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The Carroll Street Bridge

By Dan Brenner

Posted on October 30, 2019

John D. Morrell, [Carroll Street bridge], February, 28, 1960, Gelatin silver print, V1974.4.1450; Brooklyn Historical Society.

The Carroll Street Bridge crosses over the Gowanus Canal between Bond and Nevins Street and resides near the border between the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Gowanus and Carroll Gardens. Of the 794 bridges and tunnels currently operating under the purview of the New York City Department of Transportation, it is the least-used bridge in the city.

Despite this, the Carroll Street Bridge is actually a New York City historic landmark. It is one of only three remaining retractable bridges operating in the United States! It is also the only wooden bridge in NYC used for cars! (More bridge fun facts: one of the other two retractable bridges also resides in NYC, the Borden Avenue Bridge in Hunters Point, Queens).

By the 1860s, the Gowanus Canal was becoming a central hub of modern-day industrial activity for the city of Brooklyn. To advance this industrialization, the city built six bridges to cross the canal. One of them was the original and non-retractable Carroll Street Bridge, an old wooden swing bridge, which closed in 1887 due to fears of its imminent collapse. In 1888, Brooklyn Mayor Alfred Chapin and the Brooklyn Common Council announced their plans for a replacement bridge. One request by local landowners for the new design was a retractable span that could slide into the shore to allow an easier passage for boats (the canal was narrower at Carroll Street). The city approved this design and construction began that same year.

The new Carroll Street Bridge opened in 1889 at the cost of $29,600 to build and was designed by the Department of City Works engineers Robert Van Buren and George Ingram. Since then, there have been only slight alterations to the structure. One necessary modification came in 1908 when the bridge’s steam motors were replaced by electric motors.

Despite being closed twice in the 1970s, as well as an incident in the mid-1980s that resulted in the bridge being stuck in the open position for several years, the Carroll Street Bridge is a resilient little piece of architecture. In 1987, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the bridge an official city landmark.

This image comes from the John D. Morrell photographs (ARC.005). 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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