In 1896, construction began on the Williamsburg Bridge, the East River span that would terminate at South Fifth Street and Driggs Avenue in Brooklyn, and Delancey and Clinton Streets in Manhattan.
To make way for construction, 26 ½ acres of land were used, evicting about 10,000 people from their homes on either side of the river.
The 1901 images in the Lower East Side Photograph Collection (PR 251) – now available in the Shelby White & Leon Levy Digital Library – document the buildings and neighborhood blocks that were about to be razed to make way for the widening of Delancey Street and completion of the bridge. These include a few streets that no longer exist at all, and many that were substantially abbreviated.
This 1847 map detail shows the affected area:
Tompkins Street can no longer be found on a current map of Manhattan, but was in the general location of the FDR Drive, at the east end of the island.
Mangin Street, which does still exist, now only runs underneath the bridge, connecting the two sides of Delancey Street; it used to link Grand Street and East 7th Street.
Goerck Street, one block west of Mangin, ran between Grand Street and East Third Street.
When it opened in 1903, the Williamsburg Bridge overtook the Brooklyn Bridge as the longest suspension span in the world, but was itself outranked by the Bear Mountain Bridge in 1924.
Aside from the notable history of the bridge’s impact on these streets, the photographs in this collection also give us a glance into the daily life of a working-class, immigrant neighborhood: mattresses and other bedding air out on fire escapes, children populate the curbs, and signs for shoe stores and garment makers are in Yiddish as well as English. This was not an entire neighborhood that was reshaped, just a few blocks; but it does serve as a microcosm for a rapidly changing city that hasn’t stopped, and likely never will.
This post is by Eleanor Gillers, Head of Rights & Reproductions. An earlier version originally appeared on The Hyphen.