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Photograph of Harlem Bridge over Harlem River at Fourth Avenue, New York, Circa 1867-1871

Identifier: SC photo-0021

Scope and Contents

The warm hue glossy photograph is taken from a frontal sideward angle view of a 4-4-0 steam locomotive (a format particularly used by John Reid in photographing locomotives) crossing a Post box truss two-track iron bridge of four metal spans spanning the Harlem River. There is some damage of the print which appears to be water damage and some scratches.


  • Creation: Circa 1867-1871


Conditions Governing Access

Collection housed remotely. Users need to contact 24 hours in advance.

Conditions Governing Use

Collection is open for research.

Biographical / Historical

John Reid (1835-1911), the photographer, was born in Scotland and came to the U.S. around 1841. As an apprentice to the Rogers Locomotive Works, he and his family moved to Paterson, New Jersey. He became interested in daguerreotype pictures. By 1857 he was sharing an office with his brother, Alexander, who was a dentist – A. & J. Reid, with John having taken up photography. John became known as a “famous photographer of Iron Horses.” His locomotive photographs are “known” first to have been made shortly after the late 1850s origin of the business. Reid introduced the convention to taking the photographs “from a position just ahead of the smoke box.” Reid printed his own pictures, with his own rag paper and his own emulsion. The Rogers Locomotive Works (1832-1904) built the 4-4-0 locomotive type in 1855 which was known for its power and endurance. It was the most common type of American locomotive, so common that the type came to be called the “American Standard.” After the Civil War the 4-4-0 type was replaced by larger locomotives and the 4-4-0 locomotive relegated to branch or commuter lines. The steam locomotive in this photograph greatly resembles Engine No. 27 of 1860 of the New York and New Haven Railroad (1849-1872). The three railroad names printed on the photograph matte were all acquired by Cornelius Vanderbilt in the 1860s: the New York and Harlem controlled by 1863, the Hudson River Railroad purchased in 1864 and merged with the N.Y. and Harlem in 1869 to make the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, the New York and New Haven Railroad operated with that name between 1849-1871 (in 1872 it merged with Hartford and New Haven Railroad to form the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad). By 1890 stream locomotives were banned from New York City. The bridge in this photograph is a Post box-truss railroad bridge. This type of bridge is a hybrid between a Warren truss and a double-intersected Pratt truss. It was invented in 1863 by Simeon S. Post (1805-1872) of Jersey City, N.J. and occasionally referred to as a “Post patent truss” although S.S. Post never received a patent for it. This two-track railroad bridge across the Harlem River is acknowledged to have been used by the New York and Harlem, the New York Central and Hudson River, and the New York and New Haven railroads. A two-track railroad bridge across the Harlem River at Fourth Avenue (renamed in 1871 to Park Avenue) was enacted by New York State Legislature in 1841 to extend the New York & Harlem Railroad from lower Manhattan across the Harlem River into the Bronx. The original bridge was a two-track box-truss bridge composed of four 90 feet long spans: three were fixed iron spans, and one wooden swing span all supported on masonry piers but with only a seven foot clearance above water. In 1867 the wooden span was replaced by a steel draw span. The harlem Manufacturing Company of Paterson, N.J. was known to build Post box-truss bridges and is so acknowledged on the photograph’s matte. This photograph was taken definitely sometime after the 1867 installation of the steel draw span and before 1871 when Fourth Avenue was renamed to Park Avenue. Cornelius Vanderbilt had sunk the railroad tracks to enter his newly built Grand Central Terminal in New York City and the former surface track area was developed into a park-like promenade. Possibly John Reid took the photograph to record the acquisition of the three railroads into the Vanderbilt railroad empire or the installation of a new metal draw span replacing the old wooden swing span. The photographic process attributed to this print existed between 1885 and 1920. This bridge was replaced between 1891 and 1893 when a four track swing span was constructed which was again replaced in the Twentieth Century.


1 Photographic Prints ; Actual photograph measures 32 x 42 cm fastened onto a matte measuring 45.5 x 53 cm.

Language of Materials



John Reid, the acknowledged photographer of this picture, was in his lifetime known as a pioneer photographer of the “Iron Horse” (steam locomotives). He introduced the convention of taking the photographs “from a position just ahead of the smoke box” in the late 1850s. This angle is apparent in this photograph as the 4-4-0 steam locomotive positioned on the Harlem Bridge. The bridge is an example of a Post box-truss type developed by Simeon S. Post in 1863. Based on information printed on the photograph’s surrounding matte, an interesting history of a railroad empire in New York City as created by Cornelius Vanderbilt in the 1860s is apparently the reason for the interesting photograph or possibly the upgrade of the bridge by the installation in 1867 of a metal draw span replacing the original wooden swing span . The Harlem Bridge as a Post box truss type no longer exists having been replaced by a new bridge in 1891 and again in the Twentieth Century.


The photograph is filed among the Special Collection photographs.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased March 2012 by Lois Black Fisher, Special Collections

Related Materials

Bronx Public Works collection McAlpine manuscript


Greene, Joseph Warren Jr. 1926. New York City’s First Railroad: The New York and Harlem (1832-1867). New York: s.n.

Grogan, Louis V. 1989. Coming of the New York and Harlem Railroad. Pauling, N.Y.: Louis V. Grogan.

Hyatt, Elijah Clarence. 1898. The History of the New York and Harlem Railroad. New York: E. Clarence Hyatt. Reid.php (Donnelley and Lee Library Archives and Special Collections)
Photograph of Harlem Bridge over Harlem River at Fourth Avenue, New York, Circa 1867-1871
Ilhan Citak and Eleanor Nothelfer
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Repository Details

Part of the Lehigh University Special Collections Repository

Lehigh University
Linderman Library
30 Library Drive
Bethlehem PA 18045 USA
610-758-6091 (Fax)