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Manhattan Bridge

By Dan Brenner

Posted on December 11, 2019

Underwood & Underwood, Manhattan Bridge, circa 1910, Gelatin silver print, v1973.5.324; Brooklyn Historical Society.

The Manhattan Bridge opened to the public on the morning of December 31, 1909. It was the third suspension bridge built to span the East River, joining the Brooklyn and Williamsburg bridges. At the beginning of construction, its name was “Bridge No. 3” but that didn’t stick. In the end, the city opted for simple, christening the bridge Manhattan.

In 1901, the city recruited Department of Bridges commissioner Gustav Lindenthal and engineer R.S. Buck to design the bridge but fired them in 1904 following a dispute over construction techniques. Leon Moisieff joined the project as their replacement. In later years, Moisieff would assist in designing the George Washington and Robert F. Kennedy bridges. Construction on the Manhattan Bridge began on October 1, 1901 and was completed in 1909.

In 1910, the architectural firm Carrere and Hastings, known for designing the New York Public Library Main Branch on Fifth Avenue, created their design plans for the triumphal arch and colonnade that greets you on the Manhattan-side entrance to the bridge. The structure was part of the City Beautiful movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, an architectural reform movement begun in response to New York City’s growing number of rundown and cramped tenement districts. City Beautiful advocates hoped to beautify cities across the country by reintroducing the more grandiose designs of neoclassical and Beaux-Arts architecture into public landscapes.

Almost immediately, trolley services began operating over the bridge by way of the Manhattan Bridge Three Cent Line. When subway service was added in 1915, the trolley lines were moved to the upper level where they remained until 1929 when service was removed completely to accommodate automobiles.

These three East River bridges revolutionized transportation between Brooklyn and Manhattan and also work along the waterfront. While in the early 1900s they provided easier access for workers to access waterfront factories and warehouses, in subsequent decades the bridges became one of many reasons waterfront work became obsolete. To learn more, check out Waterfront at BHS Dumbo (just blocks from the Manhattan Bridge!)

This image comes from the Brooklyn photograph and illustration collection (ARC.202). For more information please see our finding aid here and for more photographs from this collection please visit our image gallery here.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections; visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. [email protected].

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