|Getting Around New York City|
|MACOMBS DAM BRIDGE|
Alexander Macomb, a merchant of large means and varied activities obtained from the City of New York in December, 1800, a grant of the bed of Spuyten Duyvil Creek east of the Kings Bridge at an annual rent of $12.50. He had also previously purchased considerable land, mostly swamp, bordering on the creek, and built a four-story grist mill west of the bridge and extending over the creek.
The mill power was furnished by undershot wheel run by the ebb and flow of the tide.
In 1810, his son Robert purchased the land, mill and rights to and as the power furnished by the tide was insufficient for his purposes, he set about making a mill pond of the Harlem River and Spuyten Duyvil Creek between Kings Bridge and 155th Street.
The first step was in the form of a memorial to the Common Council, received at the meeting of March 1, 1813, stating that he was about to petition the Legislature for permission to build a "Bridge & Dam" from Bussing's Point to Devoe's Point. That the bridge will be a great convenience and as he proposes to charge a moderate toll, one-half of which he is willing to donate to the poor of the city, he hopes for approbation. This was referred to the Road Committee.
Previous to this however, January 17, 1812, Alderman Fish laid before the Board a letter from Charles Devoe stating that he intended to make an application to the legislature at the next session for permission to erect a "Free Bridge" from Devoe's Point in the town of Westchester to Bussing's Point on Manhattan Island, by which the distance to Kings Bridge would be shortened a mile. This was referred to the Committee on Surveys. Whether this bridge was projected to forstall Macomb or was offered in his interest as a test of the sentiment of the Board, does not appear, nor does it appear that any report came from the committee, but on March 8, 1813 the Road Committee reported on Macomb's communication, that a bridge would be a great public convenience and should meet the countenance and approbation of the Common Council, but as a bill on the subject was at that time before the Legislature, it recommended that no action be taken, although, unless the rights of third parties be prejudiced or the legislative project be of greater public benefit, the public convenience and accomodation would be greatly promoted by a bridge at that point.
On the 8th of April the Legislature enacted Chap. 148 Laws of 1813, which gave Robert Macomb the right to build a dam from Bussing's Point in the Ninth Ward of New York City to Devoe's Point in the town of Westchester, leaving a space for water to pass freely, controlled by flood gates. Provided the dam does not flood the salt meadows between ther and Kings Bridge more than would otherwise have been done.
Also, the dam must permit the passage of boats and vessels by a lock and a person must be provided to operate the same. The assent of the Mayor Alderman and Commonalty of the City of New York was a prerequisite to building.
Macomb promptly petitioned the Common Council to be allowed to build a dam under this legislative authority and suggested that it be located by the City Surveyor, so as to conform to the City map. Manhattan Island had at this time been officially surveyed and mapped by John Randall, Jr.
The petition was referred to the Committee on Surveys. January 10, 1814, the Common Council directed that a grant be made to Robert Macomb of the right and privilege of building a dam across the Harlem River, agreeably to the reports of the Survey and Law Committees, of the Comptroller and of the Street Commissioner.
The Common Council also leased to Macomb the necessary land under water of the Harlem River and some upland on the Manhattan shore for the sum of $12.50 per annum.
Having acquired these rights and privileges, a dam, with a bridge over its sluice way, was constructed at 155th Street which afterward became known as Macombs Dam Bridge.
The flood tide from the East River was admitted through the gates in the sluice, which were closed at high water, and the ebb tide flowing toward the Hudson, furnished power to the mill wheels at Kings Bridge. In addition to the grist mill a marble-sawing mill was established on the Westchester side of the creek, and other industries were projected.
Although the venture as a source of mill power at Kings Bridge was not financially successful, the dam was maintained and tolls taken from people who took advantage of that means of crossing the river.
The dam flooded the meadows and also obstructed navigation as there was no draw at the sluice way and vessels could not ascend the river above 155th Street, whereas previous to the building of the dam there had been considerable river traffic as far north as Farmers Bridge.
As the years went by and traffic increased, the public irratation with the imposition of tolls on the bridge and obstruction of the river traffic grew till in 1839 the leading men of the lower Westchester County, backed by public opinion, provided with money and with legal advice, proceeded to relive themselves of their burdens. They selected Lewis G. Morris as their leader who built a landing place on his property near Fordham, since known as Morris Dock, and to make certain, in case of litigation, of getting before the United States Courts, chartered a periogue called the "Nonpariel", loaded her with coal in another state and consigned the cargo for delivery at that place.
The arrival at the dam was timed for high water one evening, and as the demand for passage through was not complied with, in fact could not be complied with by the toll taker in charge, Morris and a force of one hundred men who were conveniently near in flat boats, tore a hole in the dam through which the "Nonpariel" was floated.
The property had by this time passed from Robert Macomb to the hands of the Renwick family who sought to procure an indictment against Morris for breach of the peace, but being advised of the hopelessness of the action, they brought suit for trespass and damages.
They were defeated in the first trial of the cause of Renwich vs. Morris and likewise in subsequent appeals of the case up to the Court for the correction of errors where Chancellor Walworth wrote in the opinion, "The Harlem River is an arm of the sea and a public navigable river; it was a public nuisance to obstruct the navigation thereof without authority of law. The act of the Legislature did not authorize the obstruction of the navigation of the river in the manner in which it was done by the dam in question." It was held that Macombs Dam was a public nuisance, liable to abatement, although it had existed as such for over twenty years.
After the forcible passage of the "Nonpariel" a draw was constructed and maintained but a passage through was very difficult except at slack water, and tolls continued to be exacted from the public. This unsatisfactory state of affairs continued until the Legislature by Chap. 291 Laws of 1858, passed April 16, directed Mayor Alderman and Commonalty of the City of New York with the Board of Supervises of Westchester County, to build and maintain a free public bridge.
Lewis G. Morris and Charles Bathgate of Westchester County with Richard F. Carman and William James Stewart of the City of New York, were appointed Commissioners by the act to build the bridge.
Provision was made to compensate the owners for their loss. After completion, the bridge was to be maintained by a commission of two members from each County, elected every third year by the respective Boards of Supervisors.
Before proceeding to build, the "obstruction and dam shall be removed and the said bridge shall be so built and erected, so as to make and to keep the said river navigable at all times of the tide according to its natural capacity."
Cost to be borne equally by both Counties, but not to exceed $10,000.00 each. One-third of the share of Westchester County to be assessed on the towns of West Farms and Morrisania, and two-thirds on the county at large.
The bridge to be completed in two years, the commissioners to receive no compensation except for travelling expenses and "There shall be at all times a turn-table draw in said new bridge, with two openings of not less than sixty feet each."
The above Commissioners for removing from the Harlem River and for the erection of a free bridge over the same not being able to acquire by bargain the rights and franchises granted by the Act of 1813, from the owner Duncan P. Campbell, these rights, together with the other necessary property were acquired by the Commission of Appraisal, whose award of $23,525.00 for land, damages and costs was approved by the Supreme Court, September 19, 1859.
The commission appointed Edward H. Tracy, engineer and contracts for the work were prepared and executed.
April 15, 1859 the Legislature passed an ammending act, Chapter 359, extending the time for completion to two years from April 15, 1859 and authorizing an additional issue of bonds, not to exceed $10,000.00 by each county.
The law was further amended, March 29, 1860, by Chapter 121, which extended the time to eighteen months from the passage of the act, and authorized an additional issue of bonds not to exceed $10,000.00 by Westchester County and $4,000.00 by New York.
May 22, 1860 the Board of Supervisors of New York County received a communicatio from A.B. Tappen of Lord, Develin & Tappen, Attorneys of the Commission, transmitting a report on the condition the work, showing cost to January 12, 1860 to have been $28,233.60 and advising the Board that the $50,000.00 just authorized will be required.
As usual, complaints were made of the delay in construction and of the excessive cost, and at the request of the Board of Supervisors of New York County, the Commission made a report, dated September 21, 1861, containing a full account of their work with details of cost, which was accepted and printed as Document No. 11 of the Proceedings of the Board for 1861. The report was also received and printed by the Board of Supervisors of Westchester County, and was signed by the four Commissioners; L.G. Morris, Chairman, R.F. Carman, William James Stewart, Secretary, and Charles Bathgate.
The bridge was opened to public travel in April 1861. For the next three years the official records contain very little about Macombs Dam Bridge, except a report that some misguided tinkering to the Westchester approach span had made the services of an engineer necessary to locate and remedy the trouble. It was under the jurisdiction of a Commission of two members from each County who were appointed by the Supervisors every third year, and apparently under the prevailing impression that a structure once built will continue, unimpaired, forever, without further outlay, it was allowed to get in bad condition. At a meeting of the New York Board of Supervisors June, 1864, the Commissioners are directed to report on the condition of the bridge, if any part has settled or requires repairs, in 1865 the Committee on Annual Taxes reports the bridge being painted and repaired and in 1868 a repair bill for $16,388.00 was audited and paid.
Before this time the old name of Macombs Dam was officially abandoned in favor of "Central Bridge" for that name was at the head of the sand stone tablet built into the masonry of the center pier, although Central Avenue, now Jerome Avenue, was not opened until the Act of 1865 was passed, and was straightened, near the bridge, through land of Duncan P. Campbell under the Act of 1869.
The Westchester County Commissioners submitted a report on "Central Bridge" to the Board of Supervisors dated November 21, 1867. The cost of repair for that year is put at $2,199.14, one-half chargeable to New York and the report continues, the immense amount of travel is rapidly wearing out the planking, the string pieces of the draw are entirely rotten and under the planking considerably decayed. The Westchester approach must be raised to conform to the new grade of Central Avenue. "The Central Bridge is now one of the main arteries of travel between the counties of New York and Westchester. It has been estimated from actual count that an average of three thousand vehicles pass over it daily, and on holidays as many as eight thousand carriages have been known to cross it on a single day." In 1871 the care of Central Bridge, as well as of other bridges over the Harlem River, devolved on the Department of Public Parks, by virtue of Chapter 534 of the Acts of Legislature, passed April 15th of that year, as far as at least as the Westchester County line, and the Park Board at its meeting of May 2nd instructed its engineers to put the bridge in safe condition and to report a plan for keeping it safe until a new bridge could be built. The Board also directed that a seperate account of all expenses be kept in order to change the proper amount to Westchester County.
In October the Chief Engineer reported repairs were recently completed except to the draw, which he proposes to close for about six weeks and put in thorough order, as it is unsafe to leave it as it is. July 30, 1872 a resolution of the Board established the county line at low water mark on the Westchester shore, by virtue of Sec. 3, Chap. 534, Laws of 1871, which put 637 feet of the bridge in the care of the Department of Parks and 349 feet in the care of Westchester County. Shortly afterward an issue of bonds to amount of $50,000.00 was asked for to repair and maintain the bridge. In seeking relief from the great cost of keeping the bridge in a safe condition, the Board returned to the project of a tunnel and at a joint meeting of the Board with a committee from the Board of Supervisors of Westchester County held January 15, 1873, it was resolved to build a tunnel from 7th Avenue to near Jerome Avenue and the engineer was instructed to prepare plans and estimates of cost to the two counties in proportion as their jurisdictions had been established. While the discussion which arose over this proposition and the various plans offered to putmit into effect went on, the timbers of the bridge continued to rot, repairs continued to be made, and by January 1875 it was found necessary to entirely rebuild the draw span. Plans and specifications for reconstructing the draw were prepared and adopted and on March 3, 1875 a contract for work was awarded to Thomas Hayden.
The contractor proceeded slowly, and on account of financial embarrassment was obliged to abandon his contract which was carried on and completed by the Department of Labor during 1876. It was probably at this time that the design of the draw span was changed from the original square tower to an "A" frame.
It is fair to assume that the new timber was painted immediately after and as part of the work of erection of no mention is made of painting for six years, when June 20, 1883, the Sullivan Brothers, the lowest bidders, were ordered to paint the draw span for $935.00
In the meanwhile the Howe trusses east and west of the draw had become dangerous. The decks had been replanked several times, an intermediate pier had been buikt under each span, they had been reinforced, and shored up and supporting piles driven under them. At times heavily loaded trucks were excluded, at other times only foot passengers were allowed to cross and at times of acute dilapidation the bridge was closed against all forms of travel.
At a meeting of the Park Board January 24, 1877, a report was received from George S. Greene, Engineer of Construction of the Department, in which he says, "the most rotten parts of the bridge are the Howe trusses; the chords in many cases entirely destroyed and cannot in any part be relied on to supportthe bridge; the tressels and braces put in to support the towers have decayed and are not safe to carry the loaded span. The cheapest method of repair is to support the spans on piles although a large portion of them would be in the river and not safe against ice."
He recommends reconstructing the bridge of iron, as at present prices, that is the most economical and trustworhty material. Many protests were made by citizens against closing the bridge and petitions and recommendations for a new bridge were offered, and in April 1880, the Engineer of Construction was directed to prepare plans of a new iron bridge.
In February 1883 the Engineer of Construction recommended that iron trusses be substituted for the decaying wooden trusses and suggested that three bridge building companies be asked to submit proposals with plans and specifications. The result of this was the recepit at the meeting of April 18, 1883, of proposals from two companies without plans.
At the same meeting the Board adopted a resolution requesting A.P. Boller to prepare plans and specifications for new trusses. These, with an estimate of cost were later received and accepted and the Board having been authorized by the Common Councilto enter into contract without public letting, the work was awarded, August 14, 1883, to the Central Bridge Works of Buffalo at an estimated cost of $26,718.03
Although the work was delayed by the severe winter it was completed and the final payment allowed March 20,1884. The cost under the contract was $26,050.82, and in addition the consulting engineer's commission of five percent. The condition in which the two wooden Howe truss spans were found and the means which had been taken to keep them in service for twenty two years are clearly shown on the annexed reproduction of a drawing prepared by Mr. Boller in 1883.
During the next six years repairs and discussions were nearly continous. In 1887 the Board invited Gen. John Newton, E.B. VanWinkle, G.W. McNulty and Thomas C. Clarke to examine the locality and report whether it is most advisable to build a high level fixed bridge, a draw bridge or a tunnel, and February 26, 1890, the Board expressed itself, by a resolution, in favor of a draw bridge and of taking steps toward building it immediately.
In the meantime the draw span which was erected in 1876 had become dangerous and by the advice of A.P. Boller who was called in to pass judgement on its condition, rebuilding was decided on.
Plans and specifications were promptly prepared and approved and a contract was awarded to the King Iron Bridge and Manufacturing Company, the lowest bidder, December 18, 1889, for the sum of $9,700.00. This draw span was a timber structure similar to its predecessor and was completed during the following summer. It was 210 feet long, the roadway was 18 feet wide and the sidewalks 4 feet wide, each. The compensation of Mr. Boller for supervision was fixed at $250.00.
The agitation for a new bridge continued, and the demand of property owners for the raising of the new iron approach span which completely blocked 7th Avenue, helped to spur the authorities to a radical measure. April 29th the Legislature enacted Chapter 207 of the Laws of 1890 which authorized the Commissioners of Public Parks to build a bridge and appraoches over the Harlem River, connecting the improvements provided by Chap. 576 Laws of 1887, 155th Street Viaduct under the Department of Public Works, with 7th Avenue and Jerome Avenue, to replace Central Bridge, to be not less than 60 feet wide and to comply with Sec. 676, Chp. 13 of Chap. 40 of the Laws of 1882 regulating construction of bridges over the Harlem River.
The bridge to be free, but no horse, cable or other car tracks to be permitted on it. The plans to be submittedto the Board of Estimate and Apportionment for approval and the cost not to exceed $1,250,000.00 with such further sums as might be necessary to compensate property owners for damages from changes of street grades.
With this authority the Board promptly took action by sending a copy of the act, the day after its passage to Colonel Gillespie, U.S. Corps of Engineers, asking his advice as to whether the proposed bridge would conform to conditions of navigation in the Harlem River, and if there was any objection to its construction in the manner provided, and by appointing A.P. Boller to prepare plans and supervise the work of construction.
Plans were submitted, amended and resubmitted. July 15, 1891 they were adopted by the Commissioners of Public Parks and, August 13, 1891, approved by the Board of Estimate and Apportionment.
The land necessary for the Bronx approaches not having been acquired, only that part of the bridge between the bulkhead lines of the river, could be contracted for, and specifications having been prepared, bids were asked for by advertisement for building the center pier, fender and draw span. Bids were received and opened but the award of the contract was postponed.
The deposits made by all bidders except the lowest were returned and the award, being still further delayed, caused the lowest bidder to withdraw his offer. In the meantime an arrangement had been permitting the construction of the bridge on private property pending its condemnation and purchase, and amended plans of the Jerome Avenue approach as well as the river spans, having been adopted by the Park Board and again amended December 16, 1891, were approved by the Board of Estimate and Apportionment December 17, 1891. A contract to construct the bridge under them was made with the Passaic Rolling Mill Company April 1, 1892. Six contractors; T. & A. Walsh, Arthur McMullen, The Passaic Rolling Mill Co., Union Bridges Co., The Kings Bridge Co. and Hart, Anderson and Barr had made proposals of which that of the Passaic Rolling Mill Co. was the lowest. At the suggestion of Mr. Boller the engineer force of the Department of Public Works then engaged on the Viaduct was put in charge of the bridge construction and the expense divided between the two departments.
It has become evident by this time that the combined cost of land and construction would exceed the sum of $1,250,000.00 allowed by Chap. 207, Laws of 1890 for those purposes and at the request of the Commissioners of Parks an act was introduced and passed by the Legislature, Chap. 13, Laws of 1892, which provided that the cost of the necessary land should be in addition to the $1,250,000.00 allowed for construction.
The following year another act was passed, Chap. 319, Laws of 1893, which provided for acquiring land and constructing an approach from Ogden and Sedgwick Avenues to the bridge.
Difficulties and complications, unforeseen, beset the enterprise from the beginning and continued to the end. The first importance to present itself was the necessity for removing the old abutment on Macombs Dam Road at 154th Street and part of the iron approach span, to allow the building of the 155th Street viaduct. The Viaduct was in fact an approach to the bridge and should have been treated as such, and if the clear headed, unselfish advice of President Gallup of the Park Board had been accepted the new bridge together with the Viaduct would have been placed in the hands of the Department of Public Works, and been treated as one project.
However, that difficulty was removed by the tearing down of that part of the old approach which obstructed the Viaduct and providing for travel by a temporary wooden approach on Seventh Avenue. This was done by the Department of Public Works under a contract with Mahone Brothers for $9,990.00 and was completed in the spring of 1891.
When the Passaic Rolling Mill Co. began work under its contract, the following spring, its subcontractors, Steward & McDermott proceeded to cut off all travel over the old bridge by tearing out the Manhattan approach to make way for the new restpier caisson. This raised such a storm of popular disapproval from the people whose business or place of residence obliged them to use the bridge and from the owners of fast horses who were cut off from their usual trotting course on Jerome Avenue, that the authorities hastened to provide another means of crossing the river, which was done by building a temporary bridge at 156th Street. The contract for this work was awarded to T.& A. Walsh at $12,000.00, which was the lowest of five bids, ranging from that amount to nearly $28,000.00.
The old draw which had been rebuilt less than two years earlier was used in the new position and as it stood at an elevation ten feet above that required at 156th Street, the operation of moving it and lowering it, a new manuever on the Harlem River at that time, was the reason for the wide divergence in the bids for the work. It was successfully lowered and moved to its new position where it remained in service until the new bridge was opened to traffic.
The foundation of the Manhattan rest pier on the bulkhead line was sunk on a pneumatic caisson to rock, and the foundation of the center pier also. The Bronx rest pier on the bulkhead line was built on rock also, but in an open sheet-pile dam, and from that point across the swamp to 161st Street the plans called for pile foundations. Careful soundings, however, showed the swamp to be of such unstable material that pneumatic caissons were required for the two sets of piers between the bulkhead and the railroad embankment and from the railroad to 161st Street it was necessary to surround the pile heads in all piers with a collar of sand and concrete.
The additional caissons were sunk at the contract price for that class of work, considerably increasing the estimated cost, and a supplementary contract was made with the Passaic Rolling Mill Co. for placing sand and concrete in the piers at a cost of $13,789.25.
In bidding for the appraoch from Sedgwick and Ogden Avenues, the Passaic Rolling Mill Co. again offered the lowest figure of $99,225.50, and a contract for that work was executed February 5, 1894. It was finished April 29,1895 at a cost of $98,544.64
A contract for furnishing and erecting railings and lamp posts for the whole structure was made July 11, 1894, with Valentine Cook & Sons, and was completed April 3, 1895 at a cost of $10,566.64.
The principal contract, that is, for the river spans and for the Jerome Avenue approach was completed March 4, 1895 at a cost of $1,142,337.14, and the bridge was opened to public travel on May 1, 1895.
After the completion of the new bridge the old stone pivot pier which was an obstruction to navigation was removed by the Department of Parks. The temporary bridge with its approaches remained at 156th Street for a couple of years longer. Various interests petitioned the Park Board to leave it there for use as a street railroad crossing and others urged that it be removed, as authorized by law, for use at the site of a proposed bridge at 145th Street and the Harlem River. The War Department requested its removal and an action at law, The People ex rel. Edward Beacom, against the Department of Public Parks was brought for the same purpose. April 12, 1897 the Board received a peremptory order from the Secretary of War to remove this obstruction within ninety days, which was afterward modified on the assurance of the Commissioners that the order would be observed. The materials of the approaches were presently sold at an auction and removed, and on November 27, 1897 a contract for the removal of the draw span, pile pivot pier and fender was awarded to Bernard Rolf for $733.00.
Under the Charter of Greater New York, Chap. 378, Laws of 1897 jurisdiction over the bridge devolved on the Department of Bridges on January 1, 1898.
The bridge which was torn down in 1892 had been the means of access to Jerome Avenue, which at that time was a popular pleasure drive, and was particularly used by the owners of fast trotting horses, and it was for that reason, probably, that the provision prohibiting the use of the bridge by street railroads was inserted in the act authorizing its construction. With the building up of Jerome Avenue and the construction of the Speedway the character of travel changed and the demand for transit facilities across the bridge became imperative. The legislative prohibition contained in Chap. 207, Laws of 1890 having been removed by Chap. 419, Laws of 1901, the Union Railway Co. applied for a franchise covering a new route which included the Central Bridge and the 155th Street Viaduct. On July 29, 1903 the Board of Estimate and Apportionment fixed the money value of the franchise, which was adopted by the Board of Alderman on September 8th, and approved by the Mayor on September 14th.
A franchise had already been granted to the New York City Interborough Railway Co. on January 30, 1903 which was adopted by the Board of Alderman on March 16th, and approved by the Mayor on Marh 31st.
Under a permit from the Commissioner of Bridges dated October 29, 1903, the Union Railway Co. strengthened the floor system of the bridge from the Manhattan rest pier to the Sedgwick Avenue approach abutment and began operating the line October 1, 1904. The New York City Interborough Railway Co. began to run its cars September 1, 1907 over the tracks of the Union Railway Co.
January 23, 1904 the work of substituting electricity for steam as motive power was completed and the draw was swung and its ends lifted by a 40 horse power alternating current motor.
When Robert Macomb's Dam was removed in 1859 to make way for a bridge, the old name still clung to it in popular speech, although the official name was Central Bridge, so called probably because it was the entrance to Central avenue, now Jerome Avenue. Of late years that name has been rather meaningless and on November 11, 1902, the Board of Alderman, by resolution, changed it back to the old and significant title of the Macombs Dam Bridge.
During the years 1900 to 1902, the swamp surrounding the easterly approaches, which had been acquired for park purposes, was filled in, and in the progress of that woak the bridges piers were moved some inches to the west and south by the unbalanced pressuerof the filling. No material damage was done and the Sedgwick Avenue approach was moved back as far as necessary for safety as soon as the pressure had ceased. Acting on the advise of the Corporation Counsel, an agreement was reached in 1902 with the Commissioner of Parks, Borough of the Bronx, by which that Department was to treat the land acquired for bridge purposes as if it was part of the park, subject to disapproval by the Commissioner of Bridges of any action threatening injury to the bridge.
In connection with acquiring land in Macombs Dam Park for widening the right of way of the Spuyten Duyvil and Port Morris Railroad, the New York Central agreed to build stairs leading from the bridge to that part of the park west of the railroad. The cooperation of the Department of Bridges was obtained, and with the approval a flight of stairs was built near the northeast bridge house by which access can be had to that part of the park otherwise inaccessable. The work was completed during January, 1912.
A shelter to protect foot passengers from sun or rain while waiting at the draw was built over the sidewalks near each of its four corners, under a contract with Charles Meads, dated November 23, 1910. The total cost of that project was $3,147.08