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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Eagle Avenue Bridge

Plaque on the Eagle Avenue Bridge

Plaque on the Eagle Avenue Bridge

Location: Eagle Avenue over East 161st Street, Bronx, NY [satellite map]
Carries: 1 vehicular lane, 2 pedestrian sidewalks
Design: girder bridge
Date opened: 1936

Traveling south on Eagle Avenue in the Melrose section of the Bronx, instead of reaching an intersection at East 161st Street as a street map would lead you to believe, your line of sight on this narrow road suddenly opens up and you find yourself crossing a little-known bridge with a view of the imposing Beaux-Arts Bronx Borough Courthouse (built between 1905-1914, abandoned in 1978) to the west. That the Eagle Avenue Bridge is almost never marked on as being a bridge on maps is not a new development; maps contemporary to its construction do not note is as a bridge either, maintaining the idea that one could turn from Eagle Avenue onto East 161st Street. The need for a bridge becomes apparent though when taking the area’s geography into account. Eagle Avenue is located on what was once part of the Morris Manorlands, a tract of almost 1,920 acres formerly owned by Declaration of Independence signer Lewis Morris. This area of the Bronx is full of rocky hills necessitating steep streets, stepped walks, and unexpected bridges. Before the streets in the area were given standard number designations, East 161st Street had been known by several names, including Grove Hill and Cliff Street. The hill at East 160th Street and Eagle Avenue was known as Hupfel’s Hill, after the Hupfel Brewery, which started brewing beer in the area in 1864. Eagle Avenue was laid out in 1891 between 149th and 163d Streets, and the first bridge over East 161st Street was built then of steel, with stairs allowing pedestrians to travel between the upper and lower levels of the crossing.

view from below

View from 161st Street

The current Eagle Avenue Bridge is at least the second bridge at the site, and was opened in 1936. The stone abutments supporting the span appear to be leftovers from the earlier structure. It is a steel girder bridge painted a bright Federal Blue, one of the seven colors used to paint bridges by the Department of Transportation’s Division of Bridges, and is 53.8 feet long. It has been cleaned and repainted by the DOT twice in recent years, in 2003 and 2008. It was built under the authority of Bronx Borough President James Lyon and designed by Arthur V. Sheridan (1888-1952), Lyon’s chief engineer. Sheridan later went on to design highways during the reign of city planner Robert Moses, and is the namesake of the Bronx’s Sheridan Expressway.

railing

Railing

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City Island Bridge

City Island Bridge

City Island Bridge

Crosses: Pelham Bay
Connects: Pelham Bay Park and City Island, Bronx, NY [satellite map]
Carries: 2 vehicular lanes, 1 fire lane, 2 pedestrian sidewalks
Design: (former) swing bridge, now fixed
Date opened: July 14, 1901
Postcard view: “New Bridge. City Island, N.Y.”

The City Island Bridge is a fixed bridge (formerly a swing) that connects City Island with Rodman’s Neck in Pelham Bay Park, in the eastern part of the borough of the Bronx.

City Island is a small island, just one and a half miles long by half a mile wide, off the coast of the Bronx mainland in Eastchester Bay. It is known locally as “The Seaport of the Bronx,” and is famous for its resemblance to New England fishing villages. City Island was first settled by the English in the second half of the 17th century after Thomas Pell’s purchase of over 9,000 acres of land from a local Native American tribe known as the Siwanoys. It was originally known as Minnewits or Minefords Island after either Peter Minuit, purchaser of Manhattan, or another local tribe. In 1761, the island was purchased by a businessman named Benjamin Palmer (the builder of Farmer’s Bridge), who hoped to establish the island as a rival city to New York. The American Revolution prevented his plans from coming to fruition, though the name he chose for the settlement, New City Island, stuck, surviving for about a hundred years before being shortened to the current City Island.

Need for a Bridge

On May 10, 1763, the first ferry was established between City Island and Rodman’s Neck. On April 3, 1775, the State Legislature passed an act authorizing Benjamin Palmer and Samuel Rodman, who owned the land closest to the island, to build a “free draw Bridge over the Narrows from Mineford’s Island to Rodman’s Neck” [1] within seven years of the passage of the act. It is apparent, however, that no action was taken. Another act was passed in 1804 to allow the construction of a bridge, but the initiative failed due to lack of financial support.

David Carll's wooden bridge, built circa 1873 (Source: Historical Facts in Connection with New York City Bridges)

David Carll’s wooden bridge, built circa 1873 (Source: Historical Facts in Connection with New York City Bridges)

First Crossing

Nothing further was done until April 30, 1864, when the City Island Bridge Company was incorporated to build a toll bridge to City Island. The company failed to build a bridge, however, and the State allowed the town of Pelham, of which City Island was a part of at the time, to acquire the title to the bridge company and permission to charge tolls in 1873. Around the same time, David Carll, a prominent shipbuilder with a large shipyard on City Island, purchased a decommissioned US warship named the North Carolina at a public auction. Carll used wood salvaged from the ship to build a number of smaller boats, and used the leftovers to build the first bridge connecting City Island with the mainland. That bridge (above), was built primarily of wood from the North Carolina, with some ironwork taken from the old Cole’s Bridge, the first bridge to cross the Harlem River. It was was widely reported at the time and for years afterwards (and occasionally even today) that the entire bridge was moved by scows to City Island when it was replaced by the first Third Avenue Bridge, but this appears to be incorrect.

A New Bridge

The town continued to charge tolls on the bridge until 1895, when that part of the Bronx was annexed by New York City. The bridge had become seriously deteriorated by then, with some newspaper accounts telling of residents who had become too afraid to cross it. Plans were already underway for a replacement, however, with the state passing laws in 1894 and 1896 authorizing the construction of a new bridge. Contracts for the construction of the new bridge were signed by Mayor William Strong in 1897, reportedly two hours before the end of his term of office. Construction on the new bridge began on January 19, 1899.

Fixed position and reinforced piers

Fixed position and reinforced piers

The City Island Bridge was built as a swing bridge with a 180-foot-long swing span and five 80-foot-long fixed approach spans. The structure was built atop six masonry piers sunk 40 feet below the surface of the water to rock, and faced mostly with blue gray limestone. The pier sinking and structure construction were performed by the John F. O’Rourke contracting company of New York. The swing span is of a through truss design, with a rectangular central tower topped with ornamental finials and concave chords on each side supporting the deck. It was completed in 1901 at a cost of $250,000. The bridge was informally opened to pedestrians by Deputy Commissioner of Bridges Matthew Moore on July 4, 1901 as a favor to City Island residents looking to celebrate the nation’s 225th Independence Day, fifty of whom attended the opening. Two weeks later, on July 14, a bridge watchman named Sprout officially opened the bridge to horse carriage traffic by cutting away the old manila ropes that had hung across each end of the roadway.

Monorail

In 1910 a monorail line, the first in the western hemisphere, was established by the City Island Monorail Company between the Bartow Station of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad and a station at the eastern approach to the City Island Bridge, with plans to build an extension over the bridge to a station on the island itself. The line was a failure, however, and the system was dismantled on March 16, 1914 to make way for a standard two-rail trolley line.

Repairs and Plans for Replacement

By the 1970’s, like so many other New York City bridges, the City Island Bridge began to show its age. Divers for the city inspecting the bridge’s substructure found cracks and faults in the limestone piers supporting the bridge. A major rehabilitation project began in 1977, extending the life of the bridge by several decades.

Turntable

Turntable

The bridge has continued to deteriorate since then, however, and the city now plans to replace it entirely. The new bridge will be of a cable-stayed design, with a 150-foot concrete tower supporting the bridge deck via a system of suspension cables. The Department of Transportation has compared the new design to the mast of a sailboat, fitting the island’s image of a nautical town. Some City Island residents disagree; one member of the City Island Historical Society called the design “a monstrosity” [2] . Work was originally set to begin in 2006, but has been pushed back to 2011 due to budgetary concerns.

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East 238th Street Bridge

East 238th Street Bridge

East 238th Street Bridge

Crosses: Bronx River, Harlem and New Haven Metro-North tracks
Connects: Woodlawn and Wakefield, Bronx, NY [satellite map]
Carries: 4 vehicular lanes, 2 pedestrian sidewalks
Design: supported deck arch
Date opened: April 23, 1931

The East 238th Street Bridge is a concrete arch viaduct crossing the Bronx River and the Harlem and New Haven lines of Metro-North, connecting the Bronx neighborhoods of Wakefield and Woodlawn. On today’s maps, East 238th Street is called McLean Avenue in Woodlawn and Nereid Avenue in Wakefield.

Proposals and Delays

A bridge at either East 241st Street or East 238th Street was first proposed by the Public Service Commission in 1915, to eliminate a grade crossing of the New York Central and New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroads. The railroads, not wanting to foot the bill but under obligation to pay for grade eliminations, argued that since the proposed bridge would also cross the Bronx River, the Public Service Commission had no jurisdiction and the matter would have to be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court. Arguments also persisted as to the location. In August of 1918, a crossing at 238th Street was approved by Commissioner Charles Bulkley Hubell, who found that the Public Service Commission did in fact have jurisdiction over the Bronx River and any bridge to be built there. The Bronx Parkway Commission put forth their opinions on aesthetics in the same year, stating that a bridge at either location needed to be a reinforced concrete arched viaduct, as a steel structure would “mar the beauty of the Parkway” (1918, p. 30). Still, no conclusions were reached.

pedestrian and bike path

pedestrian and bike path

On August 8, 1925, the Transit Commission ordered the railroads to build the bridge at East 238th Street, with the City of New York paying for the portions that did not cross the railroad tracks. However, the railroads continued to resist. An agreement was finally reached on February 2, 1927: the railroads would build two vehicular bridges at East 238th and East 241st Streets, with work on East 238th Street to start immediately.

“Immediately” turned out to be over two years later. Ground was broken by Mayor Walker on June 27, 1929. At the ceremony he talked about the importance of making Yonkers and Westchester County more easily accessible to vehicular traffic.

Construction

The Corbetta Concrete Corporation began construction on July 1, 1929. Corbetta used a 600-foot conveyor belt to place the structural concrete for the viaduct. This was the first successful use of the method, one that grew in popularity thereafter. The viaduct was originally estimated to cost $1,000,000, but wound up costing only $781,200. The completed bridge consists of ten arches built of 92,000 tons of material, is 822 feet long and 80 feet wide, and carries four vehicular lanes and a sidewalk on either side.

Opening

Albert Goldman, Commissioner of Plant and Structures, presided over the opening ceremony on April 23, 1931. A ribbon in the center of the viaduct was cut by Marion Corbetta, the eight-year-old daughter of Roger H. Corbetta, co-owner of the Corbetta Concrete Corporation. Ground-breaker Mayor Walker was unable to attend the ceremony.

plaque

plaque

The Bronx River

The Bronx River

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East 174th Street Bridge

East 174th Street Bridge

East 174th Street Bridge

Crosses: Bronx River
Connects: West Farms and Parkchester, Bronx, NY [satellite map]
Carries: 4 vehicular lanes, 2 sidewalks
Design: through truss
Date opened: June 15, 1928

The East 174th Street Bridge carries four lanes of vehicular traffic and two pedestrian sidewalks across the Bronx River and the railroad tracks of Amtrak and CSX in the West Farms section of the Bronx. It has a total length of 589 feet, with a main through truss span of 190 feet, and has a vertical clearance of 30.5 feet.

A bridge across the Bronx River at East 174th Street was in demand for years before it was built. In 1910, six tracks ran just east of the river, operated by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. That year, the railroad agreed to build bridges over all street crossings. A span was erected at East 174th Street, but only over the tracks. In subsequent years the New York, Westchester and Boston Railway also began using the tracks. Disputes between the railroads and the city over who should pay for the rest of the bridge ensued, and no river crossing or approaches to it were built. By 1918, the finishing of the bridge was considered long overdue, and Bronx property owners requested that the Public Service Commission build the bridge.

By 1925, due to efforts by the Bronx Board of Trade, a proposal for the bridge had been accepted, and plots of land around it started to be bought up. In January 1927, the Board of Estimate finally appropriated $340,000 for the construction of the bridge. Ground was broken on June 20, 1927 by Albert Goldman, Chairman of the Department of Plant and Structures. Bronx Borough President Henry Bruckner and Bronx Board of Trade President John M. Haffen were also there. The bridge opened a month ahead of schedule with a ceremony headed by Mayor Walker on June 15, 1928.

plaque; underside of bridge

Plaque; Underside of bridge

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References

1918, May 19. Demand for Bronx bridge. New York Times. Retrieved from: nytimes.com

1925, December 23. Bronx River plots feature market: Brokers report activity along approach of proposed bridge. New York Times, 34.

1927, June 19. Begin bridge tomorrow: City officials to see ground broken for Bronx River span. New York Times, E9.

1927, June 21. Break ground on site for new Bronx bridge. New York Times, 42.

1928, June 16. New bridge opened over Bronx River. New York Times.