Tuesday, December 5, 2023


170 years of the High Bridge construction made the impossible a reality. It enabled water delivery from Croton Reservoir, which is located in the northern part of the state, to the homes of New Yorkers. Today, the bridge is an architectural object and a perfect place for a walk, recreation and entertainment. In the past, it was an important Roman aqueduct-style stone structure that connected 173rd Street in Manhattan and 170th Street in the Bronx. Learn more about the bridge and its features at bronx-future.com.

Water delivery issues

According to nytimes, at the beginning of the 19th century, the lack of water supply became an obstacle for rapidly developing New York and its population. City wells of fresh water were completely pumped out and often contaminated with salty sea water or sewage because of the city’s dissatisfactory sanitary condition. In 1832, the cholera outbreak caused the outflow of the wealthy population from the city, leaving only immigrants and Afro-Americans. More than 3,500 of them were fatally affected by the disease, which amounted to 2% of the city’s population at the time. A few years later, namely in 1835, the city suffered from a big fire and, thus, the question of increasing the amount of water for the city arose again.

The builder and engineer John Jervis found the way out. He designed and built a dam on the New York Croton River. This allowed him to accumulate water and direct it south toward the city. Immigrants were involved in the construction and the force of gravity helped to direct the water 40 miles to the south. The water dropped 13.25 inches per mile. The flow crossed the mainland near the High Bridge and reached 2 reservoirs (the current location of the New York Public Library). When it reached the city park, the water rose up 50 feet without pumping. In general, the city received 10 times more water than it had before.

History of the bridge construction

The High Bridge was playing an important role in water delivery. Its construction began in 1837 and was completed in 1848. It was designed by the military engineer David Bates Douglass. After his resignation, the work was continued by John B. Jervis. James Renwick, Jr., who later designed the St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the central part of Manhattan, was also involved in the bridge creation. When the city authorities were solving the water delivery issue, they came up with an idea to build a tunnel under the Harlem River. However, at that time, the technology of underground construction was not developed enough, so they decided to refuse it. Thus, the only remaining option was a bridge. Then they had to decide whether the bridge would be low or high. The lower one would be the cheaper, faster and easier option, but it was opposed by the city’s legislators, who warned that such a bridge might hinder the passage of ships on the Harlem River in the long run. Therefore, it was decided to build a high bridge. Project contractors became George Lowe, Samuel Roberts and Arnold Mason. The latter had considerable experience in engineering and construction, as he built the Erie and Morris canals.

Peculiarities of the bridge

The bridge was opened in 1848. The pipes that carried water to Manhattan were located under the bridge’s 1,200-foot-long walkway at a height of 116 feet. It was planned that its operation period would end in 1970. The bridge consisted of 2 spans, one of which was made of steel and the other of stone masonry. In the 1920s, there was a proposal to demolish the bridge because its masonry arches were dangerous for ships. However, publicity defended it and in 1928, it was just reconstructed. 5 of its original arches that crossed the Harlem River were destroyed and were replaced with a steel one (450 feet long). Only one original arch remained on the Manhattan side and nine on the Bronx side.

The exploitation

The High Bridge became a place for recreation and walks for New Yorkers of the 19th century. On Sundays, thousands of local residents came here or arrived by ferry. The bridge has inspired a lot of artists and photographers. Boat cruises going up and down the river under the bridge were popular at this time too. In 1864, a walking path, which didn’t allow vehicle traffic, was built across the High Bridge. A track for horse-drawn carriage competitions was built to the north of the High Bridge. Later, in 1890, a walking path was created along the river. In addition, hotels, restaurants and amusement parks were built near the popular bridge.

After the Second World War, the High Bridge stopped providing water, because other aqueducts, which carried more water to the growing city, were put into operation. That’s why it was closed in December 1949. Since 1954, the bridge has become the epicenter of vandalism, destruction and disorder. Some people threw stones, branches and bricks at the passengers of the steamboats moving along the river, causing injuries. In 1960 (or according to some data in 1970), the bridge was closed. In the same year, it was recognized as a historical monument of the city.

The bridge reconstruction

In 2006, it was decided to renovate the bridge and opened it to the public in 2009. The $20 million project included the reconstruction of the arches, improvements to the stairs, lighting, installation of cameras and other related works. As the terms of restoration were constantly postponed, the cost was also increasing.

In 2013, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg began the restoration of 8 city parks and the renovation of the High Bridge. In his opinion, the High Bridge was one of the greatest treasures of the city. During its reconstruction, 2 adjacent spans of the bridge were cleaned and repaired. The steel part was painted and the stone was strengthened. Lighting, which creates a wonderful play of light and shadow at night, has been installed under the spans. The historical brick path on the upper part was dismantled, replaced with concrete, covered with waterproofing and installed with the original brickwork again. In addition, both sides of the path were decorated with new lights, protective fences, metal railings, barrier-free ramps and benches on observation platforms.

The newly-opened bridge for pedestrians and cyclists connected Manhattan and the Bronx. It also became a recreational spot that offers breathtaking views of the city. Its reconstruction cost $61 million. $50 million was provided by the city authorities, $5 million by Congressman José E. Serrano and federal transportation grants amounted to $7 million.

The High Bridge Water Tower 

The tower was built in Highbridge Park in 1866-1872 to increase the water pressure in New York apartments. The octagon tower was 200 feet high. It was designed by the same engineer, John B. Jervis. The water was pumped into a 2.8-hectare reservoir that was located next to the tower (there were a play center and swimming pool at that time), then it entered the tower and after that was delivered to the homes of the New Yorkers. The tower improved the gravity pressure in the water system and, in particular, the toilet flushes started to work better. During the First World War, the water tower was closed to prevent sabotage acts. In 1949, it stopped functioning and in 1984, it suffered from a fire. At the beginning of the 21st century, the tower was reconstructed for $5 million and opened in 2021 again.

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