proportions: drums of waste were launched into the air and exploded over the Arthur Kill; it took 10 hours to get the blaze under control but firefighters spent weeks at the site. NJDEP continued its cleanup and investigations after the fire; unfortunately, many of the records of which companies were connected to which hazardous materials were stored on-site and therefore lost.

In October 1981, it was proposed that the Chemical Control site be included on the National Priorities List of Superfund sites; its inclusion was finalized in September 1983. Cleanup continued, and a 1985-6 study found that contaminants including PCBs, naphalene, and benzene were still present in the soil, groundwater, and surface water. A slurry wall was later constructed around the site and anchored into a layer of clay under it; this helped stop groundwater contamination. A 2003 study of the site found that in general the contaminants which were contained during the cleanup remain contained, though it was noted that small area around the site may still be somewhat contaminated (one of three sampling stations still showed high levels of vinyl chloride and 2-butanone [2]).

plaque

plaque

The Bridge’s Future

In 2008, it was announced that the New Jersey Department of Transportation would supply $330,000 to repair the bridge. Work was done to reinforce the deck. The city was granted a further $1,000,000 in 2010 for more rehabilitation work. The state of those repairs is currently unknown, as the bridge has repeatedly been left in the open position (presumably for emergency repairs) over the past several years; while it is left open traffic is rerouted to the new South First Street Bridge. The bridge remains eligible for the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

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Monroe Street Bridge

Monroe Street Bridge

Monroe Street Bridge

Crosses: Passaic River
Location: Monroe Street connecting Passaic and Garfield, NJ [satellite map]
Carries: 2 vehicular lanes, 1 pedestrian sidewalk
Design: arch bridge
Date opened: June 13, 1908
Postcard view: “Monroe Street Bridge, Passaic, N.J.”

The Monroe Street Bridge is a reinforced concrete arch bridge over the Passaic River in New Jersey, connecting the towns of Passaic and Garfield.

Gilbert D. Bogart & East Passaic

In early 1873, Gilbert D. Bogart set out to develop a suburb to the town of Passaic, which he called East Passaic. He and his associates formed the East Passaic Land Company and bought property along the Passaic River from Monroe Street to Van Winkle Avenue. His company was responsible for the first development in the area. In 1875, a bridge across the Passaic was built at Monroe Street by Joseph Scott, and seven houses were also constructed. However, the financial panic of 1873 brought Bogart’s project to a grinding halt. Lots on the land acquired by the East Passaic Land Company could not be sold even at greatly reduced prices. The company suffered heavy losses and years passed without any sign of recovery.

On December 8, 1878, Scott’s Monroe Street Bridge was washed away when the Passaic River overflowed its banks. In 1881, the Bergen County Short Cut (a branch of the Erie Railroad) was laid along Monroe street, and a rail bridge was built to Passaic (next to where the washed-out bridge had been); a station was created and named after President Garfield.

Rail bridge next to the Monroe Street Bridge

Rail bridge next to the Monroe Street Bridge

Things still were not improving for Bogart’s company, and in 1882 it sold all its land under foreclosure to the Garfield Land Association. The name “East Passaic” had become associated with failure and the town adopted the name of Garfield instead. The land was sold as individual lots by the Garfield Land Association with the remainder going to the newly formed Monroe Street Bridge Land Company, which built a replacement bridge shortly after.

The Current Bridge

The bridge currently crossing Monroe Street was built in 1908 by the C.W. Dean Company of New York. The plans for the bridge had been put together by F.R. Long Company Engineers and Contractors in August of 1907. It is a three-span, 306-foot long deck arch bridge on a concrete and stone substructure. The bridge is made up of three equal elliptical arch spans. It originally featured a decorative railing with vase-shaped balusters. The bridge was important to the industrial and commercial development of both Passaic and Garfield, and is the only existing pre-World War II multi-span concrete arch bridge remaining in the United States.

The Monroe Street Bridge opened on June 13, 1908. A parade was held and Mayor John Karl of Garfield and Mayor Frederick R. Low of Passaic met to officially open the bridge to the public. A celebration was held in a nearby park afterward.

Alterations

The Monroe Street Bridge has been repaired extensively over the years. In 1947 guide rail was added to the curbs, and new concrete curbs followed in 1948. Many repairs to the substructure were made using gunite (a dry form of shotcrete) in 1949. Large parts of the balustrades were missing or badly damaged, and they were replaced by a more utilitarian railing sometime after Bergen County did a survey the bridge in the early 1980s. New Jersey’s 2002 survey of the bridge deemed that it had lost much of its “visual integrity” due to the nature of the gunite repairs [1].

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Marine Parkway Bridge

Marine Parkway Bridge

Marine Parkway Bridge

Crosses: Rockaway Inlet in Jamaica Bay
Connects: Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn and the Rockaways, Queens, NY [satellite map]
Carries: 4 vehicular lanes, 1 pedestrian sidewalk
Design: vertical lift bridge
Date opened: July 3, 1937
Postcard view: “Marine Parkway Bridge, Brooklyn, N.Y.”

The Marine Parkway Bridge (also known as the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge) is a vertical lift bridge which connects Flatbush Avenue at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn with Jacob Riis Park and Fort Tilden in the Rockways in Queens.

Plans for a New Bridge: Robert Moses & The Marine Parkway Authority

Fiorello LaGuardia was narrowly elected Mayor of New York City in 1933; he would serve three terms from 1934 to 1945. LaGuardia was impressed by the parkways Robert Moses had built in Long Island (and by his ability to raise federal funds to finance them), and he immediately offered him a job in his administration. Moses had plans for parkways and parks in New York City ready to go, and he only agreed to take the job from LaGuardia if he would have control of the parks departments in all five boroughs, which had previously been independent of one another. Moses also wanted control of the parkways; LaGuardia agreed. Moses quickly took over the the Triborough Bridge Authority; that bridge’s construction had begun in 1929 but had stalled and remained incomplete. He also introduced a plan to finance construction of the Marine Parkway Bridge that called for the creation of the Marine Parkway Authority, of which, of course, Moses would be chairman and sole member. He raised money for these and other projects (which would charge tolls when they opened) by issuing bonds; when a project was complete, he would not sell off the bonds but would begin another toll-collecting project, continuing the cycle.

Opposition

Moses issued $6,000,000 in bonds in order to build the Marine Parkway Bridge, and it was expected that within 25 years, through toll collection the bridge would pay for the loan and allow the bridge to be self-sustaining. However, there was plenty of opposition to the bridge proposal. The surrounding communities had been served by ferries and many people did not want to see that change. There were others who felt that Jamaica Bay might one day become a major port and the building of a bridge would destroy that potential. So, more than $18 million was spent by the U.S. War Department to dredge Rockaway Inlet and the bridge was designed to be a lift span, to enable the channel to remain clear for ship traffic. There was also the issue of ice: it was feared that ice would pile up on the bridge piers and either block passage or cause the surrounding areas to flood, sweeping cottages along Rockaway Beach out to sea. The solution was to bring in a forest of 600-foot-tall Douglas fir trees from the west coast to be driven into the sand and act as fenders against the ice around the bridge’s piers.

Marine Parkway Bridge, seen from Floyd Bennett Field

Marine Parkway Bridge, seen from Floyd Bennett Field

The Barren Island Squatters

Another problem encountered before construction of the bridge could begin was a well-established colony of squatters living on what formerly was known as Barren Island. Barren Island was a roughly three mile long and one mile wide stretch in the southern Brooklyn section of Jamaica Bay. In the late 1800s, the land at either end of the island the island was home to several putrid-smelling industries including fish, fat, and offal rendering plants and another that rendered horse bones into glue, leading to the the body of water on the island’s western shore’s name: Dead Horse Bay. About 120 acres in the center of the island was owned by the city, intended to be used as a dumping ground. However, due to the city’s neglect, the land was taken over by a colony of squatters, who by 1877 numbered around 100. The squatters kept livestock such as goats and pigs, and even set up a liquor saloon on the island. The stench of the rendering plants grew worse and worse, and after years of complaints from Brooklyn residents, the plants were required to dump their refuse at sea. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle described the situation in 1899 as being “improved:”

Nowadays the ancient cheeses, the butchers’ offal, the long-deceased animals, the contents of refuse cans and barrels are not piled along the waterfront… On the contrary, the process is quick and thorough. Deodorizing substances are freely used in the materials that are disgorged from New York’s thousands of kitchens and butcher shops. The sufferings that are reported in various parts of Brooklyn and along the south shore probably result in larger measure than the people realize from the dumping which is still carried on at sea, the scows going out six or eight miles, instead of the required forty, and throwing overboard tons of swill that the incoming tide washes upon the shored of Coney Island, Rockaway and even Long Beach. This vile stuff festers in the sun, sours and breeds maggots and flies by millions. [1]

Despite many attempts over the years to remove the squatters, they stayed put. Barren Island was connected to the Brooklyn mainland with landfill during the construction of Floyd Bennett Field (New York City’s first municipal airport), which opened in 1931. By then the rendering plants were long gone, but the squatters still remained. In 1936, Robert Moses, as Park Commissioner, called for their eviction; at that time there were an estimated 90 squatters (and their livestock) still living on the former island. They were given until April 15, 1936 to vacate, and Alderman Joseph B. Whitty of Brooklyn was granted a promise by Mayor LaGuardia that the houses on the island would be treated as “condemned tenements” [2], so that the squatters would be provided with free moving service as they left the island. In August of the same year, five acres of marijuana plants were discovered on the island, upon which the goats the squatters had kept had been grazing. The squatters, when questioned, denied that there was any other intended use for the plants.

Engineering

Moses the planner had engineers ready to work on the Marine Parkway Bridge. The chief engineer on the project was Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute graduate Emil H. Praeger (who worked on numerous projects for the Parks system and went on to design the Tappan Zee Bridge). The firm of Madigan-Hyland were also involved as engineers. Robinson & Steinman were hired as consultants; Holton D. Robinson was the engineer of the Williamsburg Bridge and David Steinman designed the Henry Hudson Bridge as his thesis while at Columbia University. The title of Engineering Designer was filled by the esteemed Waddell & Hardesty, formed in 1927. Also both Rensselaer graduates, the firm of J.A.L. Waddell and Shortridge Hardesty was known for its movable bridge designs, especially vertical lift spans. The contractors awarded the bids for construction of the bridge were the Frederic Snare Corporation and the American Bridge Company.

Construction & Design

Construction began on June 1, 1936. A method differing from usual lift bridge construction was used, where instead of floating the lift span in at the very end, it was placed partway through, planned to coincide with a particularly high tide. Just after midnight on January 12, 1937, 38 workmen from the American Bridge Company began the operation; tugboats guided the central span along and at 7:45 a.m., while the tide was at its highest, it was placed into position. The partially built towers had a special trestle attached to their foundations from which the towers would be completed.

The bridge is designed of three main 540-foot spans, each allowing for a 500-foot clear channel. There are two 1,061-foot approaches; its total length is 4,022 feet, 6 inches. The 2,000-ton central span could be raised from 50 feet to a total clearance of 150 feet above the high water mark in two minutes. When it was completed it was the longest highway lift bridge in the world (it is still the longest of its type in North America), built of 12,000 tons of steel and 47,000 cubic yards of concrete. The bridge was painted olive green with silver trim. The roadway, instead of being solid, was built of steel plates, similar to subway gratings set in sidewalks throughout the city. It was the first roadway of this type to be used on a bridge on the East Coast. The open grates were also painted green.

One complaint about vertical lift bridges at the time was that their appearance could be ugly; often they were employed by railroads and were decidedly utilitarian in design. In response to this, the towers of the Marine Parkway Bridge were tapered and a pattern designed to hint at the great wheels that lifted the bridge rather than hiding them [3]. Construction was finished less than a year after it began, and the bridge was scheduled to open in July, in time for motorists to enjoy the summer in the new Jacob Riis Park.

Marine Parkway Bridge from Rockaway

Marine Parkway Bridge from Rockaway

Opening Ceremony

The bridge officially opened on July 3, 1937. The ceremony was headed by Mayor LaGuardia who was joined by Park Commissioner Robert Moses and various other city officials. 500 cars full of invited guests waited on the Brooklyn side of the bridge, on the approach built on Barren Island. Guns were fired from Fort Tilden, fireboats sprayed water into the air, and nine Martin planes flew in formation overhead. The center span was lowered for traffic and at 10:30 a.m. a parade of cars began to cross the bridge to Jacob Riis Park, where Moses gave a speech detailing the planning that had led up to the building of the bridge. It was given recognition in the engineering world as well: The National Steel Bridge Alliance awarded it first place in the movable bridge category in 1937.

Renaming & Rehabilitation

The bridge was renamed in 1978 in honor of Gil Hodges, a former Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman, though the name has not taken into common usage [4]. The Marine Parkway Authority was absorbed into the larger Triborough Bridge Authority in 1940 (becoming he Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority in 1946). Traffic and toll collection on the Marine Parkway Bridge did not turn out to be enough to pay for its own expenses, but other bridges and tunnels run by the TBTA were profitable enough to carry those that were less so. The TBTA is now under the jurisdiction of the MTA, who began a major rehabilitation project on the bridge in 1998. The steel deck was replaced with concrete and steel, a “Jersey” barrier was added to separate traffic, electrical systems and traffic control were updated, and new signs were put in place. The $120 million project was finished in 2004; the bridge still opens more than 100 times a year.

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Hunters Point Avenue Bridge

Hunters Point Avenue Bridge

Hunters Point Avenue Bridge

Location: Hunters Point Avenue over Dutch Kills, Queens, NY [satellite map]
Carries: 2 vehicular lanes, 2 pedestrian sidewalks
Design: bascule
Date opened: December 14, 1910

The Hunters Point Avenue Bridge carries the street bearing its name across Dutch Kills, a tributary of Newtown Creek, in Long Island City, Queens.

The Need for Movable Bridges

The section of Queens now known as Long Island City was originally low-lying marshland dotted with small towns. In 1861 the Long Island Railroad arrived after relocating its main terminal from Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn to Hunters Point in Queens (a ferry leaving 34th Street carried passengers across the East River to Hunters Point). With the area rapidly industrializing, in 1869 Hunters Point pushed to to be incorporated into a larger, more important entity, combining with Ravenswood and Astoria. Thus, in 1870 Long Island City was born. Industry boomed, and gas and chemical plants along with various other types of factories took over much of the marshland. Of course, no regulations existed at the time to dissuade the dumping of toxic by-products into the waterways, and Newtown Creek and Dutch Kills both suffered sorely from this industrial pollution. Both rivers were heavily used and required bridges that allowed the waterways to remain navigable, so a large concentration of movable bridges is seen in the area.

The Iron Bridge

The Iron Bridge, 1867-1907 (Source: Historical Facts in Connection with New York City Bridges)

Previous Bridges

Prior to 1874, Dutch Kills was crossed at Hunters Point Avenue by a wooden bridge. With so much industry moving in to the area, it was soon inadequate and was replaced in 1874 by an iron drawbridge. The iron drawbridge was problematic, and frequently had to be put out of service to be repaired. The bridge was poorly maintained and it was obvious something had to be done to keep navigation on Dutch Kills open. In 1906, Bridge Commissioner James W. Stevenson wrote to Queens Borough President Joseph Bermel requesting that since the bridge was over navigable water it ought be operated by the Department of Bridges. Bermel agreed, and on January 25, 1906, the bridge was put under the jurisdiction of the Department of Bridges, having just been put back into working order by the Department of Highways. By March 1907, it was found that the west abutment had been pushed forward by the ever-shifting marshland and the bridge could no longer close. The iron bridge was closed to traffic permanently and the Department of Bridges began planning for its replacement.

The Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge

The Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge, 1910-1983 (Source: Historical Facts in Connection with New York City Bridges)

The Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge

The design approved by the Art Commission on April 13, 1909 was for a double-leaf Scherzer Rolling Lift bascule bridge. Bids were received in July; the North-Eastern Construction Company was the lowest at $95,214.11 and was given the contract to build the bridge. Construction began on July 13, 1909 and the bridge opened to traffic on December 14, 1910. The final cost was $102.985.56, about $8000 over the bid but still under the $110,000 budget allotted to it by the Department of Bridges.

Rebuilding

By the 1970s, following decades of neglect, many of New York City’s bridges were in need of major rehabilitation. The Department of Transportation released its first-ever survey of bridge conditions in 1978 and the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge was included on the “poor” list. This was for good reason: the previous year it had been closed entirely because parts of it had rotted away, rendering it unsafe for traffic. It was repaired just enough to handle cars, but a major rehabilitation was needed. In 1983 it was rebuilt as a single-leaf bascule bridge with a span of 21.8 meters, using the foundations of the Scherzer bridge. It celebrated its 100th birthday in December 2010, which was marked by a walking tour hosted by the New York City Bridge Centennial Commission and the Newtown Creek Alliance.

bridge house

bridge house

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Bronx River Bascules

The three Bronx River Bascules as they were originally constructed, 1909  (Copyright: Bronx Historical Society)

The three Bronx River Bascules as they were originally constructed, 1909 (Copyright: Bronx Historical Society)

The current bridges, with the tower and one span removed

The current bridges, with the tower and one span removed

Location: >Bronx River north of the Westchester Avenue Bridge, Bronx, NY [satellite map]
Carries: 3 railroad tracks (Amtrak and CSX)
Design: Scherzer Rolling Lift (bascule)
Date opened: summer 1908

The name “Bronx River Bascules” is not an official one. In fact, these bridges do not seem to have ever been given a proper name. The New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, which constructed them, referred to them simply as “bridge number 3.40″ [1]. They cross the Bronx River just north of Westchester Avenue and were put into service in the summer of 1908.

The Harlem River Branch

The New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad began running passenger and freight service on their Harlem River Branch in 1868. Two jackknife drawbridges carried trains over the Bronx River at the present site until 1893, when they were replaced by a four-track swing bridge. In 1907, the swing was removed and two temporary jackknife drawbridges were put in place. Between 1908 and 1910 the Harlem River Branch was completely rebuilt to carry six tracks and run on electricity. New stations were also built along the route. The closest was the Westchester Avenue station, which stands in ruins today to the south of the bridges, local passenger service having been discontinued in the 1930s.

Diagram showing original configuration (Source: The Engineering Record)

Diagram showing original configuration (Source: The Engineering Record)

Construction

The bridge superstructure, as originally built by the Pennsylvania Steel Company, was made up of three parallel two-track spans with separate piers on each end, staggered to accommodate the curve of the Bronx River (see diagram). Since the channel is so narrow (about 100 feet wide), the type of bridge chosen was a bascule, which did not obstruct the waterway as the swing bridge had. The particular type of bascule is the Scherzer Rolling Lift, invented by William Scherzer in Chicago; they operate by rolling back into the open position, rather than turning on a fixed axle as in other bascule designs. Since the Harlem River Branch was being electrified, tall towers were put up to carry high voltage wires above the bridges while in the open possition. Each leaf of the bridge was powered by two Westinghouse 25 horsepower, 550 volt direct current motors. All three leaves could be raised simultaneously in about a minute, and as a backup could be opened manually with a chain, though it was never necessary to do so.

Growth & Decline

About 200 trains passed over the bridges daily during their first years of operation; on average they opened 5 times a day during the winter and 12 times a day throughout the rest of the year [2]. With the opening of the Hell Gate Bridge by the New York Connecting Railroad in 1917, the Harlem River Branch became part of a much larger through route accommodating trains traveling from Penn Station to Boston. Over the years rail service declined, as did use of the Bronx River by boats requiring bridge lifts for passage. At some point, the tower containing the operating machinery and one two-track span were removed. The bridges now have only three tracks: one used by CSX for freight and two carrying Amtrak passenger trains on the Northeast Corridor Line.

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Passaic Street Bridge

Passaic Street Bridge

Passaic Street Bridge

Crosses: Passaic River
Connects: Wall Street, Passaic and Passaic Street, Garfield, NJ [satellite map]
Carries: 2 vehicular lanes, 2 pedestrian sidewalks
Design: girder bridge
Date opened: 1898

The Passaic Street Bridge is the earliest known example of a multi-span through-girder bridge in Bergen County, New Jersey. It connects the towns of Passaic and Garfield and is the third bridge at that location.

The Iron Bridge

The first bridge to cross the Passaic River at Garfield was known as the Iron Bridge; it opened in 1868. On September 11, 1871, one of the bridge’s three spans collapsed while carrying a team of horses and a driver. All fell into the Passaic, and while the horses escaped without injury, their driver was killed. A decision was made to completely rebuild rather than repair, and a new Iron Bridge opened in 1872.

plaque

plaque

That bridge was replaced in 1898 with the current structure, again made of iron but also reinforced with cement. The engineers on the project were the Wise & Watson Company of Passaic. The builders were the F.R. Long Company. The bridge is 233 feet long and, like its predecessors, is composed of three spans resting on ashlar masonry abutments.

The Flood of 1903

The summer of 1903 brought above average rainfall, and a tropical storm hit the east coast in early October. For nearly two weeks the Passaic River overflowed its banks in what became known as the Flood of 1903 (still the largest on record for the area). Almost all the bridges downriver of the Great Falls in Paterson were washed away, but the Passaic Street Bridge managed to survive the torrents.

Alterations

The Passaic Street Bridge has undergone a few rounds of alterations, none of which are considered to impact its historic status [1]. Welded plates were added to the deck girders and concrete caps to the masonry below the bridge. In 1989 the bridge was rehabilitated, with the deck and stringers replaced and the floor beams mended.

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Passaic Street Bridge from the Passaic side of the river

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Third Avenue Bridge

Third Avenue Bridge

Third Avenue Bridge

Crosses: Harlem River
Connects: Third Avenue between Mott Haven, the Bronx and Harlem, NY [satellite map]
Carries: 5 Manahattan-bound vehicular lanes, 2 pedestrian sidewalks
Design: swing bridge
Date opened: 2004
Postcard view: “Harlem River, N.Y. City”

The Third Avenue Bridge is a swing bridge over the Harlem River, connecting Third Avenue in Manhattan with Third Avenue in the Bronx. It is the fourth bridge to stand at that location.

In 1774, Lewis Morris received permission to build a bridge to connect a proposed road through Harlem with a road leading to the Morris family’s estate, Morrisania, and the village of Eastchester (both are now neighborhoods located in the Bronx). Though a ferry had once operated between Manhattan and the Bronx just east of the proposed site of the crossing for a few years in the late 1600s, the only way for people to travel between the two at the time of Morris’ proposal was by either King’s Bridge or Farmer’s Bridge, both of which were located at the far northern tip of Manhattan. Morris’ bridge would cut the traveling distance between his estate and the southern end of Manhattan, the core of the city at the time, by nearly 12 miles.

Coles Bridge

Nothing was done about the bridge, however, until the end of March 1790, when a refined charter was given to Morris to build a drawbridge at least 12 feet wide to accommodate river traffic. Morris was also given permission to charge tolls on the bridge for a period of 60 years, after which ownership of the bridge would pass on to the state. Such arrangements were common at the time as an enticement for private entities and individuals to invest in public infrastructure.

Coles Bridge, opened 1797 (Source: Proceedings, Municipal Engineers of the City of New York)

Coles Bridge, opened 1797 (Source: Proceedings, Municipal Engineers of the City of New York)

Also common at the time were delays concerning large projects such as this. Nothing concerning the bridge is mentioned in the city’s legislative archives until March 1795, when Morris sought permission to transfer his charter to a business partner and family friend named John B. Coles. The new charter was approved with a modification allowing Coles to build the bridge on top of a dam in order to a establish a water-powered mill at the site. In early 1797 the Coles Bridge, as it came to be known, a simple wooden structure with a turntable draw span, was opened, though Coles apparently never got around to building a dam underneath it. The route over the bridge, consisting of a newly constructed Middle Road (now roughly Eighth Avenue and Central Park West) in Manhattan and what came to be known as Coles Road (now Third Avenue and Boston Post Road in the Bronx) quickly became more popular than the King’s Bridge or Farmer’s Bridge route, in spite of the fact that Coles had inherited and taken advantage of Morris’ right to charge tolls while the uptown crossings were both free to use.

The Harlem Bridge

On April 1, 1858, in accordance with the original charter’s stipulation and the State Legislature’s Chapter 774 of the Laws of 1857, ownership of Coles Bridge passed from the Coles family to the state government. By that time, the bridge had fallen into such a bad state of repair that nothing could be done to save it, according to the Commissioners of Harlem Bridge, a group consisting of New York and Westchester officials convened specially to oversee the takeover of the bridge by the state. In June 1860, the Commissioners made an official inspection of the bridge in anticipation of a reconstruction project. They found the superstructure in an advanced state of decay and “the piers destroyed by the ravages of the worm” [1] (the worm in question, teredo navalis, is not actually a worm but a mollusk, commonly known as the shipworm or marine borer. It is still a serious problem in the city, with many millions of dollars budgeted for the reconstruction of waterfront piers, highways, and high rise foundations due to its highly efficient method of consuming submerged wooden pilings).

The Harlem Bridge, opened 1868 (Source: New York Public Library)

Harlem Bridge, opened 1868 (Source: New York Public Library)

The official decision to rebuild the bridge came soon after, and work began in August 1860. Erastus W. Smith, a New York mechanical engineer with many years of experience running municipal water works and ocean liner systems was named as Chief Engineer of the project. The original plans for the bridge called for a series of simple through truss approach spans with a through truss swing span atop a turntable. Smith decided instead to build the bridge with arched tubular truss spans constructed of wrought iron, giving the bridge a gracefully curved profile in comparison to the original boxy design. The old span was kept in place as the new bridge was built just west of it. The piers for the new bridge consisted of a combination of six foot and eight foot diameter cast iron cylinders, sunk into the river bed by pneumatic force, one of the earliest instances of the use of compressed air for bridge construction in the country. The pier sinking and foundation work were completed by the New York firm of Roach & Edwards. The superstructure of the bridge was constructed by the Trenton Locomotive Machine Manufacturing Company of New Jersey. After 8 years of work, the still incomplete bridge, called the Harlem Bridge, was opened for public use on October 16, 1868. The bridge measured 526 feet long by 52 feet wide, including a 218 foot long swing span that operated under the force of water supplied by a Croton water main. Shortly after it opened, a horse car railroad was established over the bridge by the Harlem Bridge, Morrisania and Fordham Railroad Company. Horses would be used on the bridge until 1891, when they were replaced by a an electric propulsion system with power provided by overhead wires.

The Third Avenue Bridge

The Harlem Bridge did not last long, however. After several years, parts of the bridge began to fall apart. The cast iron piers began to crack and the wheels under the turntable had to be replaced multiple times after breaking into pieces. The water powered engine was found to be too sluggish to keep up with the demands of road and river traffic and had to be replaced with a steam engine. In 1882, jurisdiction over all underwater land surrounding the city passed on to the US Government, which had plans to improve the waterways of the city. in 1890, the government passed the Rivers and Harbors Act which specified, among other changes, that all bridges over the Harlem River be raised in order to provide 24 feet of clearance above high water. The Harlem Bridge only provided 5 feet of clearance over the river. Shortly after, the city’s Department of Public Works, which had jurisdiction over the bridge at the time, brought forth a bill in the state legislature asking for authorization to replace the bridge with one that would comply with the new law. The bill was approved, and authorization came in the form of Chapter 413 of the Laws of 1892.

Third Avenue Bridge (Source: Report of the Commissioner of Bridges, 1904)

Third Avenue Bridge (Source: Report of the Commissioner of Bridges, 1904)

The Harlem Bridge was closed on June 20, 1894, with traffic diverted to a temporary bridge while the new Third Avenue Bridge, as it would be called, was being built. The new span was constructed as a swing bridge, with a swing span operating under steam power. The span was made with steel provided by the Phoenix Iron Works Company of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. The span was 300 feet long and was composed of a large through truss structure with curved upper chords terminating at a sharp apex. It was designed by Thomas C. Clarke, the consulting engineer assigned to the project by the Department of Public Works. It was opened on August 1, 1898 with the blowing of its warning whistle, which was soon joined in by the blowing of whistles from nearby boats, trains and factories. It was the largest and heaviest bridge of its type in the world at the time. The bridge had room for two walkways and a roadway containing two sets of trolley tracks laid down by the Union Railway Company, the successor to the Harlem Bridge, Fordham and Morrisania Railway Company during the construction of the bridge. The tracks would remain in place until 1953 when the Third Avenue Elevated train line was demolished. The tracks were then converted into automobile lanes.

Replacement Third Avenue Bridge, opened 2004

Replacement Third Avenue Bridge, opened 2004

Replacement

The Third Avenue Bridge served the city well until the night of November 7, 1999, when a two alarm fire broke out on the wooden fender surrounding the swing span, closing the bridge for several days. in 2001, the city Department of Transportation, which now has jurisdiction over the bridge, began a $119 million reconstruction of the Third Avenue Bridge as part of a nearly $1 billion program to rehabilitate or replace all of the movable Harlem River Bridges. The new bridge, a swing span like all of its ancestors, was designed to visually mimic as closely as possible the span it replaced, albeit with more modern construction techniques and materials. It carries two sidewalks and five lanes of Manhattan-bound traffic. It opened in 2004.

bridge house

bridge house

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Grand Street Bridge

Grand Street Bridge

Grand Street Bridge

Crosses: Newtown Creek
Connects: Grand Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Grand Avenue, Maspeth, Queens, NY [satellite map]
Carries: 2 vehicular lanes, 2 pedestrian sidewalks
Design: swing bridge
Date opened: February 5, 1903

The Grand Street Bridge is a through truss swing bridge across Newtown Creek, connecting Maspeth, Queens with Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Earlier Bridges

In the 1850s Newtown Creek was an incredibly busy and polluted waterway, crowded with ships serving industrial sites like the glue factories, smelting plants, and refineries that lined its shores.

Grand Street Bridge, circa 1920 (Source: Historical Facts in Connection with New York City Bridges)

Grand Street Bridge, circa 1920 (Source: Historical Facts in Connection with New York City Bridges)

The first bridge to carry Grand Street over Newtown Creek was authorized to be built in 1869, with the cost of construction to be split between the town of Newtown (now a part of present day Queens) and the city of Brooklyn. A contract was awarded in 1874 to the King Iron Bridge & Manufacturing Company of Cleveland, Ohio, and an iron swing bridge was completed at the site the following year. In 1878, the Kings County Board of Supervisors reported that the bridge was already in bad shape; the swing span had become difficult to turn, causing traffic delays to become a commonplace occurrence. By 1881 the bridge had sunk so far into the mud that at high tide the turntable would become partially submerged in the creek. The Joint Committee on Bridges called for its replacement in 1888. A new iron swing bridge with masonry piers opened the following year. Jurisdiction over the bridge was given to the Department of Bridges in 1898 following the consolidation of the five boroughs into the City of New York. In 1899, the US War Department, looking to dredge and widen Newtown Creek, found the bridge to be an obstruction to navigation and ordered yet another bridge to be built on the site.

bridge house

bridge house

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Current Bridge

On June 11, 1900, Department of Bridges Commissioner John L. Shea advertised for bids on the construction of a new span. On August 7, a contract was awarded to Bernard Rolf for a steel swing bridge at a cost of $173,380. The old bridge was closed on August 27 and a temporary pedestrian bridge made of wood was built. Construction of the new bridge took much longer than initially expected. Labor strikes, poorly made engineering plans, and deliveries of low quality building materials were compounded by problems with the dredging of the creek. The situation improved when prominent bridge engineer Gustav Lindenthal was appointed Bridge Commissioner by Mayor Seth Low in 1902. In November of that year, consulting engineer C.C. Martin was placed in full charge of the project by the Department of Bridges, and construction progressed quickly. The bridge was completed at a cost of $205,672 and opened to traffic on December 12, 1902. The City of New York officially accepted the bridge on February 5, 1903.

Crimes & Accidents

The Grand Street Bridge and the area very close to it on Newtown Creek have been site to numerous crimes and some mysterious drownings. The bridge was left unguarded at night: policemen stationed there left at 8pm and did not return until 4am. In November of 1894 The New York Times detailed a story told to them by George Roeschman, who said he had been approached by three men asking for a match while crossing the bridge one night. When he reached into his pocket, the men grabbed him, put a bag over his head, robbed him of all he had ($10), and tossed him into Newtown Creek. He lived to tell his tale, though his credibility is questionable: the lumber company Roeschman claimed he worked for had no idea who he was. In the same year several other bodies were pulled from the water near the bridge, it being unknown whether they were murdered or drowned. Two men were arrested and sentenced to Sing Sing Prison for taking and burying alive a baby from a Polish woman (of no relation to either) near the bridge.

In January 1896, Polish priest Reverend Leonard Syczek was heard crying out for help from the water by a watchman and two boat captains who happened to be nearby. He was pulled out but died later. It was thought he had fallen in accidentally: the entryways to the bridge were dark at night and it was easy to miss the walkway and fall right into the river. In September of 1927 a Maspeth man drove through the guardrail and off the narrow bridge after colliding with another car. He managed to free himself from his car and was rescued by boat.

Decline

The bridge held up relatively well until the 1950s, when reports of closures became frequent. Between 1952 and 1956 the main shaft on the turntable broke at least three times, each instance requiring a full day’s work for repairs, during which time the bridge was left in the open position to accommodate boat traffic. On June 12, 1975, a proposal was put into place to cut service for bridge openings. Until that time, a tender was employed 24 hours a day on the bridge. The plans were put off for a time, but were eventually put into place. In 2002, the Department of Transportation, who now has jurisdiction over the bridge, proposed turning the bridge into a fixed span, citing the decline of boat traffic that had come to obviate the need for bridge openings. The proposal has yet to be put into place, though bridge openings have become very rare. In 1998 (the most recent year for which data is available), the bridge was opened only 23 times for boat traffic, and another 63 times for testing. Those numbers show a sharp decline from as recent as 1990, when it was opened 610 times for boat traffic, and 42 times for testing.

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View from the canal

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swing span

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