You’ve heard the name on traffic reports, but like most New Yorkers, you probably have no idea what it is, nor where it’s even located. You’re in good company. On a recent Friday morning, the Architecture Boat Tour’s narrator explained the whole thing and the 40 or so passengers witnessed this amazing engineering marvel swing its steel arm across the Harlem River, allowing our vessel, the Manhattan II to pass through.
The Spuyten Duyvil Bridge is a railroad swing bridge that spans the Spuyten Duyvil Creek, so named by the Dutch in the 17th century; its name translates to “spouting devil” which describes the strong currents of the Hudson where the waters churn rough and the wind kicks up.
Besides carrying a track for the Amtrak Railroad, the bridge connects the northern tip of Manhattan Island where you’ll find Inwood Hill Park and Columbia University’s sports center to the area known as Marble Hill. Most believe that Marble Hill is part of the Bronx, but in fact, Marble Hill was once a part of the Island of Manhattan, but due to the Harlem River Ship Canal project of 1895, Marble Hill was severed from Manhattan. However, it remains part of Manhattan.The purpose of the new canal was to make an easier pass for large ships sailing from the Erie Canal to the waters of Long Island Sound.
The 100-foot-long yacht, part of the Classic Harbor Line, with an interior of teak and mahogany meandered around Manhattan, providing a smooth scenic tour from Chelsea Piers, south to the Battery, around to the Seaport, under the majestic bridges, passing Stuyvesant Town, and the UN, and around again. On our right, we saw the swirly Pepsi-Cola sign, the former Domino Sugar factory (built in 1856, and now a neighborhood park), Yankee Stadium; and overhead, the Madison Avenue Bridge, 145th Street Bridge and the Washington Bridge, among those that connect to the Bronx. Never had New York City looked so beautiful, never had its history been so explored, every borough’s waterfront history was represented.
This is the ideal day trip for those looking to know more about the fascinating history of the great buildings of Manhattan and the surrounding waterfronts. Narrated by John Shreve Arbuckle, the President of the Arbuckle Architecture Tours, passengers heard about the buildings along the Island’s east, west, north and south fronts. Beginning at Pier 62, where the Lusitania departed, and where the Titanic would have landed, Arbuckle shared stories on how the city is salvaging former structures and adapting them for new uses. The elevated High Line, stretching almost a mile and a half from West 30th Street to the Whitney Museum of American Art at Gansevoort Street, is one successful example. Since its opening in 2009, the High Line has become one of the highlights of a tourist’s visit, attracting over eight million visitors.
Our yacht pulled close to the Statue of Liberty, Governors Island, Roosevelt Island, Randall’s Island. We learned that Governors Island, for instance, has a new observatory hill and public park with mounds constructed from rubble from demolished and obsolete military buildings on the island, and landfill from the excavation for the Lexington Avenue subway line. Arbuckle also pointed out noteworthy buildings and structures along New Jersey’s waterfront like the Erie Lackawanna Terminal Clock Tower and Liberty Island, the ventilation towers of the Holland Tunnel – named not for the country, but the chief engineer who died during its construction. A mention was made on the contributions made by Robert Moses, who worked for the city and considered the “master builder” of New York for his construction of parks, highways, and bridges including the Tri-Borough, Throgs Neck and Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. (Note: For years, the bridge had been spelled “Verrazano,” with one “z.” The mistake was discovered, and in October 2018 the extra “z” was added.)
Arbuckle provided narration for the entire two hour and 45-minute ride. He’s one of five guides from the AIA New York Chapter who provide these fascinating facts and insights for these Classic Harbor tours. With its line of yachts and schooners, the Classic Harbor Line has a variety of upcoming tours including the popular Fall Foliage round trip cruise to Bear Mountain. With snacks and beverages available onboard, the boats are popular for corporate events and private parties.
For more information on the sailings, including the Fall Foliage sailings that run through the end of November, visit sail-nyc.com.
For more information on work of the American Institute of Architecture which focuses on public outreach and education, visit aiany.org.
Top photo: Classic Harbor Lines