NEW YORK (AP) — A pedestrian bridge that brought needed water resources to Manhattan in the 19th century but fell into disuse in the 1970s was officially reopened to the public on Tuesday, offering downtown views and a connection between Manhattan and the Bronx.
The gray clouds couldn't dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd at the High Bridge, many of whom wore bright blue Department of Parks and Recreation hats, signifying their contribution to the countless hours of work that went into restoring the bridge.
Community members and elected officials from the Bronx walked across the bridge and met their Manhattan counterparts in the middle.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer grabbed Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.'s hand, raised it into the air and shouted, "Welcome to Manhattan."
The High Bridge was built in 1848. It spans the Harlem River, connecting Manhattan's Washington Heights and the Bronx's Highbridge neighborhoods. The 123-foot-high, 1,450-foot-long bridge was originally constructed to provide fresh water to the city from upstate as part of the Croton Aqueduct system.
The bridge once attracted thousands of visitors who came to enjoy the spectacular views and surrounding green spaces. However, by the mid-1960s that all began to wane with construction of the Major Deegan Expressway and the Harlem River Drive.
The bridge was closed in the 1970s. The $61.8 million restoration began in 2012.
"This is almost like the eighth wonder of the world," Brewer said.
As officials gathered in the middle of the bridge, students from the I.S. 52 Inwood Middle School Tiger Band played the national anthem, accompanied by youths from the Highbridge Voices and by William Mulligan, a local resident who spontaneously added his rich voice.
"I was going to my doctor's office and I realized they were opening today, so I just segued over," Mulligan said. "It's pretty amazing to be able to walk between the two places."
Joining Manhattan and Bronx communities was the overture of the day.
"Today this is about making sure that we're not just joining Washington Heights and the Highbridge section of the Bronx physically, today is about joining families," Diaz said.
Another person happy to see the footbridge back was 78-year-old Sidney Horenstein, who remembers crossing it in the late 1950s and early '60s.
"As it is now, it was just a wonderful place to walk across," he said.
Horenstein said that the bridge looks almost the same as he remembers it, save for the 8-foot protective fence, the benches and the light posts.
The re-joining of the two boroughs was sealed with a simple kiss between Diaz and Brewer. At that moment, as Diaz leaned in, the sun broke through the clouds and shone down on the gleaming High Bridge and cheering crowds.