When freight trains ran at ground level through the industrial portions of Manhattan there were so many accidents that eventually a massive effort was made to elevate the rail line on trestles. The project, which opened to trains in 1934, cost $2 billion in current dollars, and was built so solidly that the structures were still there long after the freight stopped running in 1980. Hardy grasses and trees had grown up amidst the remaining elevated trackways, snaking for more than a mile through lower Manhattan, and offering unexpected views of the city.
Officials were making plans to demolish these sections when Friends of the High Line was formed as a nonprofit in 1999, by two neighborhood residents, to advocate for preservation and reuse of the open rail-bed as a snaking linear park. The group developed popular momentum, began to raise funds to pay for its dream, and garnered its first million-dollar donation in 2006 (from the married couple of Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg).
In 2009 the first of three major sections of elevated park opened to the public. Phase two debuted in 2011, with a third section launching in 2014. The nonprofit has a contract with the city giving it responsibility for maintenance and operation of the park, and it has raised more than $100 million of private money to design, create, and run the operation. Diller and von Furstenberg have donated more than $35 million, and other foundations, individuals, and corporations have made large gifts as well. The unconventional open space has proven wildly popular, attracting 4.4 million visitors per year and sparking an estimated $2 billion of private development in formerly industrial sections of New York.
- High Line History, thehighline.org/about/high-line-history