High Bridge is a steel arch bridge that spans the Harlem River, connecting New York City’s Manhattan and The Bronx. The bridge was completed in 1848, nearly 11 years after construction began, and stands 140 feet high and over 2,000 feet long. The height of the bridge was a decision of the New York Legislature, who worried that a low bridge would obstruct boat traffic, so they ultimately decided that a higher, more expensive bridge was necessary.
High Bridge was built as part of the Croton Aqueduct, New York City’s first reliable and plentiful water supply system, which carried water 10 miles south of the Croton River. The aqueduct had to cross the Harlem River at some point along its route south, so the Water Commission decided it best to utilize a bridge to do so.
In 1928, the historic masonry arches that spanned the river were demolished and replaced with a single steel arch of about 450 feet in length. The arches were removed to create space under the bridge for easier boat navigation. However, several of these masonry arches of the original 1848 bridge still remain on either side, with only one on Manhattan and ten on The Bronx.
City officials considered closing the bridge in the mid-1960s, nearly 120 years after initial construction, because of disrepair. However, the bridge was not closed until 1970 when a pedestrian threw a rock from the bridge and damaged a tour boat.
In 2009, the city began preliminary planning to restore the High Bridge as a pedestrian and bicycle greenway. After years of restoration efforts, costing over $60 million, the bridge was reopened to the public in June of 2015.
The fresh new bridge walk is modern and inviting, although the same can only somewhat be said of the sprawling park land beneath the span. Highbridge Park continues to be an unwieldy and often neglected urban nature spot with illegal dumping, overgrowth, and homelessness still an issue. Efforts are underway to restore the park itself however with invasive species being slowly (and literally) weeded out, and new facilities such as a skate park being installed. With luck, it won’t take decades for the park to catch up with the bridge above it.