Field Trip: The High Bridge

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.

High Bridge mapBut 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.

Licey sweatshirtWe 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.

Slice Pizza of AmsterdamHighbridge 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.

Highbridge Park poolThe 200-foot tower, which was finished in 1872, functioned as a water tower, and then a five-octave carillon was installed in 1958.

Highbridge Park towerFinally, we saw the bridge!

High Bridge from Washington HeightsSoon enough, we were out on it. The bridge is pretty spare…. Oddly, the western and eastern halves are surfaced with different bricks and patterns. Did Manhattan and the Bronx each get to choose?

High Bridg Washington Heights sideHigh Bridge Bronx sideAlso, 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.

High Bridge plaqueAnyway, the views are lovely.

High Bridge view north High Bridge view southThere are a handful of benches placed, for whatever reason, on metal insets. Maybe if you’re sopping wet the water dripping off you will drain away?

High Bridge benchesAnd 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.

old stone stairs in the Bronx by High Bridge frog fountain on Bronx side of High Bridge pink house in the BronxThe 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.)

Highbridge Park stairsOne 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.

High Bridge from Washington Heights2I 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.

High Bridge at night by qsylverPrevious Field Trip posts:
The Broad
Crown Heights
Spuyten Duyvil
New York Botanical Garden
Bed-Stuy
The New Whitney Museum
Bushwick-ish
The Rockaways
Greenpoint
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

4 Comments

  1. Nice story, thanks. Would it make more sense to take the 4 to 170th St in the Bronx and then walk across the bridge to Manhattan, taking the 1 from 168th St home?

  2. Great article. For all the latest on the High Bridge, Highbridge Park, and the area immediately surrounding please look at highbridgeparkdevelopment.blogspt.com Have a great day at the High Bridge.

  3. So, I finally made it. I recommend taking the 4 train to 170th St, walking across the bridge to Manhattan, and then getting on the 1 train at 168th St home. It was a fun, easy outing with kids, and we stopped for good pizza in Washington Heights.

  4. “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”

    From ‘Highbridge Play Center, NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, Designation List 395 LP-2237’:

    “The swimming pool has two pyramidal intake units that circulate water through the filtration system located under the bleachers on the north side of the complex. These intakes are sited where fountains that originally aerated the pool water once stood.”

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/lpc/downloads/pdf/reports/Highbridge_pool.pdf

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