To guard travelers against the high winds of tropical storm Isaias yesterday, the Staten Island Ferry and the massive Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge — the two direct public transportation routes that connect Staten Island to other parts of New York City — were closed. A bridge that connects Staten Island and New Jersey was shut to pedestrians. Another span from the island to New Jersey kept drivers to a 30-miles-per-hour speed limit.
The developments made a stream of drivers more familiar with the Outerbridge Crossing — the only other public transportation means off the island — but most likely not with the far-reaching family and tennis impact of that bridge’s namesake.
New York Sports Tours guests are often surprised to learn that the 92-year-old Outerbridge Crossing is not descriptive of the bridge’s remoteness nor the reality that it’s the southernmost bridge in the state of New York. The structure is named for Eugenius Outerbridge, with Crossing added to the surname to avoid the repetition of “bridge.”
In 1880, when the sport we know as tennis was referred to as lawn tennis to distinguish it from the indoor version played with walls, Outerbridge successfully proposed the first national lawn tennis tournament in the United States. That inaugural national tournament was held at the Staten Island Cricket and Base Ball Club, where Eugenius was an officer, on land that is now near the starting line of the New York City Marathon.
A precursor to today’s US Open, the 1880 tournament followed rudimentary rules. For example, overhead serves had not yet been introduced.
Six years earlier, Outerbridge’s sister Mary Outerbridge may have introduced the outdoor sport to the nation. In 1874 on Staten Island, 22-year-old Mary and her sister Laura (two of Eugenius’ nine siblings) had played what has been widely promoted as the nation’s first-ever lawn tennis match.
Soon after the sport’s originator Walter Wingfield produced his first boxed lawn tennis kits in his native England, many historians claim that he sent some to British military men in Bermuda, that Mary was given some of the tennis equipment while on vacation in Bermuda, and that she took the gear home with her to Staten Island aboard the steamship S.S. Canima.
Eugenius became the first chairman of what’s now known as The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The Outerbridge Crossing and the nearby Goethals Bridge — the span that was closed to pedestrians this week — were both opened on the same day, June 29, 1928, as the first bridges constructed under the Port Authority’s supervision. Eugenius Outerbridge, 68, attended the dedication ceremony.
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