One of the highlights of any New York City walking tour is the magnificent Brooklyn Bridge that connects the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn. The bridge’s Gothic stone towers inspire awe and passion in many visitors. The bridge, which spans the East River, was a modern marvel when it opened on May 24,1883.
Looking at the beautiful structure today, it’s hard to imagine that its beginnings were less than stellar. Way back in 1867, a noted bride builder by the name of John A. Roebling began the project which would become the Brooklyn Bridge. Due to political tussling and financing issues, construction on the bridge didn’t begin until 1870.
Unfortunately, J.A. Roebling would not live to see his vision take shape. He died from an injury he’d gotten while visiting the site. Instead, his son, Washington Roebling, an accomplished bridge engineer in his own right, would take the lead on the project.
Not content to sit on the sidelines and watch, Washington took an active role in the goings on at the construction site. One day, after spending too much time in an airtight cylinder underneath the East River, he became sick with the bends or “diving sickness” – an illness that little was known about at the time.
While Washington partially recovered from his illness, he was still bedridden. His wife Emily stepped in and they formed an effective team who were admired for their “can do” spirit, with Emily becoming the active manager and Washington consulting from their apartment.
The couple faced many difficulties during the construction, including political interference and holding up of funds. They pushed through these difficulties and saw the completion of the bridge project that J.A. Roebling had started so many years earlier.
There was jubilation on the first day the bridge opened. There were 150,000 people and 1,800 vehicles crossing the bridge that first day. If you were walking across, you paid one cent. Vehicles paid five cents. By all accounts, the Brooklyn Bridge was an artistic, social and technological success.
Today, the Brooklyn Bridge is a national historic landmark and people still enjoy walking across its 1,595 foot span. The walk can take anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. The scenery is breathtaking as you stop along the way to read all the historical information plaques.
In the distance, you can also see that other famous New York City landmark, the Statue of Liberty. Be prepared to bring a jacket with you since the East River kicks up quite a breeze.