THE WASHINGTON BRIDGEby
The Washington Bridge spanning the Harlem River was conceived and designed when the population of Manhattan started to move northward after the Civil War. In 1868 the Board of Commissioners of Central Park undertook a study to create a means of transportation between Manhattan and the Bronx. The Bronx was still considered part of Westchester County until the 1870's.
In June 1885 the Mayor, Comptroller and the President of the Board of Aldermen of New York City appointed 3 Commissioners for the construction of such a bridge. The following year construction had started under the direction of William Jarvis McAlpine who resigned a few months later after establishing construction of the bridge. William Hutton had succeeded McAlpine to ensure that the job would be completed.
The bridge was designed by Charles Conrad Schneider who won first prize for the bridge contest. It has two main spans that are 510 feet each in length. Both spans consist of six arches composed of steel plated girders that are riveted together which makes the bridge the first of its kind to do so. The total length of the bridge is 2,375 feet and the width of the roadway is 66 feet. The pedestrian walkways increase the width of the bridge to 80 feet.
The Washington Bridge was referred to as the glory of the Harlem River. The New York Times described the bridge as follows: (The Washington Bridge) is one of the most imposing, beautiful and substantial to be found anywhere about the metropolis, and is especially interesting as a perfect and consistent edifice in the arched style of bridge architecture.
Construction was begun on October 1, 1886 and was completed in two years. The bridge was opened to pedestrian traffic on December 1, 1888. The bridge was formally opened to all traffic on February 22, 1889. The cost of the original structure was $3,000,000. It was initially scheduled to be opened for George Washington's birthday in 1889 but due to bad weather and arguments amongst the bridges commissioners delayed the official opening to April 30th in time for the centennial of Washington's Inauguration.
As traffic needs became greater the bridge was modified to accommodate more vehicles. In 1906, the first automobiles gained access to the bridge. During the 1940's and 1950's the roadway deck was modified to permit a 66 foot wide roadway with 6 traffic lanes and two 6 foot wide pedestrian lanes.
The bridge suffers an identity crisis. It shares its name with the George Washington Bridge which spans the Hudson River.
During the 1950's the bridge was used by spectators to watch the rowing teams of Columbia University and Manhattan College. Regattas on the Harlem River were also observed from the bridge too. The original bronze lamp posts were removed for standard highway lights.
On April 28, 1989 the bridge had its centennial anniversary. Dignitaries from the Mayors office as well as local politicians and civic organizations from the Bronx and Manhattan were in attendance for the occasion.