Harlem River Bridges
Few people realize that New York City has over 2,000 bridges. We traverse these bridges on subways and railroads, as motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians. Bridges are found in our parks, over roadways, and over our waterways.
The Harlem River bridges feature eight bridges built between 1842 and 1910. Connecting the mainland Bronx to Manhattan, the Harlem River has the largest river concentration of the city’s oldest surviving bridges.
We are most conscious of the full range of the Harlem River bridges when we ride Metro North’s Hudson railroad line, or when we take the Circle Line’s excursion boat. The railroad and boat offer the best opportunity to closely examine and appreciate the construction details of these bridges.
The East River bridges form an important link connecting highways east with Long Island and west to New Jersey, upstate New York and New England. Our East River suspension bridges offer stunning views of Long Island Sound, the Manhattan skyline, and portions of the outer boroughs of the Bronx and Queens.
All waterway bridges presented on this site have interesting features and are vital links in the city’s transportation system. They are managed today by either the N.Y.C. Department of Transportation (DOT), the N.Y.C. Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), Amtrak, or the MTA Bridges and Tunnels Authority (MTA)
Harlem River Bridges
Willis Avenue Bridge
Connects E. 125th St and First Ave. (Manhattan) to Willis Avenue and E. 132nd St. (Bronx)
Maximum span: 304 feet; length: 3212 feet; height: 25.1 feet above water.
Engineer: Thomas C. Clark
Opened: 1901 (bowstring truss swing bridge); operated by DOT
At the turn of the 20th century, increased manufacturing in the south Bronx strained the traffic capacity of the Third Avenue Bridge. In response to the urgent need, the State Legislature selected an early ferry route as the site for construction of the Willis Avenue Bridge. In 1916, the bridge was strengthened to handle trolley traffic. Today the bridge is one the most heavily used along the Harlem River. It is used by ten local and interstate buses, and funnels northbound traffic headed to Westchester and New England. (In contrast, the Third Avenue Bridge handles southbound traffic into Manhattan.) On the west end, the bridge crosses above the Harlem River Drive, and a concrete plant. East of the river, it crosses the Oak Point Link, the Harlem River Rail Yard, and Bruckner Boulevard. Work is now underway to replace the aging bridge to a location just below its present site. The new swing span bridge and improved approaches should be completed by 2012.
Third Avenue Bridge
Connects E. 129th Street and Third Avenue (Manhattan ) to Bruckner Boulevard (Bronx)
Maximum span: 300 feet; length: 2800 feet; height: 25.8 feet
Engineer: Thomas C. Clark
Opened: 1898 (swing bridge); operated by: MTA
An earlier Third Avenue Bridge, standing just 13 feet above the Harlem River, was declared obsolete by the River and Harbor Acts of 1892. This necessitated the construction of a new swing bridge to serve the needs of borough residents and businesses. The bridge had trolley tracks (eliminated in 1928), and was an early user of electric operating equipment. In 1953 the bridge was modernized and early iron ornamentation was removed. The original parallel trusses at the center span, constituting a bridge by itself, was removed and sold to accommodate more vehicular traffic. The Third Avenue Bridge more recently underwent a major reconstruction with replacement of its approach ramps and installation of a new swing span. The bridge handles southbound traffic from the Bronx to Manhattan today, crossing over the Oak Point Link Railroad to the Harlem River Drive.
Madison Avenue Bridge
Connects Madison Ave. & E. 138th St. (Manhattan) to E. 138th St. & Grand Concourse (Bronx)
Maximum span: 300 feet; length: 1892 feet; height: 25 feet
Builder: Keystone Bridge Co. (original bridge)
Engineer: Alfred P. Boller (second bridge)
Opened: 1910 (swing bridge); operated by: DOT
Funding for construction of the original bridge was appropriated in 1875 in response to the request of residents of New York City’s 23rd Ward or Annexed District. This newly annexed area (formerly Westchester) was incorporated into New York City and its residents wanted a bridge to connect them to Manhattan. Because of the area’s uneven topography and landscape, substantial work was needed before pier and approach construction for the bridge could even begin. The swing bridge opened in 1884 and by 1910 a newer arch bridge with ornamental iron work and girder spires was installed. Emergency reconstruction of the bridge was undertaken in the mid 1990’s and future rehabilitation is planned.
145th Street Bridge
Connects Lenox Avenue and 145th Street to East 149th Street and River Avenue (Bronx)
Maximum span: 300 feet; length: 1603 feet; height: 25.2 feet
Engineer: Alfred P. Boller (design); Rodgers, McMullen & McBean, construction
Opened: 1905 (swing bridge); operated by DOT
Similar in design to the Macombs Dam Bridge, the 145th Street Bridge was constructed to meet the needs of a growing West Bronx. The installation of an IRT subway under one of its piers delayed its opening until 1905. By 1957, the bridge was extended west to span the Harlem River Drive; and in 1990 eastern spans were reconstructed to access the Oak Point Link in the Bronx. More recently, the bridge underwent phased reconstruction of its approach spans, and its center pier. A new pre-fabricated swing span was floated up the Harlem River and installed in February, 2007. By March the bridge was partially opened to traffic, and by June all traffic lanes and marine traffic were operating again.
Macombs Dam Bridge
Connects West 155th St. and St. Nicholas Place to Jerome Avenue and East 161 St. (Bronx)
Maximum span: 408 feet; length: 2540 feet; height: 29.2 feet
Engineer: Alfred P. Boller
Opened: 1895 (swing bridge); operated by DOT
This bridge is named for Robert Macomb who obtained permission from the State Legislature to erect a dam, with a bridge, across the Harlem River in 1814. The dam flooded upstream meadows and obstructed navigation. Finally, angry local citizens breached the dam in 1839 and the courts decided in their favor calling the dam a “public nuisance” obstructing Harlem River navigation. Another bridge, called the Central Bridge, opened on the same site in 1861 but maintenance of its rotting wooden parts proved too costly. By the 1890s, the Passaic Rolling Mill Co. hired Alfred P. Boller to design the current bridge. It opened in 1895 on the site of the previous bridges and was subsequently renamed the Macombs Dam Bridge. This landmarked bridge is the third oldest major bridge in New York City’s and was one of the heaviest drawbridges constructed in its day. Even today, it is notable for its long swing span. The bridge connected the old Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium and is said to have enjoyed the most foot traffic of all the Harlem River bridges. The western approach of the bridge crosses the Harlem River Drive, and the eastern deck and trusses cross the Metro-North Railroad, and the Major Deegan interchange to the Jerome Avenue viaduct. Bridge reconstruction was completed in 2007.
High Bridge (or Aqueduct Bridge)
Connects Highbridge Park and 173rd Street (Manhattan) to West 170th Street (Bronx)
Maximum span: 323 feet ; length: 1450 feet; height: 102 feet
Engineer: John B. Jervis
Opened: 1848 (arch bridge); operated by DPR
This bridge is the oldest surviving bridge in New York City. It was designed as part of the Old Croton Aqueduct system that brought water over a 41 miles of closed masonry from the Croton Reservoir in northern Westchester to Manhattan. Engineer John B. Jervis designed the bridge as a high bridge since a low bridge would have impeded river navigation and the reliability of tunneling technology was still too new. The design was reminiscent of a Roman aqueduct with its 15 circular arches - 8 over the river, and 7 over land. Huge pipes were embedded in the arch walls in order to carry the water needed by the city’s burgeoning population.
Early in the 20th century the New Croton Aqueduct System and the Catskill Reservoir System were constructed. The U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers began complaining that the bridge arches obstructed navigation on the river since they were too narrow. By the 1920s calls for demolition of the bridge were circulating, but engineering, architectural and art organizations protested. In 1927 the city compromised and removed four river piers and five central masonry arches. They were replaced with the current steel arch. High Bridge was only used to transport water and pedestrians and had never been used for motor vehicles. In the 1950s, the aqueduct was closed and public access to the pedestrian walk ended in 1970. The High Bridge Coalition has actively advocated for the restoration of the bridge and reopening of the pedestrian walk. These initiatives have city and community support. Ultimately the two High Bridge parks, on each side of the Harlem River, will be connected. This bridge enjoys both city and national landmark designations.
Washington Bridge (initially called Harlem River Bridge and then Manhattan Bridge)
Connects West 181st Street and Amsterdam Ave. (Manhattan) to University Ave. (Bronx)
Maximum span: 508.8 feet; length: 2,375; height: 134 feet
Engineers: John McAlpine, then William Rich Hutton and Edward H. Kendall (based on C.C. Schneider’s design)
Opened: 1888 ( arch bridge); operated by DOT
This two-hinged arch bridge is named for President Washington, whose centennial anniversary was celebrated in 1888, the year that the bridge opened to pedestrians. Horse drawn carriages and wagons started using the bridge in 1889. The development of Washington Heights encouraged the construction of the Washington Bridge. The bridge united upper Manhattan with what is now the Bronx. This is considered the first modern bridge along the Harlem River. The original prize winning bridge design by Schneider called for costly ornamental iron work. When the Herald Tribune decried the cost, the plan was simplified with steel webwork. This landmarked bridge was constructed efficiently, economically and within a remarkable two years. One bridge arch spans the Harlem River and the other crosses over the Metro North Railroad tracks. When the newly constructed George Washington Bridge opened in 1931 it funneled traffic onto the Washington Bridge into the Bronx. Still more traffic flowed through when the George Washington Bridge added a six-lane lower deck in the 1962. Relief came in 1963 when the Alexander Hamilton Bridge diverted much of the added traffic off the Washington Bridge.
University Heights Bridge
Connects W. 207th Street & Ninth Ave. (Manhattan) to Cedar Ave. and W. Fordham Rd. (Bronx)
Maximum span: 264 feet; length: 1566 feet; height: 25 feet
Engineers: Alfred T. Boller, George W. Birdsall, and William H. Burr
Opened: 1908 (swing bridge); DOT
This bridge was previously upstream on the site of the current Broadway Bridge. It was built in 1895 to connect Broadway in upper Manhattan with Broadway in today’s Marble Hill. When the IRT line was to be extended beyond Spuyten Duyvil Creek (Harlem River), however, a new and heavier bridge was needed. Rather than discard the obsolete bridge, it was to be reused and installed on the site of a short-serving 1890s wooden trestle footbridge. In 1904, the old Broadway Bridge was floated down steam to await installation, once the new supports were ready, at the West 207th Street and Fordham Road site. Finally, in 1908 the span of the former Broadway Bridge was installed and dedicated as the University Heights Bridge. The bridge is noted for its decorative trim, and the approach stone gatehouses and iron pergolas used as pedestrian shelters. By the 1980s it was in poor shape and both city and state engineers recommended that it be demolished. The Landmarks Preservation Commission opposed destruction of the bridge, held hearings in 1983, and finally granted landmark designation in 1984. The bridge underwent a major reconstruction project from 1989 – 1992 during which a new swing span was installed.
Connects 220th Street and Broadway (Manhattan) to 225th Street and Broadway (Marble Hill)
Maximum span: 304 feet; length: 558 feet; height: 24.3 feet with 136 vertical clearance (raised)
Engineer: Alfred P.Boller (first swing bridge)
Opened: 1962 (lift bridge); DOT
The site of today’s Broadway Bridge was in close proximity to the colonial “Kings Bridge,” (1693) the earliest city bridge (demolished in 1917). Its nearby rival was the Farmer’s Free Bridge that was built in defiance of the Kings Bridge tolls and destroyed in 1777. Then it was rebuilt and stood until 1911 at approximately Broadway and 225th Street, to be followed by a wooden bridge. By then the dredging and widening of the Harlem River and the Ship Canal called for a newer bridge.
In 1895, a single-deck steel swing bridge opened but had to be replaced with a heavier bridge in 1904 to accommodate the IRT Broadway—Seventh Avenue subway line that would cross the Spuyten Duyvil Canal to Marble Hill. (The swing bridge span became the University Heights Bridge.) In 1907, the Broadway Bridge was replaced by a two-level swing bridge that carried trains and vehicles until 1960 when it was then scrapped. It was replaced in 1962 by the current double-deck vertical lift bridge. More recently, the bridge’s steel components received protective coating, was waterproofed, and had its gratings replaced. Further reconstruction is slated for 2013-2016.
Henry Hudson Bridge
Connects Riverside Drive and Inwood Hill Park (Manhattan) to Henry Hudson Parkway (Bronx)
Maximum span: 800 feet; length: 2,000 feet; height: 142.5 feet
Engineer: David Steinman
Opened: 1936 (steel arch bridge); operated by TBTA
The Henry Hudson Bridge takes its name from the early explorer of the Hudson River who is thought to have docked his Half Moon ship in Sputyen Duyvil. It had been widely expected that a bridge crossing Spuyten Duvyil at the Hudson River would be completed by the tercentennial celebration of Hudson’s landing in 1909. Plans submitted by well regarded Alfred G. Boller for a concrete arch bridge was not favored by the city’s Art Commission, however. It was said that the classic design did not fit in with the high cliffs of the forested area.
Finally in 1936, the Henry Hudson Bridge was constructed by engineer David Steinman. It was the longest steel arch bridge in the world in its day and was even painted dark green to blend in with Inwood Hill Park. Robert Moses had a distinct vision for the bridge. He saw it in terms of: improvement of the Henry Hudson Parkway, as a means of further developing the west side of Manhattan; and as a way to ultimately relocate unsightly 11th Avenue railroad tracks. It was largely private investors that enabled the construction of the bridge. In contrast to other Harlem River bridges, the Henry Hudson Bridge charged tolls. The bridge was such a financial success in its first year that a second deck and enlarged approaches were added the following year. The upper deck today handles northbound traffic through the Bronx, while southbound traffic into Manhattan uses the lower deck.
Spuyten Duyvil Swing Bridge
Connects Spuyten Duvyil (Bronx) to upper Manhattan via Inwood Hill Park
Maximum span: 290 feet; length: 610 feet; height: 5 feet
Engineer: Robert Giles
This railroad bridge is the last bridge along the Harlem River before reaching the Hudson River. It has been used over the years for transporting freight and passengers. When the New York & Hudson River Railroad began running a line north from 72nd Street to Fishkill in the late 1840s, it had to pass Spuyten Duvyil Creek (now Harlem River) on a wooden drawbridge. A 1869 merger between railroad lines ended that route but a shuttle continued to run from a 30th Street passenger station to Sputyen Duyvil. A wooden bridge replaced the original bridge; and in 1899 the current bridge, also called the Spuyten Duyvil Improvement, was built. The bridge has three fixed sections connected by a 290 foot center. It pivots to a 100 foot channel opening, enabling ships to pass. The close proximity of the bridge to water was necessary to maintain railroad grade. Passenger service over the bridge continued until 1916. When a labor dispute in the 1920’s closed railroad lines, this line was a “lifeline” bringing foodstuffs into New York City. Rail service over this bridge declined after World War II. Later ship collisions with the bridge left it inoperable for a number of years at a time. After restoration in the 1980s, the bridge once again played an important role in transportation. The conversion of abandoned west side railroad lines as part of the Amtrak Empire Corridor again required crossing over Spuyten Duvyil Creek starting in 1991 for connections to and from Pennsylvania Station.
Janet Butler Munch
Duane Bailey-Castro and Bridge and Tunnel Club