Thursday, June 30, 2016

Happy 168th Birthday to the High Bridge

July 4, 2016 is the 168th birth date of the opening of the High Bridge Aqueduct.  It was on July 4, 1848 that the first opening ceremony took place.  That was only 72 years to the day after the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the First Continental Congress.  At the time of the original opening of the High Bridge there were only two tubes carrying water over the Harlem River. The third, and largest tube, would not be completed for another 26 years, and the High Bridge Water Tower was, also, years away from being built. Attending the opening ceremony were a whole host of politicians and dignitaries, including the Mayor of New York City, William V. Brady, and Governor John Young. President James K. Polk was busy in Washington, D.C. on that day (see below).

The Croton Aqueduct which traversed from the reservoir created from the dam of the Croton River in northern Westchester to the reservoir at 42nd Street had been completed in 1842 (see commemorative medal below), but the crossing of the river was accomplished, not by a bridge, but rather by a siphon tube under the river.  The High Bridge was completed, some six years later, on July 4, 1848 at a considerable additional cost. The High Bridge was built so that navigation of the Harlem River would not be impeded.  The irony is that some 79 years later, in 1927, the central portion of the High Bridge was replaced with a steel span to further improve the navigation.

The opening of the High Bridge in New York City in 1848 coincided, to the day, with an elaborate cornerstone-laying ceremony for the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. that was attended by President James K. Polk and other dignitaries, among whom were Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, both members of the House of Representatives and future presidents themselves. The Washington Monument itself took another 36 years to complete, delayed by politics, financing, and civil war.   At this same ceremony photographer Mathew Brady took a picture of special attendee Dolley Madison, the wife of the fourth President of the United States. She was then 80 years old.
Dolley Madison, July 4, 1848
Later on in the day Polk signed the Peace Treaty with Mexico, ending the Mexican War.  He also proudly proclaimed the new flag of the United States to then have 30 stars with the annexation of Wisconsin as the 30th State on May 29, 1848. 

In Seneca Falls, NY on this same day the Women's Declaration at the Seneca Falls Convention was signed, using the model of the US Declaration of Independence, forthrightly demanded that the rights of women as right-bearing individuals be acknowledged and respected by society. It was signed by sixty-eight women and thirty-two men. This marks the beginning of the Women's activist movement for equality by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. 

Below is the commemorative medal issued on the opening day of the Croton Aqueduct and Reservoir on July 4, 1842:

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