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From Rural Terrain to Urban Destination

Once home to the Wiechquaesgeck tribe and later the high ground from which George Washington defended northern Manhattan during the Revolutionary War, Washington Heights was rural in character until the second half of the 19th century, when affluent New Yorkers saw the area as an alternative to busy downtown corridors and began building estates on the land. By 1870, the name Washington Heights had come into use.

The Subway and Residential Development

The Tenement House Act of 1901 outlined requirements for all new apartments, including more windows, improved ventilation, and private bathrooms. When the subway reached 157th Street in 1904, the stage was set for a major wave of real estate development. Diverse new residents—including Armenians, Irish, Eastern-European Jews, and Greeks—settled in the Heights in great numbers.

The George Washington Bridge

In 1923 Othmar Ammann, a Swiss-born architect and engineer, proposed a bridge design to connect New York City and New Jersey across the Hudson. A marvel of construction and engineering, the bridge opened to traffic in 1931. During its first full year of operation in 1932, more than 5.5 million vehicles crossed the six-lane roadway.

Washington Heights, Roebling Company
Men from the Roebling Company who installed cables for the George Washington Bridge, 1931. Private Collection.