History of the Williamsburg Bridge in New York City

History of the Williamsburg Bridge in New York City

The Williamsburg bridge, one of New York’s most famous landmarks is a suspension bridge built in 1903. Built across New York’s East River, this iconic architectural wonder connects Manhattan’s East Side to the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. When opened 117 years ago, the Williamsburg bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world but the exposed iron frames and lack of extra design elements left many Americans unimpressed. Today the Williamsburg bridge stands tall not just as a symbol of New York city but it represents the ingenuity of American architecture and the long-term vision of the past leaders of the country. Let’s take a look into the glorious history of the Williamsburg bridge of New York city.

The construction of the historic Williamsburg bridge began in the early 1896s and the foremost purpose of this bridge was to connect the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn. The governor of New York City approved the plan to build the bridge on May 27, 1895. During the construction phase, the bridge was known as the East River Bridge and it was the second bridge built across the East River. On December 19, 1903, the Williamsburg bridge opened for pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages. Rail and automobile traffic increased significantly after the opening of the bridge and multiple adjustments were done on the bridge to accommodate all types of vehicles. In 1920 the trolley tracks of the Williamsburg bridge were changed to roadways to contain the motor vehicles. Elevated trains started the service through the bridge in 1908. The Williamsburg Bridge was named after Colonel Jonathan Williams, the grand-nephew of Benjamin Franklin.

The traditional rules of stone tower bridges were broken during the design and construction of the Williamsburg bridge. The bridge is supported by steel towers and represents an unconventional naked steel arch structure. The American civil engineer Leffert Lefferts Buck was the mastermind behind the design and his team took just 7 years to build this architectural wonder. Brooklyn Bridge was the first bridge to be built across the East River and it took 13 years to build it using stones. The chief engineer Leffert Lefferts Buck decided to use steel considering its lightweight and strongness. The design of the Williamsburg bridge is said to be inspired by the iconic Eiffel Tower. While not celebrated for its charm, the Williamsburg Bridge has achieved its primary mission to ease traffic congestion on the Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge was initially expected to cost 7 million US Dollars but the final cost was $24.2 million.

The Williamsburg Bridge was initially opened for pedestrians, bicycles, and horse-drawn carriages. At that time, most of the railway companies in New York City were privately owned, and due to some complications with these companies’ elevated trains did not run on the Williamsburg Bridge until 1908. The Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) was one of the first companies to run passenger train service through the Williamsburg Bridge. The commuters paid toll to use the bridge till 1910, and then the rulers of New York City removed the toll after it passed a law preventing the use of tolls to fund bridge construction and maintenance.

The history of New York City and the life of the people living there changed significantly after the opening of the Williamsburg Bridge. The movement between various neighborhoods became much easier and it hoisted the economic and cultural development of New York City. Apart from serving the traffic needs of the city, the Williamsburg Bridge also changed the migration patterns of many ethnic groups.

The first major reconstruction of the Williamsburg Bridge started in 1990. Major changes were completed under the DOT and they invested more than $600 million on the bridge. A complete rehabilitation was planned to overcome the effects of the age of the bridge, climate changes, and increased traffic volumes. The 7-inch-thick concrete deck of the bridge was replaced by a steel deck plate attached transversely or longitudinally. After all the renovation works, the Williamsburg Bridge is ready to serve the city of New York for another 100 years.

As of today, the Williamsburg Bridge carries 140,000 vehicles per day over its 8 lanes and two rapid transit tracks (J, M, and Z subway lines). A walkway and a bikeway also run across the bridge to accommodate maximum traffic. No one has written a poem about the Williamsburg Bridge but it is serving the people of New York City for more than 100 years without showing any sign of wearing out.

I enjoy crossing the Williamsburg Bridge after brewing my favorite coffee at home. This bridge hosts mainly locals and you will not see many tourists as in the Brooklyn Bridge.