Places that Matter

Highbridge Park, Pool & Water Tower

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Virginia Parkhouse
Virginia Parkhouse
Virginia Parkhouse
Virginia Parkhouse
River view from the park, Breanne Scanlon
Breanne Scanlon
Waterfront park in northern Manhattan
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Place Matters Profile

By Breanne Scanlon

Highbridge Park, assembled piecemeal between 1867 and the 1960s, curves around the Harlem River between 155th and Dyckman Streets in northern Manhattan and a small piece of it lies in the Bronx, near University Avenue. Totaling 119 acres and nearly as long as Central Park, Highbridge Park is named for its defining feature, the High Bridge.

Completed in 1848, the High Bridge, New York City's oldest standing bridge, constituted part of the Croton Aqueduct. The Croton Aqueduct carried nearly 100 million gallons of drinking water a day from the Croton River in Westchester County to New York City. The aqueduct moved water by the force of gravity through an enclosed concrete and stone structure built both beneath and above the ground, traveling 40 miles to its end destination. It crossed the Harlem River into Manhattan via the High Bridge, which transported the water through pipes beneath the walkway on the bridge. The Highbridge Water Tower, today a much loved landmark, was built to provide fresh water to northern Manhattan residents, who were at a higher elevation than the aqueduct. After water crossed the High Bridge, it was pumped into a reservoir next to the tower (now the site of Highbridge Pool), and then into a water tank in the tower. In use until 1958, the Croton Aqueduct fostered New York City's rapid growth.

When the High Bridge first opened in 1848, it featured a pedestrian walkway, a popular promenade on which to socialize and a convenient way to cross from the wooded bank of Manhattan to the equally lush hills of the Bronx. As the High Bridge's popularity grew, the city gradually began to build up Highbridge Park around it. In 1895, Fort George Amusement Park opened at the edge of Highbridge Park, at 190th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. It featured a Ferris Wheel, Toboggan Slide, and popular beer hall called the Old Barrel. Another attraction of Highbridge Park during this period was the Harlem River Speedway, located slightly below Highbridge Park, where the Harlem River Drive is today. Used both for racing and regular transportation, the Speedway was a frequent stop for people on their way to New York Giants baseball games at the New York Polo Grounds, located next to Coogan's Bluff, near the southern end of Highbridge Park at 155th Street. After the Giants departed for San Francisco in 1957, the New York Mets called the Polo Grounds home for their 1962 and 1963 seasons. The stadium was torn down in 1964 and replaced with a housing project called the Polo Grounds Tower. However, if you visit Coogan¡äs Bluff today, you can still see the staircase that once led down to the stadium ticket booth.

In the summer of 1936, on the site of what were once two holding reservoirs for the Croton Aqueduct, New York City Parks Commissioner Robert Moses and Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia presided over the opening of the Highbridge Play Center, which featured an enormous swimming pool and wading pool. One swimming pool per week was opened in July and August of 1936, with a total of eleven operating by the end of the year. The pools were constructed with funding from President Franklin Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration and were designed and built under the close direction of Moses. Moses made practicality and usability his priorities, choosing to build pools in parks in working class neighborhoods and near existing recreational facilities. After the work was complete, Moses was celebrated for his focus both on ordinary people and modern architecture. The Highbridge Play Center featured an Art Moderne style, using the same ashlar materials as in the Highbridge Water Tower, and an advanced water filtration system. The Highbridge swimming pool and wading pool were designed to hold over 4,000 people and were open from early morning to late at night.