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Surprisingly Obscure

New York has more than its fair share of big bridges, so perhaps it’s no surprise that we have pretty much mislaid one. I don’t mean that literally – we have not yet managed to lose a bridge, even if we have lost a building – but the Throgs Neck Bridge is amazingly not well known despite its size.

The Brooklyn Bridge was the first bridge over the East River, completed in 1883 with a main span of 1595 feet. Given the rapid growth of the cities of New York and Brooklyn, and the fact that the Brooklyn Bridge connected the most congested downtown areas of the two cities, it’s no surprise that a need for more bridges was soon felt. The Williamsburg Bridge, a suspension bridge located a couple of miles north, was completed in 1903 with a main span of 1600 feet. The Queensboro Bridge, a cantilever truss with main spans of 1182 and 984 feet, was completed in 1909 about five miles north of the Brooklyn Bridge. And the Manhattan Bridge, a suspension bridge just north of the Brooklyn Bridge and with a main span of 1470 feet, was completed in 1909. From one bridge to four in a decade of construction and openings…

All of these bridges were built with connections to city streets, although some highway connections were later shoe-horned in. When Robert Moses began his program of building highways through the city in the 1930s, one of his earliest projects was the Triboro Bridge, about eight miles up from the Brooklyn Bridge, where the East River turns from a north-south orientation to an east-west one, and the first direct connection between Queens and The Bronx (as well as Manhattan). The main suspension span of the Triboro, connecting Queens to Ward’s Island, opened in 1936 with a main span of 1360 feet. That bridge was designed for highways on its Queens and Bronx ends, although they took a bit longer to complete. Eventually, another bridge was needed explicitly for highway traffic, and the Whitestone Bridge, another suspension bridge, opened in 1938 east of the Triboro with a main span of 2300 feet. Moses was running out of river, and finally in 1961 opened the Throgs Neck suspension bridge with a main span of 1800 feet, right where the river meets the Long Island Sound. Any bridge built east of there – discussed but never tried – would have to have a long causeway as the sound is much wider than the river.

So the Throgs Neck Bridge was built much later than the other East River bridges, it’s much shorter for its era than the previous ones were for theirs, and it connects low-rise residential neighborhoods in eastern Queens and the southeast Bronx. It’s well known among people from Long Island who want to go to New England, but it’s far from the center of NYC life. It’s kind of amazing how obscure a very large suspension bridge can be.

On a related but separate note, I’ve discovered that the name “Throgs Neck” can produce fits of laughter from people outside the area. It’s pretty simple: a lot of place names in the Bronx are related to the original settlers or their land holdings. Jonas Bronck’s farm gave its name to the biggest fresh-water river in the area and eventually the ck’s turned into an x. Anne Hutchinson, fleeing religious persecution in New England, ended up here and gave her name to another small river. The Pell family gave its name to a town (Pelham) and a bay on the East River. Tremont was named after three local hilltop estates: Mount Eden, Mount Hope, and Fairmount. And finally, the small peninsula projecting southeast from the southeast corner of The Bronx, visible in the photo above and the demarcation between the river and the sound, was original a farm belonging to John Throckmorton. His name was variously misspelled and abbreviated as time went on and joined up with the word “neck” (for the shape of the peninsula) to give us Frog’s Neck, Frocke’s Neck, and Throgg’s Neck before settling down to the current name.