The first bridge on this site was constructed by the New York and Harlem Railroad in 1841. It was composed of four 90-foot (27 m)-long box truss spans, three of which were fixed iron spans, while the remaining span was a wooden swing span. In the closed position, the bridge had a clearance of only seven feet above mean high water. Masonry piers supported the four box-truss spans. In 1867, the wooden drawbridge was replaced with an iron one that gave a clearance of 50 feet. By the 1880s, the bridge was crossed by more than 200 trains a day.
The 1867 bridge was soon made obsolete by heavy traffic and dredging of the Harlem River Ship Canal. Alfred P. Boller worked with the railroad to create a new four-tracked swing bridge. The railroad and the city split the cost. The new swing bridge was built in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers' project to build the Harlem River Ship Canal. The Park Avenue railroad viaduct was also extended north of 115th Street at the same time. While the bridge was being built, a temporary bridge was built and the old span was demolished. The bridge opened in 1897, and the project included construction of a long new viaduct to raise the level of the rail line between 115th Street and the river. The new bridge had a 300-foot (91 m)-long steel truss span supported by masonry piers. When closed, the vertical clearance was 25 feet (7.6 m).
Between 1954 and 1956, the New York Central Railroad built a fourth rail bridge on this site, this time a vertical-lift bridge, to replace the 1897 bridge. Opened in 1956, the four-track bridge remains in use today and consists of two parallel double-track spans, 340 feet (100 m) long. It has 25 feet (7.6 m) of clearance when closed and 135 feet (41 m) when open. During the 1960s, the bridge came under the ownership of several different companies, including Penn Central Railroad. Metro-North operates it, referring to it the Harlem River Lift Bridge