The scrapped plan to build a 77th Street bridge over the East River to Queens

Posted On Wed, January 31, 2018 By

Posted On Wed, January 31, 2018 By In History, Transportation

Courtesy of the NYPL

At one point in New York history, it looked very likely that the city would get a brand new bridge across the East River between Manhattan and Queens by way of Blackwell’s (now Roosevelt) Island. This was back in the 1870s, as the Brooklyn Bridge began rising to the south. According to Ephemeral New York, this would have been the second bridge to link Manhattan to Long Island, and plans were just getting off the ground. Though an 1877 newspaper article got the location of the bridge wrong–as it wasn’t going to Brooklyn–it explained that the proposal process was moving right along: “The projectors of this proposed bridge over the East River, between New York and Brooklyn at 77th Street, by way of Blackwell’s Island, have, in response to the invitation sent out, received ten separate designs and estimates from as many engineers,” it said. “Ground will be broken as soon as a plan shall be decided on.”

brooklyn bridge, brooklyn bridge opening, brooklyn bridge historic
Via Library of Congress

The 77th Street bridge project kicked off in 1881. That year, a caisson was sunk into the river on the Queens side, off the outpost of Ravenswood. A newspaper report from the time notes that the bridge is “under contract, and the contractors are now busy on the ironwork of the pier foundations.” Construction cost was estimated at $5 million, with a timeline of three years.

But then the Brooklyn Bridge opened two years later, in 1883. It was a spectacle that caught the attention of New Yorkers and took away any hype surrounding a second bridge to Queens. With less money invested and a waning interest in the project, the company that was chartered to build the bridge ended construction. The company eventually went bankrupt in the 1890s.

The Queenboro Bridge under construction in 1907, courtesy of the New York City Municipal Archives

It took nearly two decades after the Brooklyn Bridge opening for a bridge to Queens to materialize. Only a few years after Brooklyn and Queens became part of greater New York City, plans were drawn up for the Blackwell’s Island Bridge in 1903. Construction kicked off quickly but took until 1909 for the bridge to be completed due to delays from the collapse of an incomplete span during a windstorm, as well as labor unrest. (Labor sentiments were so bad there was an attempt to dynamite one span of the bridge.) The cantilevered bridge opened to the public on March 30th, 1909, at a cost of about $18 million and 50 lives.

Photo by the King of Hearts via WikiMedia

The Blackwell’s Island Bridge, of course, has gone through several name changes throughout its history. For many years it was the Queensboro Bridge, and colloquially known as the 59th Street Bridge. Then in 2010, the city announced that the bridge would be renamed in honor of former Mayor Ed Koch to the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge. Still, it’s established itself as an icon of the East River waterfront.

[Via Ephemeral New York]

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