When Henry Hudson and his crew of the Half Moon sailed into the inlet of the old Spuyten Duyvil in 1609 he could have never imagined the massive bridge that would one day bear his name.
The 2,208-foot, steel-arch bridge is now a neighborhood icon, but at the turn of the last century it was merely a paper dream covered in statuary; a solid but impractical monument of concrete and stone.
A 1908 study in the Journal of Engineering and Contracting discussed the feasibility of the plan originally submitted by project engineer Leon S. Moisseiff. “The main span of the Henry Hudson Memorial Bridge is a reinforced concrete arch of 703 feet clear span. This span is nearly 2 ½ times as long as any masonry arch heretofore built; it is nearly twice as long as that of any masonry arch ever designed… In his report Mr. Moisseiff does not mention why steel was set aside in favor of reinforced concrete as the material from which to construct this bridge.”
And while the Journal engineers believed, at least theoretically, it possible to build the unprecedented concrete span, it was “entirely another question whether it was the best engineering to design the bridge as it has been designed and to use the material that has been chosen”.
One doesn’t need to read too closely between the lines to see the Journal authors hated the plan, but local reaction lacked all subtlety.
Protesters in Inwood and Riverdale denounced the projected two-million-dollar project and vowed to derail construction of the project slated for completion in 1909, the 300th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s fateful trip into the Spuyten Duyvil. Locals wanted the bridge to take a more easterly path thus sparing the unspoiled wilderness of the area.
But their argument, for the moment, was a moot point. While ground was broken and a column erected in 1909, the project, riddled with design flaws, was soon abandoned.
Then, in June of 1935, after years of planning and bickering, construction began. Concrete was replaced with steel and neighborhood resistance was voiced once again. Alan Fox, representing local landowners, offered the city ten acres of land as an alternative bridge site saying the Spuyten Duyvil would be “destroyed as a residential area”.
But project supervisor Robert Moses, who later gained fame and power as designer of all things urban, would hear none of it. Four hours after Fox’s offer, Moses inked the construction contracts initially estimated at ten million dollars. (Moses watched his budget like a hawk and amazingly completed construction nearly five million dollars under budget). The work would span a year and a half.
On December 12, 1936 opening ceremonies were held for new Hendrick Hudson Memorial Bridge. While big names and civic leaders like Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and Parks Commissioner Robert Moses were on hand for the ribbon cutting, the event was largely overshadowed by the abdication of King Edward VIII. Edward’s speech was being broadcast live over the radio and the bridge, hopefully, was going nowhere.
That first day, 9,086 vehicles crossed the bridge; the toll: one thin dime. Now, some 120,000 vehicles cross the Henry Hudson on any given day.