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Brooklyn Bridge

Summary: The Brooklyn Bridge endures as the most famous and best-loved bridge in New York City. Walk across and soak in the fantastic views of Manhattan – and take note of the signs along the way which provide information about the sites you are seeing.

If you had been on the Brooklyn Bridge at the time of its completion, you would have had an unobstructed view of the Hudson River and New Jersey on the opposite side of Manhattan.

Even today you may find a view from the Brooklyn Bridge better than one from the top of one of New York’s many sky scrapers. Proudly standing over the East River and connecting the boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan, the bridge provides excellent views of many, if not most, of the city’s “tall” attractions, including the nearby skyscrapers at the tip of Manhattan, as well as the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, which are further uptown.

The Bridge’s History

When it was completed in May 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was the largest suspension bridge in the world. It is considered one of the greatest architectural accomplishments of the nineteenth century, and is, in fact, a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

Architect John Roebling, who proposed that the structure be a suspension bridge, initially oversaw its construction. But he died not long after the work began and his son, Washington, took over. Unfortunately, Washington came down with caisson disease, otherwise known as “the bends,” which disabled him and kept him away from the bridge. His wife, Emily, helped him manage the project’s completion.

Construction began in 1870 when pneumatic caissons were floated out into the East River and sunk to the river’s bed. These caissons were hollow chambers that provided workers with a dry place to work because continual air pressure kept the water out. Workers dug at the floor of the river until they reached solid ground on which the arches could be built. Many workers, including Washington Roebling, got “the bends” as a result of leaving the caissons and rising to the river’s surface too quickly.

Next, the two arches built of New York limestone and Maine granite were erected, followed by the cables that hold up the framework of the bridge. After the wires were strung properly, the bridge floor, which is 135 feet above the river to allow boats to pass easily underneath, was completed. The bridge opened on May 24, 1883.

Walking or Biking We prefer walking or biking across the Brooklyn Bridge rather than driving. Walkers and bikers use the same walkway in the center of the bridge (although it is divided so that bikers don’t run into anybody). The bridge is usually full of activity, ranging from Brooklyn Heights yuppies going to or from work on Wall Street, to runners and joggers, to out-of-towners coming to the famous bridge for the view.

At each of the arches, the walkway widens into a large square plank. Plaques on the corners of the plank (which will be on your immediate right and left as you come from either side of the bridge) tell the history of the bridge (outlined above). Note that the story is the same, no matter which side you come from.

Plaques on the far corners of these planks, however, offer an interesting twist: as you walk toward Brooklyn (on the plank closer to Manhattan), you can read a short history of Brooklyn before you actually enter the borough. These plaques also point out the sights in Brooklyn seen from the bridge, as you would have seen them in 1883 and as you see them now.

As you go to Manhattan from Brooklyn, the second set of plaques contain a brief history of places like Liberty Island, Ellis Island, and Governors Island. The plaques also indicate what buildings you are seeing as you look at Manhattan.