In a room filled with black and white photographs and videos at the Met, Photographing from Blackwell’s Island Bridge caught my eye. But something wasn’t quite right about it.
by David Stone
The eye-catching photo was from 1907. When I shuffled over, I was startled by its caption: Photographing from Blackwell’s Island Bridge.
What’s now Roosevelt Island was Blackwell’s then – with a few decades of Welfare in-between, but this did not look right, not even close. In fact, construction on the Roosevelt Island Bridge didn’t even start until 1952.
So, what was this? A little digging revealed Blackwell’s Island Bridge as the original name for the Queensboro Bridge, named after the Island while under construction with two piers sunk along its shores.
The Original Name of Queensboro Bridge: A Tale of Blackwell’s Island
Once upon a time, in the bustling city of New York, the need for connectivity between Manhattan and Long Island City in Queens was growing rapidly. As the 19th century drew to a close, city planners decided to construct a bridge that would span the East River, thereby linking these two vital areas of the city.
The chosen site for this monumental structure was near Blackwell’s Island, now known as Roosevelt Island. This slender strip of land, situated in the middle of the East River, was named after the Blackwell family who owned it during the 18th century. Given the bridge’s proximity to this island, it seemed only fitting to name the new connection the “Blackwell’s Island Bridge.”
Construction began in 1901, with Gustav Lindenthal serving as the architect. The project was immense and faced numerous challenges, including the need to accommodate river traffic and the complex tidal currents of the East River. Despite these hurdles, the magnificent cantilever bridge, boasting five spans and reaching a length of over 3,700 feet, was completed in 1909.
However, by the time of its completion, the bridge’s location wasn’t the only thing that had changed – so had its name. In 1909, to coincide with the opening of the bridge, Blackwell’s Island was renamed Welfare Island (and later renamed Roosevelt Island in 1971).
Simultaneously, recognizing the bridge’s significance in connecting Manhattan to the borough of Queens, city officials decided to rename the bridge as well. It became known as the “Queensboro Bridge,” a name that honored its role in fostering growth and development in Queens.
The bridge stands as a testament to New York City’s dynamic history and its constant evolution, forever a symbol of connection and progress, no matter what name it goes by.