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Friday, September 18, 2009


Traveling over Ward's Island Bridge, in sapphire blue and emerald green, leads to an island of contrasts, an amalgam of environments and elements. Here you will find beautiful vistas, Ward's Island Park, viaducts overhead from the Triborough and Hell Gate bridges, Little Hell Gate bridge (providing vehicular access to Manhattan), ball fields, the Manhattan Psychiatric Center, Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center (which serves the criminally insane), one of the city's largest homeless shelters (the Charles H. Gay Center with 960 beds), and a New York City Department of Environmental Protection wastewater treatment plant.

On February 19, 2008, I wrote Sin of Omission, about Ward's Island Bridge (although I had not yet crossed it). On this occasion, I crossed the bridge and visited the island - see my gallery of photos here. Crossing the foot bridge is a wonderful experience, owing to its very human scale and the complete lack of motor vehicles (open to pedestrians and bicycles only). Your first steps off the bridge bring you to Ward's Island Park, which wraps around the island along the waterfront. The day I arrived, families were picnicking and barbecuing. Walking the waterfront park affords vistas of Mill Rock Park, Manhattan, Queens, the Harlem and East Rivers, and the numerous aforementioned bridges.

Leaving the park, however, and making a foray into the hinterlands gives a much different experience. The omnipresent Manhattan Psychiatric Hospital looms and is visible from nearly everywhere. Opened in 1899, it was the largest psychiatric hospital in the world. Knowing the nature of its occupancy was rather sobering. A stroll by the Charles H. Gay center was unsettling. Fenced off, the entrance was guarded by police while I observed a handful of rather threatening-looking individuals. At the time of my visit, I did not know that the facility was a homeless shelter. City buses provide transportation to and from Manhattan. The standard fare for bus is charged for the homeless - see article here.

If you enjoy exploring the lesser-travelled corners, then Ward's Island is your place. If not, crossing the Ward's Island Bridge will provide a unique experience. On this visit, by crossing the bridge and visiting the island, rather than just taking a photo from afar, I found myself well reWarded...

Note: Ward's Island (along with Castle Clinton in lower Manhattan) was the original point of entry for immigration into the United States, prior to the use of Ellis Island. For a history of the island and park, see the NYC Parks website here.


Beth in NYC said...

Yet another interesting NYC place to check out. I've seen that bridge anumber of times but didn't know it was open to pedestrians. Thanks, Brian!

Thérèse said...

Very informative, thanks.