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Caught in the Moment

A stereoscopic view of the “New Bridge over the East River in Course of Construction”, published in 1903 by the Keystone View Company. It’s the Williamsburg Bridge, connecting Delancey Street on the Lower East Side with Brooklyn’s Broadway. As I’ve discussed before, Williamsburg manages to be a clunky suspension bridge, which is a difficult feat.

The bridge has four main cables, arranged in two pairs at the outer edge of the walkway, and it looks like they’re almost done in this picture. It’s hard to tell because the temporary access walkways used during the cable making (before this photo was taken) and then again when hanging the suspender cables from the main cables down to the deck (after this photo was taken) are in place, blocking most of the view of the main cables.

Only the main span of Williamsburg is hung from the main cables, with the approach spans consisting of the same truss used for stiffening the suspended span supported on a series of trussed bents. That’s what we’re seeing from the tower to the right: the truss has been completed where it’s not suspended, and there’s the first bent supporting the truss. The truss for this bridge is both very deep and in a lattice configuration, which makes it a weird echo of wood covered bridges built 80 years earlier.

Since the bridge opened in December 1903, it’s worth looking at the timeline of construction. Caisson foundations started in 1895 and were done in 1898 or 1899; the main towers started as soon as the foundations were in place and were completed by 1901. Cable making started in early 1901 and was finished in late 1902 or early 1903. The suspended span – deck, trusses, suspender cables – was built in 1903. In other words, three or four years of work was needed for the part of the bridge that can’t be seen, while the main span, which is what most people think of when you talk about a suspension bridge, was just the last year of the work.