Just a short walk from the Bronx, across the Harlem River to Washington Heights–over the oldest bridge in New York City.
High Bridge originally served as Roman-inspired aqueduct carrying clean water to New York City from the Croton River in Westchester (part of the Old Croton Aqueduct), making it a critical link in the City’s first water supply system. New York could have left it at that: a structural beauty, with sweeping stone arches, hundreds of feet in the air, spanning the Harlem River. They could have. But, it wouldn’t have been very New York, even in the 1800s. Instead it would open not more than 20 years after the aqueducts completion as a pedestrian promenade, connecting the boroughs of the Bronx and Manhattan. In its heyday High Bridge was a bustling destination for a stroll, packed to the brim.
Like so many things that are glamorous when they first appear, High Bridge began to fade as new technology developed. By the 1920s the aqueduct became obsolete when the New Croton Aqueduct was developed. The structure began to decline and the striking arches were removed. Cars led to expressways, making walking a less prevalent mode of transportation. And, the environmental health of the City’s waterway continued to plummet, turning the Harlem River into a garbage filled, polluted body of water.
Plans originally called for the demolition of the structure, but it survived thanks to an early victory for preservationists. They saved High Bridge from demolition, but public access to the Bridge was banned starting in the early 1970s.
But, what’s more New York than a community of New Yorkers fighting to fix something up in their backyards? More than 40 years after it closed, resortation of High Bridge began in 2012. And, in June 2015 it opened again to pedestrians and cyclists, introducing a new generation to some unique local history and providing residents and tourists alike with a new, old route between boroughs.