If you told me a year ago that I’d be visiting the Bronx three times in the subsequent 12 months, I wouldn’t have believed it. And I certainly never thought I’d be walking there.
But like porch swings and celebrity nudes, pedestrian bridges are irresistible—especially ones that have been off limits for 40 years. The High Bridge between Washington Heights and the Bronx opened in 1848 as an aqueduct, transporting water over the Harlem River from the Croton Reservoir in Westchester to Manhattan; considerately and conveniently, it had a walkway on top. The aqueduct, says the New York Times, “continued to two reservoirs, including one built on what is now the site of the main public library. Croton water reached a fountain in City Hall Park and rose 50 feet, unpumped: gravity’s geyser.” The water stopped flowing in the 1950s, with the walkway following a decade later. I’m still not sure why the walkway was ever closed. Disrepair became an issue with the whole structure, and eventually community groups persuaded the city to do something about it.
Click through to that New York Times article if you want more color on how the bridge was reborn. To be honest, the history was less of a draw for me than the general experience of walking over a river on a beautiful day. Andrea and I took the A train to 168th Street—we can scratch that stop off the bucket list—and walked a few blocks north and west toward Highbridge Park. If you know me at all, you know that I got a kick out of this sweatshirt.
We stopped for pizza at Slice Pizza of Amsterdam, on Amsterdam Avenue. Washington Heights has undoubtedly seen plenty of gentrification in recent years, but it still felt like New York City of yore to me. I don’t know when I last came across men playing Dominoes at a table on the sidewalk.
Highbridge Park is long and skinny, so we didn’t see much of it, but we did admire the swimming pool complex, built in 1936—it’s where the reservoir used to be. The purpose of those pyramid things in the middle eluded us.
Also, on the Bronx half there are informational plaques that, we learned the hard way, are best read starting from the Bronx side. We would read a plaque, only to find ourselves scratching our heads until we reached the next one.
And then we were in the Bronx. We only poked around a bit, because it wasn’t the most interesting area I’ve ever seen. Three items of note: a wonderful old set of stairs leading down to the riverbank; a frog fountain that spits out into a flume mimicking (one presumes) the path of the old aqueduct; a Mellencampian pink house.
The regret I felt about not walking down those stone stairs evaporated when we had to walk back up the stairs on the other side. They’re so steep we had to rest on a landing. (There’s a ramp somewhere, of course.)
One of the plaques on the bridge explained that a portion of the stone bridge was replaced by a single steel span so larger ships could pass under it. This only made sense to us when we were back on the Manhattan side, pausing to admire the bridge from a different spot.
I was sort of bummed about that change—stone generally trumps metal—until, later that day, Andrea sent me a photo that @qsylver had just posted on Instagram.
Previous Field Trip posts:
• The Broad
• Crown Heights
• Spuyten Duyvil
• New York Botanical Garden
• The New Whitney Museum
• The Rockaways
• S-Cruise by Smartboat
• Wave Hill
• Governors Island
• F.D.R. Four Freedoms Park
• Litchfield County, Conn.
• One Wall Street
• Behind the Scenes at Grand Central Terminal
• The Howard/Crosby Microneighborhood
• Federal Reserve Bank of New York
• East River Ferry
• Museum of American Finance