March 30th, 1909 – Opening of the Queensboro Bridge

The Queensboro Bridge, also known as the 59th Street Bridge – because its Manhattan end is located between 59th and 60th Streets – and officially titled the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, is a cantilever bridge over the East River in New York City that was opened on March 30th, 1909.

Queensboro Bridge

Serious proposals for a bridge linking Manhattan to Long Island City were first made as early as 1838 and attempts to finance such a bridge were made by a private company beginning in 1867. Its efforts never came to fruition and the company went bankrupt in the 1890s. Successful plans finally came about in 1903 under the city’s new Department of Bridges, led by Gustav Lindenthal (who was appointed to the new position of Commissioner of Bridges in 1902), in collaboration with Leffert L. Buck and Henry Hornbostel, designers of the Williamsburg Bridge.

Blackwell's_Island_Bridge,_ca._1907Construction soon began, but it would take until 1909 for the bridge to be completed due to delays from the collapse of an incomplete span during a windstorm and from labor unrest (including an attempt to dynamite one span). The bridge opened to the public on March 30th, 1909, having cost about $18 million and 50 lives. A ceremonial grand opening was held on June 12th, 1909. It was then known as the Blackwell’s Island Bridge, from an earlier name for Roosevelt Island.

In 1930, an elevator was built on the bridge to transport cars and passengers to what was then called Welfare Island, now Roosevelt Island. Then, in 1955, the Welfare Island Bridge from Queens opened, allowing automobile and truck access to the island and the only non-aquatic means in and out of the island; the vehicular elevator to Queensboro Bridge then closed, but wasn’t demolished until 1970. However, as late as August 1973, a separate passenger elevator ran during the work week from near the Queens end of the bridge to Welfare Island via the Welfare Island Elevator Storehouse, which was described at the time as “clean but gloomy”.

Queensboro PlazaThe bridge’s upper level originally contained two pedestrian walks and two elevated railway tracks (which connected a spur of the IRT Second Avenue Elevated Line to the Queensboro Plaza elevated station) and the lower deck four motor traffic lanes, and what is now the “outer roadway” and pedestrian walk were two trolley lanes. A trolley connected passengers from Queens and Manhattan to a stop in the middle of the bridge, where passengers could take an elevator or the stairs down to Roosevelt Island. The trolley operated from the bridge’s opening until April 7th, 1957. The railway was removed in the late 1930s and early 1940s as well as the 2nd Avenue Elevated Line. The trolley lanes and mid-bridge station, as well as the stairs, were removed in the 1950s, and for the next few decades the bridge carried 11 lanes of automobile traffic.

The bridge was, for a long time, simply called the Queensboro Bridge, but in March 2011, the bridge was officially renamed in honor of former New York City mayor Ed Koch.

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


 

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