Officials broke ground today on the long anticipated restoration of New York’s High Bridge connecting the Bronx with Manhattan. Built in 1848 and today the city’s oldest bridge, the 1,200-foot-long span had long been a popular strolling bridge, even making an appearance in Edith Wharton’s 1913 novel Custom of the Country. The landmarked bridge was closed to the public in the 1970s, but after construction wraps up on the $61 million rehabilitation, strolling New Yorkers and bicyclists can once again cross high above the Harlem River—116 feet—and connect with the city’s growing waterfront Greenway. (See also: Photos of High Bridge before renovation.)
Improvements include pedestrian safety measures like accessibility ramps, viewing platforms, and new lighting. An eight-foot-tall cable mesh fence to prevent jumpers and throwing trash will also line each side, a point that drew criticism from some in the community who believe it’s unnecessary and will spoil views. In a statement released at the groundbreaking ceremony, Mayor Michael Bloomberg called High Bridge “one of our city’s great treasures.” He continued, “It will bring people here from all over the five boroughs, and even all over the world, to see some of the most spectacular views in the city.”
There’s a scene in Edith Wharton’s 1913 novel Custom of the Country, where the wicked vixen Undine Spragg insists on speeding across the High Bridge in a “horseless carriage” before making her grand entrance at a party so as to rouge her cheeks with a cold snap of air whipping up from the Harlem River. The romantic fascination accorded the then-65-year-old bridge quietly slipped from New York’s consciousness as bigger engineering marvels usurped its quiet dignity.
Now approaching 165 years, renovations are about to get underway to finally restore the bridge to its former glory as a 1,200-foot-long pedestrian bridge, uniting neighborhoods of High Bridge and Washington Heights in the Bronx and Manhattan. New Yorkers for Parks stopped by the span Monday afternoon to document current conditions before construction is in full swing, giving us a hint of Undine’s views. Though controversial netting integrated into the design might mildly disrupt the vista, Monday’s photos show it the way it was, albeit slightly overgrown.