Walk the High Bridge, New York City’s Oldest Span

Photo by Scott Lynch via Gothamist

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    There’s only one way to escape Manhattan that’s solely for pedestrians (and bicyclists): the High Bridge, which spans the Harlem River between Washington Heights and the Bronx.

    It’s New York City’s oldest bridge, and well worth a visit.

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    A little history.

    Originally constructed in 1848 to carry water as part of the Croton Aquaduct, the city’s first water supply system, it’s the oldest bridge in New York City. Once a popular spot for New Yorkers to stroll and admire the view, it began to decline in the 1920s.

    In 1940, Robert Moses built the Harlem River Drive, causing the park and bridge to fall into disrepair; it was finally closed in 1970. After being neglected for decades, it was restored and reopened in 2015, thanks to the efforts of the New York Restoration Project and the City Parks Department.

    How to get there.

    From Manhattan, you enter from Washington Heights via Highbridge Park (West 172th Street at Amsterdam); from the Bronx, from University Avenue near West 170th Street). It’s a short walk from the subway.

    What you’ll see.

    Near the Washington Heights entrance to the bridge is a large sculptural rock that could illustrate a joke once told by a Columbia historic preservation professor: “The Bronx is gneiss, but Manhattan is full of schist.”

    A series of medallions set into the herringbone-patterned brick walkway explains the history. You will see expansive views of the Harlem River and the High Bridge Tower straight up ahead. The tower aligns perfectly with the bridge. (More about the tower below.)

    Visitor info.

    You’ll find Port-a-Pottie and a solar-powered charging station (that also tracks visitation) at the entrance to the bridge on the Washington Heights side.

    It’s open daily from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the summer; hours vary seasonally.

    Where to eat and what to do nearby.

    If you’re looking for something to eat, check out Antika in the Washington Heights side, Antika Pizzeria offers delicious coal-oven pizza and cocktails in a friendly, pretty setting.

    The United Palace in Washington Heights is an astonishingly ornate 1930s terra-cotta masterpiece by architect Thomas Lamb. Originally built as a movie house, it’s now a music venue, church, and cultural space. They occasionally screen classic movies such as West Side Story with special guests like Rita Moreno and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

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    Word Up, also in Washington Heights, is a progressive multi-lingual community bookstore and arts space staffed entirely by volunteers.

    The adjacent Highbridge Park, a gem of upper Manhattan, is also worth a visit. It’s known for its stairs and meandering paths.

    It also contains the aforementioned High Bridge Tower, originally a water tower that fed a large reservoir. Now you can go swimming where the reservoir used to be. It’s a large and popular public pool.

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