The High Bridge Water Tower
|Location||Manhattan in New York City, New York|
|Area||119 acres (48 ha)|
|Operated by||New York City Department of Parks and Recreation|
Highbridge Park is located in Washington Heights on the banks of the Harlem River near the northernmost tip of the New York City borough of Manhattan, between 155th Street and Dyckman Street. The park is operated and maintained by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.
Highbridge Park derives its name from New York City’s oldest standing bridge, the High Bridge (1848), which was built to carry the Old Croton Aqueduct over the Harlem River. From the 17th to the 19th centuries, the area was sparsely populated with scattered farms and private estates. During the American Revolution, General George Washington used the Morris-Jumel Mansion, adjacent to the southern end of the park near Edgecombe Avenue and West 160th Street, as his headquarters in September and October of 1776.
The land for Highbridge Park was acquired was assembled piecemeal between 1867 and the 1960s. It was designed in 1888 by Samuel Parsons Jr. and Calvert Vaux.
In the 1890s, the City of New York built a racetrack for horses, the Harlem River Speedway, along the riverbank of the park.
The cliffside area from West 181st Street to Dyckman Street was acquired in 1902, and the parcel including Fort George Hill was acquired in 1928. In 1934 the Department of Parks obtained the majestic Highbridge Tower and the site of old High Bridge Reservoir.
By the early years of the 20th century, upper-middle class New Yorkers would promenade along the wide boardwalks in top hats and bustles. The park provided access to the Harlem River and places for horseback riding and other outdoor sports. By the 1920s dirt and other materials from the build-up of the new Washington Heights neighborhood threatened to ruin the nascent park; a harbinger of bad times to befall the park.
In 1940, Robert Moses turned portions of the Speedway into the Harlem River Drive, a 6-lane highway from the Manhattan end of the Triborough Bridge at 125th Street, to the tunnels under Manhattan to the George Washington Bridge. New fences blocked public recreational access to the riverfront. It was this series of actions, according to New York City Department of Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe, that "ruined" the park.
As New York City was beset with serious financial problems in the 1970s, the neglect of the park accelerated. Huge sections of the park, set aside as natural areas, had been taken over by homeless people who built permanent shacks made of sheet metal and steel pipes driven into the earth. Prostitutes, drug dealers and drug users frequented the park.
By the mid-1980s, Highbridge had become so degraded that in an all-hands cleanup in 1986, 250 tons of garbage and 25 auto wrecks were hauled out. Within days, new wrecks littered the slopes.
In recent years, as the economy of the northern Manhattan has lifted, the status of park has improved and is no longer a haven for petty crime and other unsavory activities. The New York Restoration Project (chaired by Bette Midler) has been working since 1999 to restore the park.
Around the start of the 21st century, the waterfront Speedway was rehabilitated and reopened as the Harlem River portion of the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway.
According to city plans, by 2013 the High Bridge will be rehabilitated and reopened for pedestrians and bicyclists. The 1200–foot–long, 116-foot-tall High Bridge walkway was closed to regular public use around 1970.
May 19, 2007 saw the opening of New York City's first legal mountain bike trails and dirt jumps in Highbridge Park. New York City Mountain Bike Association in association with New York City Parks and the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) has been working together on the trails and the opening weekend featured a festival and cross country mountain bike.
As of late 2011, despite the efforts of both the New York Restoration Project and the City Parks Dept., the infrastructure of the park has decayed significantly and has not yet been fully restored.
- "Highbridge Park". New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. Retrieved 2011-12-27.
- Hellman, Peter (May 28, 1999). "Bette Midler Was Here: A Park Gets a Second Act". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-12-27.
- "Landside Threatens Highbridge Park" (PDF). The New York Times. April 2, 1922. Retrieved 2011-12-27.
- Williams, Timothy (July 6, 2005). "Parks Even the Parks Dept. Won't Claim". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-12-27.
- "PlaNYC 2030 Regional Parks - High Bridge" (PDF). New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. August 8, 2011. Retrieved 2011-12-27.
- "History of The High Bridge". New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. Retrieved 2011-12-27.
- "Highbridge Park Projects" (PDF). New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. February 11, 2010. Retrieved 2011-12-27.
- Chung, Jen (May 15, 2007). "Highbridge Trails, NYC's First Mountain Bike Trail". Gothamist. Retrieved 2011-12-27.
- "Highbridge Park". New York Restoration Project. Retrieved 2011-12-27.
- nycgovparks.org: Highbridge Park
- New York Restoration Project: Highbridge Park
- Alliance For Progress - Advocacy Project
- Washington Heights & Inwood Online
- wirednewyork.com: Highbridge
- Parks Even the Parks Dept. Won't Claim - New York Times By Timothy Williams Published July 6, 2005
- New York City Mountain Bike Association
- International Mountain Bicycling Association