Hell-Gate-Bridge-Dave-Frieder-NYC-Untapped-Cities1Hell Gate Bridge. Photo by Dave Frieder

Happy birthday to the Hell Gate Bridge! This year, the iconic span is celebrating its 101st birthday, an occasion which infrastructure aficionados marked last year with cake and events. The bridge is named for the once-dangerous channel it bridges, derived from the Dutch word hellegat, which means “hell channel.”

Hell Gate also happens to be a favorite of Dave Frieder, “the Bridge Man” who has been documenting sights from atop the city’s bridges for over two decades. With his help, we’re sharing ten fun facts and secrets about the Hell Gate Bridge in this auspicious year.

10. The Hell Gate Bridge is Actually Comprised of Three Bridges

The Hell Gate Bridge is actually comprised of a complex of three bridges: the well-known Steel Arch, an inverted bow string arch that spans a former water-filled channel (Little Hell Gate) between Wards and Randall’s Islands, and a small truss bridge, which would have been a double bascule-type bridge that goes over a small “Kill” between the Bronx and Randall’s Island.

9. The Hell Gate Bridge Was the Longest Steel Arch Bridge in the World When Completed and Inspired the Design of Many Other Bridges

The Bayonne Bridge

The Hell Gate Bridge was the longest steel arch bridge in the world when it was dedicated in March 1917. While it’s not the most recognized span in New York City, it did serve as design inspiration for the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia, the Tyne Bridge in England and our very own Bayonne Bridge, which connects Staten Island and New Jersey.

According to Frieder, the Bayonne Bridge uses suspender ropes to support the roadway, while the Sydney Harbour and the Hell Gate use I-beams due to the extreme “live loads” (traffic) they carry.

8. The Hell Gate Bridge Could Last Over 1000 Years

Hell-Gate-Bridge-Dave-Frieder-NYC-Untapped-Cities4Photo by Dave Frieder

The “grip” of a bridge rivet (or mechanical fastener) is the thickness of the steel it holds together. The rivets of the Hell Gate Bridge happen to have the longest grip of any bridge in New York City: over nine inches. Due to the high carbon steel it is constructed out of, the span could last well over a thousand years.

7. The Hell Gate Could Have Been A Different Kind of Bridge Altogether

A close up of the Hell Gate Bridge’s top chord. Photo by Dave Frieder

The Hell Gate could have almost been built as a crescent arched bridge but Gustav Lindenthal, who designed the span, felt a spandrel arch would make the structure appear stronger. In this design, the upper chord or arch reverses its curve as it comes close to the towers.

Gustav Lindenthal had two very well known engineers assist him with the bridge’s construction: Othmar Ammann, who designed the George Washington Bridge, Verrazano, Throgs Neck, Bronx-Whitestone, Triborough and Bayonne Bridge, and David Steinman, who is known for building the Henry Hudson, the Marine Parkway and the mighty Mackinac Bridge between the north and south peninsulas of Michigan.

6. The Hell Gate Bridge Has an Impressive Live Load Capacity

Photo by Dave Frieder

The Hell Gate’s “live load” capacity is 24,000-pounds per foot (that is 12 tons per foot), one of the most extreme load capacities for a bridge. On all four tracks, a locomotive engine could be placed end to end and the structure could easily take the weight.

5. The Hell Gate Bridge Is Missing a Track

Hell-Gate-Bridge-NYC-Untapped-Cities-Susan-Xu2Photo by Dave Frieder

In 2000, one of bridge’s four tracks was removed because it was not being used. Amtrak thought about installing a roadway for service vehicles, but that idea never came to fruition. Today, two tracks are reserved for Amtrak trains, while the other one is for CSX Freight trains.

4. Part of the Hell Gate Bridge Sits on Shallow Bedrock

The Queens-side tower of the Hell Gate Bridge sits on solid bedrock, reaching only 15 to 38 feet below the ground level. In order to construct the bridge, the Wards Island tower had to utilize fifteen 18-foot diameter caissons to provide solid footing for the tower. They reach down anywhere from 94 to 123 feet.

3. There Was a Temporary Gap in the Hell Gate Bridge

Hell-Gate-Bridge-Library-of-Congress-NYC-Untapped-CitiesImage from Library of Congress

When it came time to close the arch of the bridge during construction, there was a 5/16th of an inch gap. Several 3000 ton jacks and gusset plates were used to secure the two sections of the arch together permanently.

2. The Hell Gate Bridge Towers Serve No Purpose

Photo by Dave Frieder

Frieder tells us that the stone sowers of the bridge, which sit above the road desk, serve no real structural function. They’re purely decorative. In a New York Times article, Allan Renz, the grandson of Gustav Lindenthal, reveals that his grandfather “wanted the bridge to look a particular way” and that “the [stone towers] made it look right.”

In 2015, urban exploration photographer, formerly known as @hakimms shared with us his photographs from atop and inside the Hell Gate Bridge, including inside the stone towers.

1. The Owners of Hell Gate Bridge Have Changed

Hell-Gate-Bridge-Dave-Frieder-NYC-Untapped-Cities6Photo by Dave Frieder

When it was completed in 1917, the Hell Gate Bridge was part of the New York Connecting Railroad and Pennsylvania Railroad. The PRR, which entirely funded the project, originally owned the bridge. Now, it’s owned and maintained by Amtrak.

Next, read about 10 of NYC’s Important Architectural Sites on the East River and check out some Urbex photos atop the Hell Gate Bridge in NYC.