A new park in Brooklyn, Emily Roebling Plaza, will be dedicated to the woman who completed the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. Several generations of the Roebling family were the forces behind the design and construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. The infrastructure endeavor would cause the death of John Augustus Roebling and the incapacitation of his son Washington Roebling from caissons disease. Washington Roebling’s wife, Emily Roebling, took on the job afterwards to complete the bridge. She is one of the few women to make it into the history books connected to the early building of New York City. Then, as a pre-cursor to Mr. First, Emily was the first to cross the Brooklyn Bridge when it opened on May 24th, 1883.

Roebling family Members of the Roebling family at groundbreaking of Emily Roebling Plaza. All photographs by Erica Price

It is Emily who will be honored in the new Emily Roebling Plaza, which broke ground yesterday afternoon in the midst of the season’s first snowfall. The public space, located in front of tower of the bridge on the Brooklyn side, will be the last portion of Brooklyn Bridge Park to be completed. Emily Roebling Plaza will be two acres in size, making the Brooklyn Bridge a total of 85 acres when this last section is completed in December 2021. Before and after photographs of Brooklyn Bridge Park, which we published on the park’s fifth anniversary in 2015 show that dramatic urban transformation Landau speaks of.  Descendants of the Roebling family were in attendance at yesterday’s event, including Kriss Roebling.

Mayor Bill de Blasio at Emily Roebling Plaza groundbreaking

Mayor Bill de Blasio said at yesterday’s event, “This is an example of what New York City is all about. First, the bridge itself, a miracle in its time, couldn’t be done anywhere else. It could be done in Brooklyn. It could be done in New York City. Long ago, we learned a lesson. Generations ago we learned a lesson about the power and ingenuity and energy of New Yorkers. They built this bridge and the world marveled. And at the same time, they proved that we can have fairness and equality, and Emily Roebling was the example of that in this city, where the suffrage movement took root, where so many fights for civil rights had progressed, where the LGBT movement was born. This is a city that does great things, that creates great things, but also creates fairness and justice.”

shovels and tractor at Emily Roebling Plaza

Eric Landau, the president of Brooklyn Bridge Park said, “Today is more than just a groundbreaking event, it’s a big milestone. It completes the historic transformation from an abandoned industrial area to one of New York City’s most beloved public spaces. This is the last section of the park that will be built to do so.”

Bill de Blasio, Eric Landau, and Steven LevinKriss Roebling speaking, Mayor Bill de Blasio (left), Eric Landau (center)

Back in 1883, New York City Congressman Abram Hewitt announced at the opening that Roebling would “be inseparably associated with all that is admirable in human nature and all that is wonderful in the constructive world of art.” He would also cite her achievement in completing the Brooklyn Bridge as example of women’s “capacity for that higher education from which she has been too-long disbarred.” Emily would later attend New York University and receive a certificate in the Women’s Law Course.

Photoville at Brooklyn BridgeEmily Roebling Park will be situated just behind the fences

Although she died just before the suffrage movement took off in the United States, she would have undoubtedly been one of its staunchest supporters, especially given her leadership in numerous women’s organizations. At her graduation from NYU, she was invited to make a speech and stated that women desired “avail themselves of the possible rights given them under the fourteenth amendment to the Constitution” in order to shape the laws that affect women, arguing for equal application of various laws between genders.

Roebling sculpture Brooklyn Bridge

Other tributes to Emily Roebling exist in New York City, including a honorific street name Emily Roebling Way in Brooklyn Heights where Emily and Washington lived, and a very under-the-radar sculpture of the Roebling family by artist Keith Godard at Anchorage Plaza on Old Fulton Street and Front Street.

Next, check out The Roebling Family, Ill-Fated Designers of the Brooklyn Bridge