The newly re-opened High Bridge is the oldest standing bridge in the city, built in 1848. It connects the Washington Heights section of Manhattan to the High Bridge section of the Bronx. We started our tour on the Manhattan side, in the district of Council Member Idanis Rodriguez, who was kind enough to introduce us to our guide, Jennifer Hoppa, administrator for parks in northern Manhattan.
Jennifer showed us how $61.8 million dollars had restored the bridge, a project beginning with Mayor Bloomberg and continuing with Mayor de Blasio.
We walked through High Bridge Park with trees that were aglow in autumnal colors. The area became a park since its massive cliffs and rocks would have prohibited the building of homes or apartments. The park is 130 acres, spans all of Washington Heights, and boasts the city’s first mountain biking course and world class ice skating rink.
The High Bridge was conceived as an aqueduct – an artificial channel for conveying water for putting out fires and for drinking. When it opened in 1848, it was also a bridge for pedestrians and cyclists, it soon became a popular “destination” for day trips.
The passage of large ships was limited by the stone piers. Calls to demolish the High Bridge arose. A solution was reached in 1927 when a steel arch was built over the river.
The bridge began deteriorating in the 1950’s, when neighborhood gangs were throwing garbage and auto wrecks from it into the water. By the 1970’s, the bridge was shut down because it wasn’t safe.
When we reached the bridge, we saw the first of many brass plaques on the walkway – plaques that tell the story of the bridge. The first one said “HIGH BRIDGE RESTORATION *2015* Another plaque said THIRSTY CITY *1864* when demand for water outpaced the original three-foot pipes, so a seven and a half foot water pipe was added.
From the bridge’s great height, we looked down at many of the city’s major highways and at the beautiful Harlem River. In all of ten minutes, we reached the end of the bridge and arrived at the Bronx.
40 years after it closed, the High Bridge remains a marvel of engineering – and testament to how determination (and money!) can make things beautiful again. To reach the bridge in Manhattan, enter High Bridge Park at 165th Street and Edgecomb Avenue. The bridge is open for passage every day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.