“Slow down, you’re moving too fast. Got to make the morning last…” I was in high school when Queens’ own Simon and Garfunkel sang those lines. I lived upstate, and didn’t even know where the 59th Street Bridge was, except that it was in New York City. I loved Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, and being a rather solitary and over-thinking teenager, I vicariously loved the New York City they sang about, a place filled with poets speaking truth about deep things, and musical adventures. When I moved to New York City after college, I remember seeing the 59th St. Bridge and remembering the song. Well, NYC was not filled with poets and Simon and Garfunkel parted ways, but the bridge remains. And it’s a pretty great bridge, too.
By the beginning of the 20th century, it was very apparent that more than one bridge was necessary between Manhattan and Long Island. Greater New York City was a reality now, and the boroughs were now part of a greater whole, not just independent cities and towns. The Brooklyn Bridge, at that point still less than 20 years old, was packed with traffic, pedestrians, trolleys and a train. Plans were in the works, and construction had begun on the Williamsburg Bridge, but a span over the East River between Manhattan and Queens needed to happen, as well.
Astoria and Long Island City were very busy industrial areas, with important rail and road lines bringing in goods from factories and warehouses in those neighborhoods, as well as other parts of Queens and Long Island, and even Brooklyn. Float bridges which carried train cars across the river on barges with tracks were in use, as were ferries, barges and tugs, but a bridge which like the Brooklyn Bridge, could carry trains as well as vehicles, would be a boon to both boroughs. Plans for a bridge began in 1901. (more…)