Marble Hill history literally is water under the bridge


For some New Yorkers, water knowledge can sometimes be a mystery. 

Matt Malina, however, intends to connect people with water while teaching them about New York City’s water ecology and local ecosystems through NYC H2O’s Marble Hill Walking Tour.

The two-hour journey starts Saturday, and is designed to educate walkers of the re-engineering of the Harlem River — a feat that turned Marble Hill from a Manhattan community, to a Bronx one. At least geographically. 

Bryan Diffley, an engineer and the project manager of the recent High Bridge reconstruction, first started working with H2O after he met Malina on a pre-construction tour of the bridge, the city’s oldest, that was turned into a pedestrian bridge in 2015. The two struck up a friendship, and soon after, Diffley was giving tours of the bridge for H2O. 

Three years later, Diffley is adding a new historical tour to the non-profit’s programming. He was inspired to create the new Marble Hill Walking Tour after noticing the many connections between Marble Hill, the Harlem River ship canal and High Bridge. 

After extensive research, Diffley found his fascination with the history of waterways in Spuyten Duyvil and Kingsbridge found a way to connect back to his own work on  High Bridge. From all that, the expanded tour was founded, which kicks off Saturday at noon at West 225th Street and Broadway near the 1 train entrance.

 The tour then heads north, following the path of the old Spuyten Duyvil creek, which was filled in soon after the construction of the ship canal and connected Marble Hill — which was at one point an island — to the Bronx. While most of the creek’s trail is inaccessible due to the construction of schools and other buildings, the tour will stop along the way to discuss the area’s history and take a look at the location of the old King’s Bridge, itself built before the Revolutionary War. 

The bridge, which is only rumored to remain intact — although underground — is technically the oldest bridge in the city, dating its construction back to 1693. 

The bridge was rebuilt numerous times until 1917 when it is said to have been buried by landfill. 

The tour also explores the establishment of the Harlem River ship canal dating back to 1895, and the effect that construction had on the development of the rest of the city. The canal cut the distance between the Hudson River to Long Island Sound by 14 miles, leading to the creation of Marble Hill from what was once a part of Manhattan. 

The tour also stops in Inwood Hill Park, where event-goers will get a better view of the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge.

Diffley hopes the tour will give walkers a better understanding of how the city has evolved, from the Dutch to the English, to now, and how access to water has been a deciding factor in the city’s geography all along.

“New York City was this petulant little island, and at the tip of the island, they had no water,” Diffley said. “There were fires and people were dying every summer.

“This tour is about how clean water affected them. What was a watercourse is now a road, and Marble Hill was attached to Manhattan, but it’s not anymore. 

“There’s a lot of cool history of how part of Manhattan got chopped off,” Diffley added. “There’s not many places that happens to.”

Matt Malina, Bryan Diffley, Inwood Hill Park, Spuyten Duyvil Bridge, Michael Hinman