A Year: Day to Day Men: 2nd of January, Solar Year 2018

Morning Cup of Joe

On January 2, 1870, construction of the Brooklynn Bridge begins with Washington Roebling as project manager.

In the summer of 1869, John Roebling, noted bridge-builder and chief engineer of the construction, severely injured his foot in a freak accident as he was surveying the site. He died of lockjaw not long after, and his son Washington Roebling, became chief engineer of the bridge project.

Construction on the Brooklynn-side wooden caisson began on January 2, 1870. To dig the foundations for the bridge’s enormous stone towers, caissons, enormous wooden boxes with no bottoms, were sunk in the river. Compressed air was pumped into them, and men inside would dig away at the sand and rock on the river bottom. The stone towers were built atop the caissons, which sank deeper into the river bottom.

After the caissons had been sunk to the river bottom, they were filled with concrete, and the construction of the granite stone towers continued above. When these anchorage towers reached their ultimate height, 278 feet above high water, work began on the four enormous cables that would support the roadway. Spinning the cables between the towers began in the summer of 1877, and was finished a year and four months later. But it would take nearly another five years to suspend the roadway from the cables and have the bridge ready for traffic.

The bridge was built with numerous passageways and compartments in its anchorage towers. New York City rented out the large vaults under the bridge’s Manhattan anchorage in order to fund the bridge. Opened in 1876, the vaults were used to store wine, as they were always at 60 °F (16 °C). This was called the “Blue Grotto” because of a shrine to the Virgin Mary next to an opening at the entrance.

Over the course of the next 40 years, several different liquor vendors would utilize the cellars below the bridge. City records indicate, for example, that in 1901, the “Luyties Brothers paid $5,000 for a vault on the Manhattan side of the bridge,” located at 204 Williams St., while in Brooklyn, “A. Smith & Company” forked over $500 a year to rent a wine cellar from 1901 until 1909.

By the late 1910s, as America debated the vices of liquor, the wine was moved out and the cellars were converted into newspaper storage. But the end of Prohibition in 1933 enticed new wine distributors. A celebration on July 11, 1934 was held in honor of Anthony Oechs & Co.’s move into the bridge’s blue-black caverns. After World War II, for logistical reasons, the city of New York took over permanent management of the cellars. To the despair of modern wine drinkers, adventurers, and those in pursuit of a good Instagram, the cellars have been closed and shuttered for years with only the occasional few gaining access.

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