Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Friday, March 13, 2015

An Important History of the City Island Bridge Built in 1868 and the Way Brothers' Ferry That Preceded It

By the mid-1890s when New York City annexed City Island and adjacent areas on the mainland, the old City Island bridge that was completed in 1868 had become a decrepit and dilapidated eyesore. The bridge originally was built from the timbers of an ancient decommissioned ship known as the North Carolina, cobbled together with a draw that was taken from the old Harlem Bridge when that bridge was replaced.  As one account put it so succinctly, even when newly-built in 1868, the City Island bridge was "nothing but a second hand affair." 

The City Island Bridge that currently connects City Island with the mainland and that replaced the one built in 1868 was erected beginning in 1898.  It opened to the public July 4, 1901.  It cost $200,000.

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes another article published shortly before construction of the replacement bridge began.  The article recounts the history of the first bridge and, perhaps more interestingly, describes the Way Brothers ferry that pre-dated that bridge.  The text of the article is followed by a citation and link to its source.  

"Old City Island Bridge"
Source: "Chapter XX: City Island" in History of Bronx Borough City Of New York
Compiled for The North Side News By Randall Comfort, p. 59 (NY, NY: North Side
News Press: 1906). NOTE: Click on Image to Enlarge.

To be Replaced by a Modern Iron Structure.

The old City Island bridge is doomed.

The decree went forth more than one year ago.  The structure is unsafe, the timbers shaky and the stone abutments washed out and crumbling from the storms and tides of more than thirty years.

What wonderful and interesting tales this old bridge could tell:  What fish stories, real or imaginary, the thousands and tens of thousands of fishermen from almost every hamlet in Westchester County, might relate.  There is not another bridge in this state that has a fisherman's record that can compare with that of the old structure at City Island.  Not a single day in the whole year, when the weather permitted, holiday or Sunday, that this bridge did not have its complement of fishermen.

The 'old salt,' with weather beaten face, pea jacket, leather hat, and stump clay pipe, with his old fashioned hazel rod fish pole; the professional angler, with his up-to-date bamboo pole, waterproof line, patent reel and modern outfit; the mechanic, the laborer, the clerk,, the young man with his less pretentious tackle, all could tell some interesting fish story in connection with that old City Island bridge; and, no doubt, in each breast an echo, 'How dear to my heart are the scenes and recollections of this old bridge which will soon be only a remembrance of days gone by!'

The march of improvement has decreed the destruction of this old water mark.  New York City now owns City Island bridge.  It is the connecting link between Pelham Bay Park and the Island.  It is an old wooden structure, not by virtue of years, but by reason of the fact that the materials used in its construction were not new.  The old timbers are morised and bolted together and form an old fashioned frame work of early bridge building.

The City Island bridge was built in 1868 and this would make it just thirty years old, but the timber from which this bridge is constructed, together with the experiences and incidents connected with it, make it historically interesting.

Before this bridge was constructed, the travel from the main land to City Island was by means of a very primitive ferry, in the form of an old flat scow, similar to the conventional mud scow of to-day.  This scow had a flat deck, with a low railing on each side to prevent horses and other animals, from backing off into the water.  To each end of this scow was fastened a large cable or rope long enough to reach across the water when the scow was pulled across.  

Scow of the Sort Once Drawn by Hand by Men Using Rope
System To Travel from the Mainland to City Island.
Source:  Otis, James, Peter of New Amersterdam:  A Story
of Old New York (Project Gutenberg, 2013) (Available for
"use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no
restrictions whatsoever").  NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.

In order that the rope should not float and impede navigation on the water that divided the Island from the main land, heavy iron weights were fastened on the rope that that it would sink to the bottom of the river.  This primitive ferry was operated by the Way Brothers, who, when the scow had a load, would give a signal and then, with the assistance of two or three men, would walk along the banks and draw the boat across, in the same manner as a horse draws a boat along a tow path.

The ferry charged a toll; twenty-five cents for a team, fifteen cents for a single horse and five cents for a man, hog, sheep or goat.  This old ferry had been in use more than fifty years up to the time when the City Island bridge was built.

The timber in this bridge was taken from the old naval ship North Carolina, which David Carl [sic], a ship builder on City Island, purchased from the government at the Navy yard, the year previous.  Carl bought this vessel for the iron and copper that her frame contained.  He had the vessel towed to City Island, where he dismantled her.  After removing all the iron and copper in her hull above the water line, he cut the vessel into sections and, as fast as these sections dropped over into the water, they were towed ashore by the fishermen and inhabitants of the Island, who need the timber and cut it up for firewood; the agreement having first been made with Carl [sic], that he was to have every bolt and bit of the copper in the wood.  

The accumulation of frame work, planking, ribs, stays, etc., was so large that a number of men decided to form a company and build a bridge out of the lumber.  The corporation comprised David Carl [sic], Josh Leviness, Benjamin Hageman, William Lockwood, George Gould, David Cromwell and one or two others.  

In the Spring of 1868, Zeke Rowe, of Flushing, L. I., contracted to build the bridge for $35,000.  He set at work a large force of men and on August 21, 1868, the bridge was opened for travel and the first person to cross it was a woman, Mrs. George Gould, mother of Theodore Gould, who opened the first hotel in Mount Vernon, where Adelina Patti made her first appearance at a concert.

The Goulds were among the pioneers of Mount Vernon when the Home Industrial Association of which Horace Greeley was President, purchased the site of this city.  

The first bridge tender and toll taker was Andrew J. Horton, aand the last bridge tender, Phil Flynn.  The bridge had a small draw, which opened to the vessels desiring to go up the Sound.  The iron work and machinery of this draw were taken from the old wooden Third avenue drawbridge, over the Harlem River, at 130th street, New York City.

The bridge is nearly half a mile long.  It has a narrow foot path on the north side.  The drive way is just wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other and a driver mustd keep his wits about him to avoid a collision.  

In going over the bridge every plank and frame piece creaks and groans as if in agony.  The stone piers that carry the frame work, are falling and crumbling and, in order to hold the stones together, large piles and logs have been anchored around the piers to save them from falling in to the mud.  At the present tie a one horse car line runs on one side of the drive.  This railroad runs between City Island and Bartow.  The Westchester Electric Company recently purchased the franchise, and when the new bridge is completed, trolley cars will take its place.

At the time when this bridge was thrown open to the public there was no way of traveling, except by foot or by carriage.  

The Harlem River branch of the New Haven Road did not pass through this territory until 1872.

Robert J. Vickery ran the first stage from Bartow to City Island and met the very first train that went over the road in the Fall of 1872.

It was only a short time after the opening of the Harlem branch road, that the citizens of the town of Pelham voted to purchase the City Island bridge, and, through the Board of Supervisors who granted permission, bonds were issued for this purpose.  After the town of Pelham purchased the bridge, it was made free to all travel.

The bridge, as stated at the outset, has been condemned.  A sign on the bridge warns the public that the bridge is unsafe and cautions the traveller to go no faster than a walk.  

Since City Island has been annexed to New York City, the old draw has not been in use.  It is not safe to open it.  

A new bridge is soon to take the place of the old City Island bridge.  Surveys, plans and specifications have been made and the contract for the abutments has been awarded to Warren Roosevelt & Son, of this city.

The new bridge will be of iron and steel, with large draw.  It will be wide enough to accommodate foot passengers and vehicles and, it is estimated, will cost about $200,000."

Source:  CITY ISLAND'S HISTORIC BRIDGE -- A SKETCH OF ITS ORIGIN -- To be Replaced by a Modern Iron Structure, Mount Vernon Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Jul. 23, 1898, Vol. XXVI, No. 1926, p. 1, cols. 4-5.  

*          *          *          *          *

To learn more about the City Island Bridge, early efforts to develop a bridge from the mainland to City Island and about Benjamin Palmer, Samuel Rodman, and others involved in efforts to build such a bridge, see the following.   

Thu., Dec. 04, 2014:  Park Department Commissioners Condemned -- But Didn't Close -- the "Dilapidated" City Island Bridge in 1894.

Tue., Oct. 07, 2014:  Legislative History of the 1775 Statute Authorizing Construction of City Island Bridge.

Tue., Jul. 22, 2014:  Stories of City Island Bridge Published in 1892.

Labels: , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home