New YorkSights to See - The Brooklyn Bridge

It was originally known as the "New York and Brooklyn Bridge", but we know it simply as the Brooklyn Bridge.  When we think today about what has to be one of the world's most famous bridges, who could imagine that an old steel roadway could engender such controversy and passion?

Yet, that's the history of the Brooklyn Bridge since before its construction even began in the late 19th century to the present day.

A dream initiated by John A. Roebling (1806 - 1869), who by 1867 had already created other noted bridges, the project took years to even begin. As with most large-scale efforts, finances and politics struggled both to create and delay the project while the citizens of Brooklyn and Manhattan waited.

Finally, in 1870, construction began - sadly, without J.A. Roebling who by that time had died from an injury he had sustained earlier on the site. His son, Washington Augustus Roebling (1837 - 1926), by now also an accomplished bridge engineer, immediately took over direction of the project.

He threw himself into the project with such an active and personal participation that he, like his father, eventually suffered a debilitating injury.

He became crippled from the bends.

Excess nitrogen build-up in caissons, large airtight cylinders used to house men and equipment under the East River, produced this now well known "diving sickness" when men moved back to the surface too rapidly and without proper decompression. At the time, however, the causes were poorly understood and Washington Roebling was not the only individual to fall prey to this form of injury..

Though bedridden, after a partial recovery, Washington continued to supervise the project from his apartment. Active daily management of the project passed to his wife, Emily Warren Roebling (1843 - 1903). Their joint efforts eventually led - after many stalls from political interference and financial and construction difficulties - to the completed structure, in 1883.

On its first open day in May of 1883, the new roadway above the East River joining Lower Manhattan to Brooklyn Heights hosted 150,000 people and 1,800 cars. Each person paid the grandious sum of one cent to cross.  For vehicles, the cost was five cents.

From the start, the bridge was a success - artistically, financially, and technologically.

This National Historic landmark now provides a pathway for over 140,000 vehicles daily across its 1,595 foot (486m) span. The bridge is recognized the world over for its two distinctive Gothic towers, each 276 feet (84m) high, which support the innovative (for that time) suspension cables. The distinctive red paint and numerous designs add to the visual beauty that's perfectly integrated into the brilliant engineering.

Even in our modern world so far removed from the ideas and ideals of its construction, thousands still stand far away to get a breathtaking view, then walk the bridge to see both the view of Manhattan and to experience the the awesome historical presence of the structure itself.

The breezy walk across the span of history can take as short a time as half an hour, or it can last an hour or more. Along the way there are several plaques to view which provide interesting historical tidbits about the construction, the participants, and the views one might have seen here in 1883.

They provide descriptions of Ellis Island, the first stopping point for my wife's grandmother Maria, and so many other of the immigrants arriving in America at the time, as well as Governor's Island (a former Coast Guard installation).

From the bridge, pedestrians can now look out and see the Statue of Liberty off the southern tip of Manhattan as well as the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (completed in 1964) connecting Brooklyn to Staten Island to the south.

Getting to this New York City icon is easy whether you are coming from the Brooklyn or the Manhattan side. In Manhattan, just take the 4,5,6 to Brooklyn Bridge or the J/M/Z to Chambers St. In Brooklyn simply take the A to High St. The walkway entrance is near the Federal Court Building.

But, before you leave your hotel, be sure to grab your coat, and guard your hat while there. The wind over the East River can be cold and strong.

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The Brooklyn Bridge, John A. Roebling, Washington Augustus Roebling, Emily Warren Roebling, National Historic Landmark

Page Updated 8:12 AM Thursday 9/26/2013