Monday, January 31, 2011

Bridge of the Week #46: Ocean Ave. Footbridge

This week's bridge is one of the few footbridges on my list (along with the Ward's Island Footbridge and the small Burke Bridge over the Bronx River). The Ocean Ave. Footbridge is a wooden footbridge across part of Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn that connects the neighborhood of Sheepshead Bay with Manhattan Beach. It's about 100 meters long and connects Emmons St. at E. 19th St. on the north to Shore Blvd. at Exeter St. on the south. The southern end is slightly raised to allow small boats under, like I guess, rowboats.

I'm not entirely sure of the bridge's name. I've seen it called the Ocean Ave. Footbridge and the Sheepshead Bay Footbridge, but given that its southern end is actually at Exeter St., a block west of Ocean Ave., Ocean Ave. Footbridge seems more likely to have historical basis rather than be an accident or a generic name.

Speaking of historical basis, the first footbridge on the site was a drawbridge built in 1880 by Austin Corbin, a wealthy landowner who owned two large resort hotels on Manhattan Beach at the time, when Coney Island and Manhattan Beach were outside the urban area and were major resort locations. Corbin also built the Manhattan Beach Railroad, providing New Yorkers the hour-long trip to his resorts. But he found that his footbridge provided too-easy access to his properties (apparently he was a bit antisemitic) and he destroyed the bridge. But it was built back, and in 1881 the New York Commission of Highways declared it to be a public highway, and it has remained ever since, although rebuilt, with the current bridge dating from the 1930's.

The bridge has become something of a neighborhood landmark. It's really not well-suited for running, since it's quite narrow and even on a winter day had plenty of pedestrian traffic (and uncleared of snow). It's also popular with fishermen and women, and with the dredges of humanity - those who feed birds. Even if you're on Manhattan Beach it doesn't cut that much distance off your trip, since it's only about five blocks west to West End Ave. at the west end of the bay. But there it is.

Of interest in the region: Emmons Ave. provides the entrance to the Belt Parkway recreation path at the east end of the bay about 3/4 of a mile from the bridge. This path runs for several miles east to Howard Beach in Queens and can connect to Floyd Bennett Field and the bridges to the Rockaways. There are a few bridges along the path itself, so I'll get into more detail when describing those bridges. And as I may have implied, Manhattan Beach is the eastern portion of Coney Island (now a peninsula), which aslo includes Brighton Beach and Sea Gate.

Another historical item of interest is that John Philip Sousa and his band regularly played on Manhattan Beach in the 1880's and 90's, and it's rumored that the first performance of The Stars and Stripes Forever took place there in 1897, and may have been written there, although the official premiere took place in Philadelphia.


  1. I agree that it is wrong to feed birds or other wild animals.

  2. Trivia question: What ultra course included this bridge crossing?

  3. In 1989, the Broadway Ultra Society BQE (Brooklyn Queens Experience) was a 50 Mile run beginning at Ft. Totten and finishing in Park Slope. It crossed Sheepshead Bay on this very footbridge.

  4. Frank, sorry I missed your comment. Very interesting!! Always like to hear stories about those races.