By Charlotte Fahn, Trail Conference Board Member
Hikers who enjoy urban walking can now create imaginative new routes in the western Bronx and north Manhattan, thanks to the long-dreamed-of reopening on June 9 of the High Bridge, New York City’s oldest extant bridge. Completed in 1848 as the centerpiece of the original (“Old”) Croton Aqueduct, this pedestrian span across the Harlem River is just south of the Alexander Hamilton Bridge (aka the Cross-Bronx Expressway). A three-year, $62 million, meticulous restoration also added a number of new features, including benches. The reopened bridge is now fully accessible for visitors with disabilities and for bikers.
The quarter-mile-long High Bridge, a city and federal landmark built on Roman-style granite arches, has a unique story to tell. It was built to carry Croton water, the city’s first pure water supply, from the mainland to Manhattan Island in pipes beneath the walkway. The bridge quickly became a popular destination for tourists and eventually a part of life in the two neighborhoods it connects: Highbridge in The Bronx and Washington Heights in Manhattan. That link was severed when the bridge was closed to the public in about 1970, but has now been restored.
The bridge is within hiking distance of many sites of interest. On the Bronx side one can walk along the route of the Croton Aqueduct–sometimes on streets and sometimes on city parkland–to the stunning Gould Memorial Library and Hall of Fame for Great Americans on the campus of Bronx Community College (formerly NYU); to Jerome Park Reservoir; and to Van Cortlandt Park.
In Manhattan, besides Highbridge Park itself, Morris-Jumel Mansion–with its own incomparable history as the oldest house in the borough–is nearby. Further away are Trinity Cemetery, the Little Red Lighthouse, Fort Tryon Park,and other parks of hilly north Manhattan, and Swindler Cove at Sherman Creek, among others.
Finally, the High Bridge is not simply a link or connector, but a destination and public place in itself. Visitors can enjoy unusual views and beautiful new bronze medallions set into the walkway that highlight the bridge’s history. It’s a place to meet friends and stay a while. It brings to life the motto, “See you on the High Bridge!”
The High Bridge is administered by NYC Parks & Recreation. Current hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Directions for reaching the bridge can be found on the Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct and NYC Parks websites. The map/guide The Old Croton Aqueduct in New York City, published by Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct, describes the route of the Aqueduct, the history, and sites along the way. It can be purchased from the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference or from the Friends.