Happy Birthday, Hell Gate Bridge

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    She’s 1,087 feet long, provides a very long island with a rail link to the continent, and was built as the New York Connecting Railroad Bridge. She was designed by Gustav Lindenthal, and is considered to be the most robustly designed structure in all of NYC. Famously, Discover Magazine once declared that she would outlive every other span in the harbor by nearly a thousand years.

    Modernity and common usage refers to her as the Hell Gate Bridge, and she lives in Astoria.

    She opened for business on this day in 1916, and today is her birthday.

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    A rail bridge, she spans the Hell Gate section of the East River between Astoria, Randall’s Island, and the Bronx. There are four tracks up there, and she is operated and owned by Amtrak, although freight trains from CSX and others are regularly seen transiting through. Her approaches include just over three miles of elevated track which cut through Astoria and then across Randall’s, where a couple of smaller bridges are found (crossing Little Hell Gate and the Bronx Kill) whereupon it enters the South Bronx.

    There was more steel used in the Hell Gate Bridge construction than was used in the Queensboro and Manhattan Bridges combined, some 20,000 tons of metal.

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    Considered a vital strategic asset of the United States, the Hell Gate Bridge and the rather explosive history of the waterway it crosses were discussed in a Brownstoner posting which was offered back in August — Hell Gate: A Bright Passage. The bridge was completed on September 30th, 1916, but didn’t open to traffic until April of 1917.

    The top of the arch of the Hell Gate Bridge is some 305 feet over the water.

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    When she opened, she was the longest arch bridge in the world. The steel was manufactured in Pittsburgh by the Carnegie Steel Company.

    The bridge is painted in a color called “Hell Gate Red,” a pigment which has not exactly lived up to expectations. Nevertheless, the old girl is ninety seven today, and we should all look so good at her age.

    Happy Birthday, Hell Gate.

    Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman lives in Astoria and blogs at Newtown Pentacle.

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