“I remember perfectly my first trip to New York when I was on the bridge between Brooklyn and Manhattan when I saw the skyscrapers. It was like an incredible dream.” -Diego Delle Valle
I have had this post in the works for years! Long before I moved and the pandemic happened, and I am only just NOW getting around to posting this. But, better late than never am I right? I have briefly touched on some of my trips to the Brooklyn Bridge, but never its’ illustrious history. And it is illustrious! Brooklyn Bridge might be one of my favorite parts of New York, despite it being so incredibly touristy. But as I always say, THAT is why it is so touristy. It is most definitely an iconic part of New York and definitely one of the most visited, plus travelled, with a quarter of a million people trafficking across it every SINGLE day.
I can count myself amongst that number as I have not only visited it, but also used it as a means of transportation. It truly is one of my favorite ways to travel to and from Brooklyn, with the skyline of lower Manhattan and the FiDi (Financial District) buildings in the background. It is a gorgeous sight regardless of what time of day you are traveling across. It is no debate that the Brooklyn Bridge, like many iconic New York spots, is stunning, but knowing the rich history, only makes it better and in my book that much more desirable to visit.
At the time it opened, the Brooklyn Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world. Alas that has since changed, as technology has improved, but at the time it was built, it was a historical achievement. The idea for a bridge spanning the East River and connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn together, which at the time were separate cities, began as early as 1800. At the time the only way to get across was by boat. The actual bridge didn’t come to actual fruition, until over eighties year later when it was finally opened in May of 1883 and known as the East River Bridge, before it was renamed the Brooklyn Bridge in 1915.
After numerous bids, designs, and paper work, construction finally began in 1870. Due to the bureaucracies and politics of the time, it was delayed multiple times and ended up taking 13 years to complete. Despite that, it was still ahead of its time, both as the largest suspension bridge in the world, but also in strength and design with steel wires, six trusses, as well as anchorages on both sides of the river. With it’s high arching towers and masonry, the Brooklyn Bridge is a representation of neo-Gothic and Renaissance era architecture, cementing it’s iconic-ness and being designated as a landmark. When the bridge was first opened, it was used to carry horse drawn carriages as well as trains. Because of that, it has gone through several reconstructions to update it with modern times into the bridge that it is now, while still staying tru to the original architecture.
The Wine Cellars
It is the anchorages on either side of the river that held my intrigue. As is the way when a large building project is under taken, there were already establishments at the site of where the planned bridge was proposed. In order to compromise and soothe the landowners, they built two wine cellars as well as other chambers to be used as storage in the anchorages, one on either end of the bridge. While it seemed like a somewhat out there idea, it actually made perfect sense as the cellars were located beneath the ramps and were an ideal place to store the alcohol as it was cool and damp. It also created revenue for the builders and city who were in debt from the long and somewhat arduous challenge of building a bridge. The caverns themselves become somewhat works of arts as they stored even the most delicate of wines and spirits, and paintings and murals were done to represent that.
Alas when prohibition hit, the wine cellars were forced to move out and it was used to store newspapers. But after prohibition, it once again saw the storage of Bordeaux and champagne, before finally, the city took over the vaults after World War II due to safety concerns and they were finally shut down. Of course, they, and the countless rooms and passage ways still exist. Much like the catacombs in France, its’ lurid almost mythical history is intriguing for all who discover it. And perhaps one day, the caverns and what was once known as the Blue Grotto will be reopened. Even just walking around the base of the bridge in DUMBO, you can almost sense the history of what once was and let your imagination run wild to days we can only now read in the history books.
Have you visited the Brooklyn Bridge? Did you know about the wine cellar history?