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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • THE NAVY NEEDS YOU IN THE WAVES

Hell Gate: 1915

Hell Gate: 1915

"Hell Gate Bridge (New York Connecting Railroad Bridge)," circa 1915. This steel arch span over the East River was completed in 1916. View full size.

 

Stacked

I wonder what that smokestack is used for on the far right? It's doing something in this picture cause it's a smokin.

[It's for a coal-fired boiler. You can see the steam farther down. - Dave]

Why Hell Gate?

From the Dutch "Hellegat" it refers to a portion of the East River between Astoria, Queens and Ward Island. Between tide driven currents and rocks it was extremely difficult to navigate and hundreds of ships were lost in the area. In September 1876 the worst of the rocks were blasted away by the Corps of Engineers. Navigation continues to be difficult thanks to the tidal flow (the East River isn't really a river but rather a tidal strait) but considerably easier than it was.

Ok, since nobody's asked

I will. Why is it called Hell Gate?

Hell Gate Forever

Not only is the Hell Gate bridge still in regular use, it is likely to be the longest surviving bridge of any of the current NYC spans. The February issue of Discover Magazine postulated what would happen to humans' creations if we suddenly disappeared:

Unless an earthquake strikes New York first, bridges spared yearly applications of road salt would last a few hundred years before their stays and bolts gave way (last to fall would be Hell Gate Arch, built for railroads and easily good for another thousand years).

Hell Gate

This bridge is still in regular rail use, by the way--by freight trains and Amtrak passenger rail, between NYC and Boston, Mass. I'm not ashamed to say I get a bit of a thrill when I ride across Hell Gate on the Amtrak.


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The Eighth Bridge

I first learned of this bridge from a memorable New Yorker article (Jan 14, 1991) written by Tom Buckley. A few extracts from the opening section are below.


Eight bridges cross the East River, Four of them - the Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan, the Williamsburg, and the Queensboro - have been in the news frequently in the past few years. They are the oldest, are owned by the city, and can be crossed free of charge. As a result of these interacting circumstances, they have suffered from prolonged and serious neglect, which has already cost hundreds of millions of dollars to remedy..... The three newest bridges - the Triborough, the Bronx-Whitestone, and the Throgs Neck - are by contrast, pampered darlings. They are owned by the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, and the tolls it levies are more than sufficient to keep them gleaming with fresh paint....

Whatever their condition, these seven bridges are such conspicuous landmarks that most New Yorkers could probably name at least five of them. Even a cabdriver might be able to identify two or three and drive across them without getting lost. The eighth bridge is another matter. Even in a period of heightened bridge consciousness, scarcely anyone I asked about it over a period of many months was able to provide its name or location, let alone to describe its appearance or function. ...

The Hell Gate was a lot more noticeable in 1917, when it was opened, than it seems to be nowadays. It was the longest and by far the heaviest and strongest steel-arch bridge in the world, at a time when the country rejoiced in such evidence and skill. The bridge was also the final link in one of the costliest privately financed construction projects of the industrial age - the New York Extension of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The extension brought that railroad into Manhattan, and from there to a connection with the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad in the Bronx, giving it, for the first time, a direct route to New England.

I remember this bridge!

I used to bike out on Ward's Island & sit next to the base of this bridge! It brings back neat memories; thank you!

 
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