History of The High Bridge
"High Bridge, decked with flags and echoing with speeches, was opened to traffic again on Saturday. But what strange traffic! No other bridge about the city carries any just like it: waters from the Old Croton Aqueduct, pedestrians crossing to the Bronx, promenaders taking advantage on a summer’s evening, as they have for almost a century, of the cool breezes and fine prospect, couples arm in arm. No clanking cars, no honking motors! . . . As the steel span symbolizes the future, so the old arches stand as a link with the past." (From "High Bridge Transformed:," New York Times, Oct. 30, 1928)
The High Bridge is part of the Old Croton Aqueduct, the brick water conduit that brought New York City its earliest supply of clean water. The bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a New York City landmark. As part of the Old Croton Aqueduct, considered one of America’s greatest 19th century engineering achievements, it shares the Aqueduct’s designation as a National Historic Landmark.
The Croton Aqueduct. The Aqueduct was designed to slope gently, moving water entirely by gravity through 41 miles of countryside from the Croton River in Westchester County to Manhattan Island. It crossed the Harlem River on the High Bridge, the best-known structure of this pioneering water supply project, in pipes that still lie beneath the walkway of the bridge. The Croton Aqueduct served the city from 1842 until 1958, carrying nearly 100 million gallons a day at its peak. Its pure, plentiful water brought the ravages of fire and disease under control and helped the city to expand rapidly. The Croton Water Supply System has been designated a Historic Civic Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
High Bridge design and dimensions. Designed on principles of Roman aqueduct architecture, the granite bridge is 116 feet in height and 1,200 feet from end to end, with the undersides of its arches 100 feet above the Harlem River. The High Bridge was begun in 1839 and completed in 1848. Larger water pipes were added in 1862, but the bridge remained largely unchanged until 1928. In that year, the city replaced five of the original 15 arches with a central steel span to ease the passage of large ships. The rest of the majestic stone arches still stand, mainly on the Bronx side of the river. The bridge has never carried vehicular traffic.
A favorite destination. Upon its opening in 1848, the High Bridge, with its beautiful arches spanning the river between steep, wooded banks, quickly achieved fame as an attraction for New Yorkers and tourists and a favorite subject for artists and photographers. Amusement parks and restaurants opened nearby as the walkway became a popular promenade for strollers and an important crossing for Bronx and Manhattan neighborhood residents. Projects now underway are restoring aqueduct features and the parks surrounding the bridge.
Historic print, Harper's Weekly, 1885
This drawing was made before construction of the High Bridge by Fayette B. Tower, part of John B. Jervis's team of engineers.
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York