In the course of its history the Bronx River has known several redoubtable women, but few proved to be as unmoving as Sarah Titus.
Affectionately known to river men as “Aunt Sarah,” she managed the drawbridge that spanned the river at Westchester Avenue. Her husband William was the original bridge keeper, but when William died in 1857 Sarah took over his post. Bridge tending in those days was pretty much a 24/7 job, so Sarah lived with her son George in a small cottage on the west bank of the river near the present-day entrance to Concrete Plant Park.
Sarah knew every captain on the river and could recognize the distinct whistles of their boats as they passed to and from the port at West Farms. She kept the key to the bridge’s control house under her pillow when she went to bed, knowing that any time in the night the toot of someone’s tug could call her out to raise the bridge.
Sarah was fond of her job, and often said that her happiest hours were spent on the Bronx River, where she could exchange a bit of friendly banter with passing boatmen. So attached was Sarah to her drawbridge, that when New York City’s Deputy Bridge Commissioner Matthew “Rocky” Moore tried to take her job away and give it to a Tammany Hall hack, Sarah stood her ground and refused to surrender her key. If Moore thought the aging Sarah would be a pushover, he was wrong, and Aunt Sarah became one of the few New Yorkers who could defy Tammany Hall – and win.
Aunt Sarah finally died of pneumonia on New Year’s Day, 1902, after some 45 years of holding the bridge over the Bronx River. Commissioner Moore had to hire two men to do the work that Sarah had managed by herself.
– Stephen Paul DeVillo