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Hard times

Money was tight in 1874.  Cornelius Vanderbilt’s New York Central Railroad system kept work going on the Fourth Ave project north of Grand Central, and the directors of the New York Elevated Railroad prepared the way for their next expansion.  But the proposed Beach Pneumatic Transit and Gilbert Elevated Railway companies were not able to raise funds to get started.  The idea of municipal construction that failed to get support in 1873 was proposed one more time. 

Expansion of the New York Elevated Railroad

The New York Elevated Railroad began in January to collect signatures on a ‘memorial’ to be brought to the legislature in favor of a second track and expanded routes.  With more ample accommodation and increased facilities for traffic, the line will be a great boon to the citizens, and at present offers the only practical solution of the many schemes for rapid transit …1  The advantage was shifting in the public mind from the underground to the elevated, not because it was inherently better, but because it had actually been built.  With double track it could run much more frequent service.  Branches and extensions would bring rapid transit to more of the city. 

The company wanted to run from Battery Place past South Ferry and continue from there into a second main line up the east side, past Grand Central and on to the Harlem River.  (The Gilbert Elevated had been granted east and west side routes similarly connected in lower Manhattan.)  They also wanted to tap Broadway at three points:  branches would run in some street near City Hall Park, Canal St, and Christopher St (and some unnamed street) to join the main line.  A longer branch would similarly run from Grand Central through some street between 40th St and 46th St to the main line at Ninth Ave.  Lastly a branch would run in some street north of 59th St one block over to Central Park. 

But extensions were not enough;  the existing portion already looked inadequate.  The old portion of the road is, as anyone having the slightest claim to engineering knowledge can see, very badly designed.  The structure has not the stability which one intended to be as permanent as this should have.  It is, in fact, of this part of the line that the story is told that some one asked one of the first managers who their engineer was.  He replied ‘Damn engineers :  we have employed a practical man’.  The structure in Greenwich street is, we presume, the monument of the said practical man.  Allowing, however, for all its defects, this company has by practical experience demonstrated the practicability of this kind of road.  Any one who will take a ride on it will learn that it is the pleasantest way of travelling he will find in New York.2  The old line would be strengthened as soon as finances permitted, which was not until 1875.

The company claim that they have ample capital ; that gentlemen of wealth and position are shareholders, and that, if they obtain the powers of extension which they seek, they will be able to carry the work out of their own resources, and without seeking any external aid.  Should the charter be obtained, they propose to carry on the extension at the rate of six miles each year.  As of January 1874, the company listed 82 train movements carrying 3,000 passengers a day.  Pressing the advantage, the memorials stated that the company was the only one that has afforded any rapid transit facilitites to the inhabitants of New-York City.3

A bill for the New York Elevated plans was introduced by Senator Wight of Westchester in January 29.  A petition from 5,000 riders was presented.4 

Predictably, residents and property-holders in 42nd St opposed the branch from Grand Central.  Their petition to the legislature said that the branch would injure the City generally, crossing, as it would, all the important avenues, including Broadway, and would furnish, at best, a roundabout way from the Grand Central Depot to the lower part of the City.5  The proposed east side main line would of course be a more direct route to lower Manhattan from Grand Central.  But there were also objections to crossing Fifth Ave, which was now becoming the fashionable street.6  Fifth Ave never would have a street railway.  The idea of building an elevated road across Fifth avenue is too wild to deserve a moment’s consideration.  There is no street so thronged with ladies and children, and an elevated railroad would necessarily be the cause of numberless accidents from frightened horses.7  The much greater throngs of women and children in the streets of the lower east side counted differently in this calculation. 

The east side main line, however, was the subject of the most lobbying at Albany.  The street railways were against it.  A strong feeling of resistance was manifested against such a comprehensive scheme, especially by some of the other City railroad companies, and as a consequence it has been decided to very materially change the original proposition by omitting entirely the east-side portion of the project.8  The Third Avenue Railroad company had already begun lobbying at this time for their own elevated railway. 

Every property-owner in New York would like to see plenty of rapid-transit lines in operation so long as they run through his neighbor’s property, but they must not come near his own, reported the Times.  The people opposed to the Gilbert Elevated did not object to the New York Elevated, because, by looking it over, it did not propose to build upon the streets in which their property was located.  For example, a lawyer with land in 53rd St proposed that the Gilbert Elevated should build in 52nd St or 54th St, and it would be a capital thing if their road were an accomplished fact ; but they ought not to run their road through Fifty-third street.8

But a new bill with all of the New York Elevated Railroad proposals including the east side main line was introduced on February 12 by Senator Green.  The west side line was also to be allowed to run on the surface north of 99th St where the ground is high.9

The company added two more locomotives in March, South Ferry and Yorkville, names suggesting the company’s hopes of rounding the tip of Manhattan and running up the east side.  This very briefly made six, but the first and least powerful engine, Pioneer, was sold off in April to the West Point Foundry in Cold Spring, where it ran until at least 1897 moving cars around the foundry property.  So the railroad now had five nearly identical lightweight locomotives of four tons all designed by company engineer David W Wyman.  Two more cars arrived, maintaining the ratio of two cars per engine.  The engines consumed six pounds of coal per mile, considered good at the time, and usually ran ten twenty trips per day over the four-mile elevated railway.10 

Some time in 1874 the company added a passing siding at 12th St.  Until it was built, the trains were limited to an hourly schedule, since it took about twenty-five minutes to run one way.  There is little use in having five trains if they could only run as a fleet one direction at a time, so probably the siding was available around the time the new engines and cars arrived in March.  A comment in 1875 said that the service frequency was every thirty-five minutes11; another in December 1874 said ‘twenty or thirty’ minutes.12  This was made possible only by passing at the siding.  The siding was constructed as a one-legged structure on the other side of the street, the first short segment of what would someday be a continuous second track.  It was connected at each end by a diagonal run across the street.  The switches must have been interesting, since the wheels still ran on iron straps on the iron structure, not on rails. 

The only new station added in 1874 was Liberty St, replacing the original terminal at Dey St.13  Liberty St is only two short blocks south of Dey, but slightly better located for two major railroad ferry terminals, the Central of New Jersey at Liberty St itself and the Pennsylvania at Cortlandt St one block north.  The Dey St station was the weak-looking platform built out from the side of a building. 

A city-owned rapid transit railway

Senator Harvey G Eastman introduced a bill for a city-owned rapid transit railway on February 4, a scheme which he thinks is just the thing for New-York.14  Five Rapid Transit Commissioners of the City and County of New-York would be appointed, two by the governor, one by the mayor, and two by judges.  They would solicit plans for a prize of $50,000 for rapid transit for passengers and freight.  The commissioners would determine the route, and could take over the route of existing companies unless the companies could show they were diligently discharging the duties for which they were incorporated.  The commissioners could solicit stock subscriptions, or if insufficient stock were subscribed, could decide how much of the city’s money should be spent, but the city would be repaid from the profits once the road began operations.  They would then arrange the construction of the road, which was to be built within one year to 42nd St and within two years to the Harlem River.15  No existing charter shall be interfered with unless the Commission decides that there is no prospect of the road being built by the company owning the charter, in which case it may take possession of the route.16  New inventions were allowed:  Any scheme for conveying passengers, whether by land, air, or water, can compete for the prize.  The bill avoids making use of the term ‘rapid transit road’, but reads ‘means for rapid transit’.14  The bill was introduced into the Assembly the next day.17

The City of New York had just annexed part of Westchester County on January 1, that portion west of the Bronx River and south of Yonkers.  The Supervisors of Westchester County were pushing for better transit.  They resolved in February, We all agree that rapid transit from the City Hall to the Harlem River is the only thing that can locate capital and population in our county.  They proposed that the county construct and own a rapid transit railroad, saying that since 1860 the value of real estate had increased only five or six millions while that in Hudson County, New Jersey, had increased from $15,000,000 to $86,000,000.  Most of the capital gone to New-Jersey could have been secured for investment in Westchester County had the people here the same facilities of rapid transit that are enjoyed by the residents of Hudson County.18  The rapid transit facilities to Hudson County were the ferries plus short rides on street railways and mainline railways running good local services.  In travel time many neighborhoods there were close to lower Manhattan. 

The argument of property values was not new.  It had been a driving force in the campaigns of the East Side and West Side associations in Manhattan for several rapid transit plans.  Up to about this time they had usually favored the underground plans, but the continued success of New York Elevated and non-starter of the underground roads was beginning to turn the tide. 


[ 11-1 ]

Advertisement, Times, February 20, 1874.


A mass meeting was planned for February 23 at the Cooper Institute to drum up support for the city rapid transit plan, one of the largest meetings ever held in this city.  Mayor Havemeyer was expected to speak, along with others including William R Martin and Senator Eastman.19 

Alexander T Stewart gave his opinion:  I do not think it either proper or politic to devote public funds to the carrying out of objects other than those included in the proper functions of government  … I am opposed to it on principle, and as against public policy. William B Astor was unqualifiedly opposed to any appropriation of public moneys to any purpose whatever other than legitimate purposes of government.  These were the common sentiments of many large property owners, whose real estate taxes would go toward such projects.20  Howard Potter, of the Brown Brothers firm, spoke out against property values being lowered by transit projects like the New York Elevated Railroad, which he called a piece of legalized Communism as against the property-holders.21

A different opinion was given by Jacob Weeks, a prominent business man, and owner of extensive parcels of real estate.  He was said to be ‘down’ on the use of public funds, but wanted to see more rapid transit in his lifetime.  He thought the elevated railway hadn’t hurt his property any that he knew of, and he said he had ten horses and carts that are out every day, and one of them had just come back from Greenwich street.  They had got used to seeing the cars pass over their heads, and were not a bit frightened by it now.  Weeks wanted to see more elevated lines, and thought Astor and Stewart felt the same way if they were built with private capital.  He thought that taxes were high enough at 3.4 per cent, and that the city had spent enough on projects like the Brooklyn Bridge and sinking Vanderbilt’s tracks.21

Senator Gross introduced a bill similar to Eastman’s on February 18.  A board of commissioners would consist of the mayor, the president of the Board of Aldermen, the head of the Department of Public Works, and six citizens of the city appointed by the governor.  They were to determine a route and construct a four-track railway from the Battery to the Harlem River, to be owned by the city.  This plan was more directly under city control.22

At the mass meeting on February 23, Senator Eastman delivered a long oration.  He spoke about the effect of poor transportation on the city’s growth and how New Jersey and Brooklyn were growing much faster.  Hudson County, just across the river, had increased 477 per cent in ten years, and Westchester only 127 per cent.  New Yorkers tolerated too much.  If you lose two hours a day to get down town to your business, and stand on one foot in a horsecar, with passengers packed in like sardines in a box, you emerge from the car smiling, and give the conductor an extra fare for his kind attention to your personal comforts.  He then described the bill in detail, including the amendments.  He had hoped to distribute copies that had not arrived which he said to laughter he supposed were on the way by slow transit somewhere between this hall and the Forty-second street Depot.  The amendments included a clause prohibiting the route from being in Broadway from City Hall to Fourteenth street, and Fifth avenue from Twenty-third street to Central Park.  The time limit was extended to eighteen months to reach 42nd St, and then three miles per year.23 

An elevated railway for the East Side

The New York Elevated Railroad’s proposal for an east side line was countered by plans for elevated railways from both the Third Avenue Railroad and the New York and Harlem Railroad. 

As the Times noted eventually the two bills were obviously the work of the same draughtsman.  Many provisions were the same, such as the description of the structure and the $100,000 bond to ensure construction.  The said corporation may take and occupy a space not more than fifty feet in width, upon and along the street surface, or elevated surface of the line or lines heretofore described, and also make the necessary connections, stations, platforms, turnouts, switches, and conveniences for the proper working and accommodation of the structure and railway herein authorized to be constructed and operated.  So said both bills.24 

The Third Avenue Railroad bill, to create a Third Avenue Quick Transit Company, was introduced into the Assembly on January 21 and the Senate on March 18.  The Times called it a swindle immediately, and likened it to the Viaduct plan.25  It proposes to create a huge monopoly, and a richly subsidized monopoly at that.  The corporators only demand $6,000,000 from the city to help build their road.26  The main route was the same as that of the street railway, namely Park Row, Bowery, and Third Ave to the Harlem River, and so were the directors.  From the end of Park Row it would run across Broadway into Vesey St, and down Church St and Greenwich St and through Battery Park to South Ferry, conflicting with the Gilbert Elevated route and the proposed New York Elevated route.  The municipal corporation of New York is prohibited from giving powers granted to this corporation to any other.  The city would be required to buy six million dollars of stock and to raise the money from taxes.26

Company president Robert Squires responded to critics that the only purpose of the Third Avenue Railroad Company, in its application to the Legislature, was to meet the requirements of our citizens.  Other proposed underground and elevated plans have encountered disappointments, he said, and his company now offered to embark its whole capital in a doubtful enterprise.27  The editor of the Tribune wrote, When the Gilbert Elevated Railway Company were seeking the privilege of running their road through Third-ave, they met with fierce opposition from the horse railroad company, and it is conjectured that the present bill is introduced more for the purpose of preventing any scheme of quick transit by threatening a rivalry with the Gilbert Elevated, whose route is located in Second-ave, than with any intention to build the road.28 

The New York and Harlem bill was introduced into the Assembly on March 10 and the Senate on March 18.  Commodore Vanderbilt showed his hand in the Legislature to-night, and turned up a scheme for a rapid transit railroad in New York that bids fair to outstrip all the mushroom plans that have now been presented this winter.29  Here again the route was the same as the company’s street railway, namely Park Row, Centre St, Broome St, Bowery, and Fourth Ave.  The elevated railway was to run into the existing tunnel at 33rd St, and then up over 42nd St and on into the mainline tracks at some point near Grand Central.  The Commodore asks for no aid in this work either from the city or private individuals.29  The general impression is that the bill, like that of which he procured the passage at a former session, is a device of Vanderbilt to head off the other projected rapid-transit schemes.30  This scheme claims Commodore Vanderbilt as its ‘backer’, and is supposed to be a rival to the quick-transit bill introduced by the Third-ave Railroad Company.  Vanderbilt already has a charter for an underground quick transit railway from Forty-second-st to the City Hall Park, which is not yet begun, while the Third-ave Railroad Company has for years past fought every scheme of quick transit that has been brought before the Legislature.31

The two companies’ street railways shared the same route in parts of Park Row and the Bowery, but with separate tracks.  For the elevated, it was proposed that they may occupy the same tracks.  This is understood to be in the Vanderbilt interest.32  It was not a very practical idea, since it would limit train service to the capacity of the shared portions.  But practicality was not really an issue. 

The editor of the Times smelled a rat.  The suspicious promptitude with which the Assembly Railroad Committee has reported the Vanderbilt and Third Avenue rapid-transit schemes excites a good deal of comment. Experts in these matters go the length of fixing at $12,000 the sum paid in the Vanderbilt interest to secure a favorable report on the Fourth Avenue bill  Noting the $100,000 bond for completion, they thought it was even hinted that it would be worth Commodore VANDERBILT’s while to forfeit $100,000 for the purpose of obstructing other quick-transit schemes, and suggested a higher bond was necessary.33  Nothing had been heard from the property owners along the routes, and the bills lacked the usual provision to appoint commissioners to review the plans and supervise the use of public property.24  The horse railroads cannot brook the idea of any efficient rivalry, and when a scheme is proposed which seems likely to forward the interests of the citizens, Mr Vanderbilt is ready to bring forward a new road, and is not in the least particular whether it shall be underground or elevated, so that the interests of the Fourth avenue line may not be interfered with by any outside agency.34


[ 11-2 ]

’A bull on the rapid transit track’, from the Daily Graphic, March 26.  Commodore Vanderbilt did not need a label.


Beach Pneumatic Transit to become the Broadway Underground Railway

The Beach Pneumatic Transit Company went to the legislature again too, Dixon taking charge of the matter according to company minutes.35  They now wanted to change the name of the company to the Broadway Underground Railway Company, construct tunnels one foot larger and connect with the New York and Harlem at 42nd St or north of it.36 

Joseph Dixon went to England to seek investors a little later in 1874.  One of their objections was to a state law prohibiting foreigners from being directors of New York companies.35 But reading between the lines, it appears that the company’s problems raising money were partly related to the pneumatic system.  The demonstration line under Broadway was not enough, particularly for English investors who would recall the failed atmospheric railways in England and the now abandoned Waterloo and Whitehall project.  Removing ‘pneumatic’ from the name made the question of power less central to the company’s mission.  Removing ‘Beach’ might have signalled a willingness to cede some control to others. 


[ 11-3 ]

A station of the Broadway Underground Railway as depicted in Science Record for 1874, a publication of Scientific American.  The four-rail track is not explained. The means of locomotion is left to the imagination: pneumatic or steam?  The cars are of a low-floor design suitable even for the engraver’s dwarfs in the foreground.


The bill to change the name was first introduced into the Assembly on February 4 by Mr Deane.  It had other provisions.  When the company’s capital stock had been subscribed and $250,000 spent, the city would guarantee interest on the $250,000 at six per cent, and so on for each $250,000 spent.37  Within two weeks, the city’s Board of Aldermen proposed that the state should authorize the city to grant aid to the Beach Pneumatic, so as to enable them to build their contemplated underground road from the Battery to the terminus of the Harlem Railroad Company, to the amount of five to ten million dollars.38  The Underground Railroad Company of New York is flooding the Senate with petitions asking for aid in the construction of the road.26

On March 20, Senator Madden, long a booster of the Beach project, reported in favor of the ‘job’ which changes the name of the Beach Pneumatic Transit Company to the Broadway Underground Railway Company, extends its powers, and authorizes the City of New-York to aid in its construction.39  Senator Tobey wrote the minority report noting the company’s inability to raise any capital so far (not one dollar has been subscribed and paid in), and he objected strongly to the idea of city aid.  The Company now wanted to put the City of New York under obligation to the extent of $5,000,000, and actually build the road for them …40  Senator Madden said that tens of thousands of persons had petitioned the Legislature to allow it.  Senator Gross said the petitions were also a delusion.  No one knew whether they were the petitions of persons who lived in New York or not.40  The editor of the Times wrote:

Rumor has not yet assigned any price to the favorable report of the Senate committee on the Beach Pneumatic Company’s bill.  It ought certainly to be a good deal higher than the sum credited to the Assembly committee, for the job is a very scandalous one indeed.  As pointed out in the minority report, signed by Mr TOBEY, it proposes to compel the City to pay half the expense of the new Broadway underground scheme, and to do so without exercising the slightest control over the mode of spending the money.  Senator MADDEN and his friends may rest assured that the tax-payers of New-York, however patient, will not stand this.  At least three companies now propose to build quick-transit railroads at their own expense, and the State Senate may as well abandon at the outset the attempt to force the people to pay for a fourth road, which we shall be able to do without.  Meanwhile, we invite special attention to the names figuring on either side of the division over this bill.41 

This was not the first time charges of bribery were made in connection with Beach’s bills.  This time it caused an uproar.  Senator Selkreg read the editorial on the floor of the Senate, senators argued over what had been done in the committee and why some had voted as they did, and questions were raised about the accuracy of newspaper reporting.42  The editor responded to the stupid members of that body and called Senator Madden another idiot for implying that freedom of the press is abolished in New-York State.43

But the bill was recalled, and, said the editor, we have doubtless heard the last of it in its original shape.44

The Gilbert Elevated Railway

The final great success of the Greenwich street elevated railroad, has settled the matter in regard to other similar plans.  The construction of the Gilbert elevated railroad has been commenced in New York, at least a portion of the same is now being constructed in West Broadway, so as to obtain a practical estimate of the cost, which in that locality will be greatest, for reason of the great depth required for the foundation there, it being made ground, filled in many feet.45  Published in February, this optimistic report was old news from late 1872.  Work stopped again after a few column foundations had been laid. 

The Gilbert Elevated project had been given its final routing three weeks before the investment market collapsed.  The panic immediately followed, and of course intefered with parties taking hold of the enterprise, and beyond laying some foundations for pillars nothing was done.  One of the strongest objections urged by those adverse to the scheme and having other interests to subserve is directed against its genuineness, and is to the effect that, although the company have their charter since June, 1872, no progress has been made with their road.  This objection, however, will hardly bear scrutiny, for it is manifest that the company could not do anything until the location of the route was finally determined upon, and this was only done in last September.  Then the panic which followed, and which crippled every kind of enterprise, seems a fair and reasonable excuse for the fact that no work of any account was accomplished subsequent to the delivery of the report of the second commission ; and this is supplemented by the circumstance that in frosty weather the concrete foundation could not be very well laid.  The company claim that they were prevented building the road by legislative interference, and that they are now ready to build it, if there is no further interference of this kind.34

The company now asked the legislature in March to ‘confirm’ the second commission, and set the time for completion to run from the start of work in December 1873, not from the time of the charter.  Both requests were necessary for fund raising.  The investors had been spooked in 1873 by the change of route, and needed assurance.  Meanwhile, the company had collected favorable opinions as to the strength of its proposed viaducts from engineers and the Phœnixville Bridge Works. 


[ 11-4 ]

The proposed Gilbert Elevated Railway as of 1874. There would be a solid floor with half-curved sides to partially hide the railway from view at street level.  The location appears to be Trinity Place at the rear of St Paul’s churchyard, looking north.  A Ninth Ave horsecar crosses Trinity Place in Fulton St.  From Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion, 1872.


The rejection of city-owned rapid transit railways

A month after the mass meeting, the Eastman bill for a city-owned rapid transit line was still stuck in the Assembly’s railroad committee.  On March 21, the Times reported the alleged purchase of the Railroad Committee by Vanderbilt and added, Rumor places the amount paid at $12,000.  In the Assembly, Eastman said his bill had been unanimously approved by the press and the people of the City of New-York … Conduct more extraordinary than that pursued by the committee in ignoring his bill and promptly reporting the bill of the great monopolist, Vanderbilt, almost as soon as it was introduced had never been witnessed in any Legislature.41 

Still making no headway, Eastman took his case to the newspapers the next week.  He said he regretted that he had ever introduced the bill, but he reiterated that his bill has not been introduced in the interests of either jobbers or monopolists, and that it was a clean measure without anything to back it but its merits, and the approval of the people who were to be benefited by it.  In response the committee criticized both him and the newspapers, noting particularly that the Herald’s James Gordon Bennett had told his editor, Give the Railroad Committees ——.46  This was at the same time that the Times charged bribery in the Beach Pneumatic case.  The editor of the Evening Mail said:

The explosion of indignant virtue in the Assembly, yesterday, must have been an amusing spectacle to the veterans on the floor and in the galleries.  It seems most of the newspapers of this City had supported Mr Eastman’s bill for rapid transit, and had expressed various degrees of surprise that the Railroad Committee of the Assembly had neglected that bill, and had put through the others with suspicious rapidity … We are glad to see such a display of legislative vigor in connection with the rapid transit measures now before the Assembly, and such an honorable assertiveness to public opinion … It seems ridiculous for a member of the Assembly to get up in his place and assail an earnest champion of rapid transit, like Mr Eastman, for seeking the counsel, aid, and support of the New-York press.47 

The Assembly’s railroad committee reported on March 30, The committee say that they do not and cannot sanction the construction of rapid transit roads by the City of New-York, as desired by some of the projectors of the commission bills.  But because of dissenting views, the committee decided to report all the bills before them to the Assembly, for a full discussion.48  These were the amended Gilbert Elevated bill, the Third Avenue Railroad’s elevated bill, and the New York and Harlem’s elevated bill.  The Beach Pneumatic amendments would make a fourth.  The Eastman bill for a city railroad was the one bill that was not reported.24


[ 11-5 ]

’Rapid Transit at Albany: By Their Hacks Ye Shall Know Them’, from the Daily Graphic, March 30.  Senators from upstate counties warmly greet ‘Vanderbilt’s agent’.  Their notes for him read ‘Cheapest Vote in the Market’, ‘One Senate Vote Cheap for Cash’, ‘One Good Square Vote’.  They are calling out, ‘Say Cap here's a vote … anything to ’bleege the Commodore’, ‘Sell my vote for the hull session— cheap’, ‘Buy my vote, Cap’.  The agent appears to be stepping off a boat— he didn’t take the train?


More time for the Broadway Underground and Gilbert Elevated

The Beach Pneumatic bill was reported to the Senate on April 2 with the city aid clause removed.  It would change the company’s name, would allow larger tunnels as determined by their board of engineer commissioners, and would require completion from the Battery to Grand Central within three years from the amendment.48  The Senate passed the bill on April 10, by 19 to 6.49  The bill went to the Assembly on April 11, and was passed on April 24.50  Governor Dix signed it on May 20.51  From that point forward the Beach Pneumatic was the Broadway Underground Railway Company. 

The Assembly passed the Gilbert Elevated bill on April 23, and the Senate the next day52.  It gave much-needed extensions of the completion dates:  two years to 42nd St, six months more to 59th St, a year more to 86th St, and six months more to the Harlem River.49  The governor signed the bill on April 28.53  This bill added the spur continuing up Sixth Ave from 53rd St to 59th St.54 

The Senate passed the New York Elevated Railroad bill on April 25 after some last minute debate including objections by Madden, the advocate of Beach’s plans.55  The Assembly passed it soon after, but Governor Dix kept it for a long time without saying whether he would sign it. 

The Senate railroad committee gave an adverse report on Gross’s alternative city rapid transit bill, to which he agreed, on April 2.56

The long-delayed Eastman bill for a city-owned rapid transit line came to the Assembly floor on April 16, reported out of committee by one vote.  The Times reporter said that the Vanderbilt clique has achieved a substantial victory in stopping the bill so long.  The tactics pursued by opponents of the bill were of the most contemptible character, and were carried out without the least regard to decency or public opinion.  From the first it was evident that their great object was to prevent the bill from being amended, and this they accomplished by steadily voting down an amendment that tended to perfect the act, and by voting in favor of several absurd amendments proposed for the purpose of throwing ridicule on the bill.  Among those latter was one proposed by Mr Kirk, of New-York, that the act take effect in the year 1990 …57

Senator Wight prepared a substitute to the Eastman bill, and when it was introduced into the Assembly on April 24, it prevailed against opposition that was again charged to Vanderbilt.  The Assembly unexpectedly passed it, 79 to 1.52  This surprised everybody, and nobody more than the Chairman of the Railroad Committee himself … there were a few who were under the impression that Vanderbilt did not mean to keep faith with them, and therefore they decided to vote for a bill antagonistic to his.58  But it was in vain, because the bill never reached a vote in the Senate and died at adjournment on April 30. 

The Assembly spent the morning and evening of April 21 on the bills for the Third Ave Railroad and New York and Harlem elevated railways.59  But a few days later, at the same time that the Eastman-Wight city bill passed, something had changed.  For some reason or other— said to be unfavorable intimations from the Governor— Vanderbilt and the Third Avenue Company appear to have abandoned all interest in their plans, and also to have withdrawn their opposition to rival schemes.52  But in another few days, the mysterious forces changed again, and the bills came to a vote. 

Of the Third Ave bill, Eastman said he had never seen a bill so strongly supported, apparently without any reason.  The Common Council and the whole press of New York were opposed to it, and no one but the Company asked for it.  Of the Fourth Ave bill, he was more opposed to this bill, if possible, than to the other one.  Hamilton Fish feared that orders had been received, and that members were bound to carry them out.60

The Assembly passed both bills on April 28, by nearly identical votes, 71 to 31 for the Third Ave Quick Transit, and 68 to 32 for the Fourth Ave Quick Transit.61  But the Senate never voted on them, and they too died at adjournment. 

Also passed by both houses was the bill for Alfred Speer’s travelling sidewalk, an elevated railway with a continuous belt of benches and small huts that went up one side of a street and down the other.  It had passed one house in 1873.  It should be stated, however, that Mr Speer no longer calls it a ‘travelling sidewalk’.  He thinks that calling it that in the first place was what killed it.62  Governor Dix vetoed it. 

Work done on the Broadway Underground and Gilbert Elevated

The editor of Scientific American reported in August, Railway men, who have examined the matter, say that the Broadway Underground Railway route is the best railway line in the world.  It passes through the heart of the city, in the center of all travel and traffic, the resident population along its line being greater than that of any corresponding distance in London, or any other city in the world.  More factually, he added, Surveys for the Broadway Underground Railway, made to accommodate the enlarged works authorized by the late Legislature, have lately been executed, and we hope before long to place before our readers some of the plans and estimates of the work.63  The surveys by G S Greene were for Broadway from South Ferry to 59th St + from 23d St to Grand Central Depot via Madison Ave, for a cost of $275.64  Greene had inspected the original Beach tunnel when he was with the Croton Aqueduct Department, and he had been one of those speaking in favor of it before the governor in 1871.

The surveys are all that the company did in 1874.  The editor of Scientific American wrote in November that it is believed that construction will soon begin.65  But in December a Times reporter wrote, It may be said that it is practically dead.  Nothing has been done, and there are no prospects of ever carrying out the work.12

The Gilbert Elevated company announced in mid-year that a contract is to be made for the iron-work,66 but nothing happened.  The Secretary of the company said in December that the panic had upset their arrangements, that many persons who had promised to subscribe money to carry on the undertaking drew out of the enterprise, and that on account of the financial depression since existing they were not able to realize sufficient funds to justify them in commencing the work … ‘Tell them at THE TIMES office’, said this official, ‘if they know any one having money to spare, to bring it down here and we’ll take it from there’.12 

The governor vetoes the New York Elevated bill

Governor Dix kept holding the New York Elevated bill.  At a mass meeting on June 22 headed by Abraham S Hewitt, iron merchant, it was resolved to ask the governor to sign it.  Simeon Church, a promoter of the city owned rapid transit line, said that if the city owned line was not to be built, then he favored the elevated lines.  It was a pity, he said, that a city containing a population of 1,000,00 should not have better means of rapid transit.67  The company’s engineer David Wyman said, Their objects were safety, the least injury and the greatest speed practicable, and remuneration to capital invested.  With a double track to the Harlem River, and with facilities to run every three minutes both ways if necessary, from 80,000 to 100,000 passengers could be carried daily, or from 30,000,000 to 35,000,000 annually ; and this number clearly would give all the remuneration the most exacting could require.68  The New York Elevated Railroad carried 70,000 in the month of June.69 

At the meeting, Charles T Harvey spoke against his old company, and attributed to its management fraud and ignorance, saying that there was something in the act that was not obvious, but he did not say what it was.  Wyman explained it away as the result of Harvey having some outstanding claims against the company.68

In November, the city Board of Aldermen passed a resolution asking the governor to sign the bill.70  It did not look very likely at this point. 

Dix finally vetoed the bill in December.  He was uneasy about the continual discussion between some of the original projectors of the enterprise and its present managers over what rights were acquired by the mortgage sale of April, 1871.  Separately, he thought the extension to South Ferry would disfigure Battery Park, and similarly that the proposed branch to Central Park would ruin some cross street between Ninth and Eight Avenues.71 

But Dix also wondered about the provision for permission to build a second track.  If the company possesses any power under the acts of incorporation, or under the Sheriff’s sale, it has the right to construct an elevated railroad with double track from the southern termination of Greenwich street, near Battery place, along both sides of that street and along both sides of Ninth avenue to the Harlem River.  The Governor is not, he says, aware that this right is called into question in any quarter …71

Why was the company asking to build a second track?  Is this what Harvey was alluding to, and if so what constrained him from simply saying so?  Besides defining the extensions, the bill also restated the original franchise of the company, as if the owners thought it would be wise to have that granted all over again. 

It was almost unnoticed by this date that the original act had required the West Side and Yonkers Patented Railway to build to the Harlem River within five years of approval by the commissioners.  The approval was filed July 2, 1868,72 and the road had not been completed by July 2, 1873. 

The company’s response to the veto was that the act would have allowed them to change the plan of construction in some respects, but as the bill had been vetoed, they should try and get along under the old act.  They would now proceed with an extension further north to 59th St, and with construction of passing sidings at several locations, to allow cars to be run every ten minutes.71 

The combined New York Elevated and Hudson River Railroads formed the fastest commuter line out of New York.  Schedules were closely coordinated.  Local trains from 30th St Depot stopped at Manhattanville (130th St) and Washington Heights (the foot of 164th St) in Manhattan on their way to Westchester County.  A Times editorial in early 1875 praised the service.  A passenger can leave the Battery by this road at 4:40 in the evening, and be at Dobb’s Ferry— a distance probably of twenty-four miles from the starting point— in about one hour.  If the same traveler intends to go by the Forty-second Street Station, he must allow at least fifty minutes to the station, and fifty minutes more to his destination or an hour and forty minutes, and more often two hours.  Nothing in rapid transit in the future will probably ever surpass what is now being accomplished by the Greenwich street road.  What is done, too, is done comfortably.  No over-crowding is permitted— probably for reasons of prudence— the cars are warmed, and of course light and airy ; the seats are convenient, and though the continual prospect of second-floor bedroom arrangements of the tenement houses is not enlivening, yet the journey is a quick and agreeable one.  Eighteen minutes from the Battery to Thirtieth street is certainly not slow transit.  The residents of Yonkers, Hastings, and Dobb’s Ferry are really nearer their places of business than New-Yorkers living above Fiftieth street, and have in addition a much more agreeable conveyance.73  Eighteen minutes was a speed-up from the earlier twenty-five minutes.  In travel time, Grand Central Depot was two to three times as far from the Battery as 30th St Depot, and in addition the running time to points on the Hudson River Railroad was longer, possibly because of speed restrictions on Fourth Ave.  No wonder the commuter trains still went to 30th St.

The first known serious collision of a street vehicle into an elevated railway pillar took place in May.  The horses pulling a heavily-loaded truck were startled while passing under the abandoned Morris St station platform.  The wagon hit a support column of the station, and the platform fell to the street, causing fatal injuries to the driver, who died in the hospital.  At the inquest it was ruled that the platform had been in an insecure condition.74 

The Fourth Ave Improvement

Work on the Fourth Avenue Improvement north of Grand Central continued throughout the year. 

The dangers of tunnel working were demonstrated by a crash on January 20 in the old Mount Prospect Tunnel near 90th St.  A train that was stopped in the tunnel was hit in the rear by a following train because the tunnel was filled with exhausted steam making the rear lanterns of the first train impossible to see.75  The conditions were eerily similar to the infamous crash on January 8, 1902, that led to the law eliminating steam working on the Fourth Ave Improvement— but by that time, the alternative of electric power was available.76  The crash was blamed on a signalman allowing the second train into the tunnel less than five minutes after the first.  The one dead was Robert E Launitz, a sculptor, who had gone out onto the rear platform with a friend, both curious to see why the train had stopped.  When the rear brakeman swinging a signal lantern suddenly ran forward, they did too.  The friend testified that he called out ‘Come, Bob, here’s a smashup’.  Both reached the front of the last car but suffered serious injuries when they were thrown in the collision.77


[ 11-6 ]

‘The Black Tunnel at 88th St’.  The scene of the collision, from the Daily Graphic, January 22, 1874.


The New York and Harlem had split into two divisions for passenger service.  All the steam trains, including those of the Hudson River Railroad and the New York, New Haven and Hartford, terminated at Grand Central.  For passenger travel, the rest of the railway south to City Hall was now exclusively a streetcar route that came down Madison Ave, across on 42nd St, and then down the old railway.  But incredibly freight cars continued to run downtown for some time, pulled individually by horses to a depot at Franklin and Centre Sts.  The horses sometimes became fatigued with overloaded freight cars and had to rest for ten to fifteen minutes, or even be relieved by fresh horses, during which time the track was obstructed.  The depot was often clogged with cars, and that and trucks surrounding it would block the New York and Harlem streetcars and the Bleecker St line streetcars on the other side of the block at Elm St.78  At the junction of Union square, Fourth avenue, and Fourteenth street, a deadlock of vehicles and foot passengers is occasionally enlivened by the appearance of a huge freight car drawn by a strong team, and this monster crashes through the crowd like a thunderbolt … One who hesitates is lost.79  Steam freight trains likewise ran through the Fourth Ave improvement tunnels for at least a few years after they opened. 

By July the old tunnel between 68th St and 71st St was being removed.  The work of taking down the old tunnel is by no means a light one, for so firm and compact is the masonwork that every blast exploded brings down a solid mass.  This débris is valueless, the cement adhering so closely to the bricks as to render them useless for building.  This tunnel … will have its road-bed depressed fourteen feet below its present level …  At the Mount Prospect Tunnel, two one-track side tunnels were being added.  In an arrangement reminiscent of the legend of John Henry, the eastern tunnel was being driven by an air-drill while the western one was worked by hand.  There is no cessation of work in these tunnels, fresh gangs of men relieve one another, day and night, and thus the works are being pushed forward as rapidly as possible.  The broken stone was taken away to be crushed for ballast and to make concrete.80 

The contractors are wealthy men, and have now in their employ fully 2,000 men, including day and night gangs.  The street archways will be built exclusively of brown sandstone, which is very dense, and is now quarried from the neighborhood of New-Haven.  The copings and parapet walls are to be of granite brought from the quarries close to New-London.  The gneiss rock, found at Hartsdale, Westchester County, will be used for a portion of the walls, while the arches will be built of red brick, burnt at Peekskill, on the Hudson.  Between 30,000,000 and 40,000,000 bricks will be used in these works  …

Some difficulty is experienced from the sewerage, all of which has to be removed and placed elsewhere ; also one water-main, extending from Eightieth-street to Forty-second-street, will have to be moved to Madison-avenue.  This is one of the great water arteries of the City, being fully four feet in diameter.80 

There were injuries, and deaths.  On July 24, a worker was crushed by falling rock on the side of the cut.  Before he died, the worker reportedly said, I do not blame anyone in particular for the unfortunate accident.  On September 29 the Times reported that there had been ninety-seventh deaths so far for the year.  The two for the previous day were a man walking on the track at 123rd St (reason not given), and a man attempting to cross the track at an unstated location.81

On June 5, Mayor Havemeyer refused payment of the latest installment of city money for the project, on the grounds that it was unconstitutional for public funds to be used to benefit a company.82  It was argued in court78 but the ruling made on August 17 was, There is no such limitation in the taxing power of the Legislature— the law of 1872 was valid.84  The ruling would apply to city aid to any rapid transit project. 

Isaac Buckhout, the chief engineer of the New York and Harlem, died late in September, and so did not see the project to completion.85

Scientific American ran a series of nine articles on THE UNDERGROUND RAILWAY,  NEW YORK CITY from November 1874 to February 1875.  The Underground Railway in New York is projected to run from the Harlem River, on the north, down through the heart of the city, under Fourth avenue and Broadway, to the Battery, 8¾ miles.  It will, in course of time, naturally have other extensions, among the most obvious of which are tunnels under the North and East rivers, to Jersey City and Brooklyn.  This description combined the New York and Harlem project, nearing completion, with the Broadway Underground Railway and other ideas of Beach, of which nothing had been begun, as if they were one large project, wishful thinking on Beach’s part.  The existing northerly section of underground railway … is now almost finished, and is expected to be opened for traffic in January.  The southerly portion, known as the Broadway Underground Railway, from the Grand Central Depot to the Battery, was finally authorized by the Legislature, in May, 1874, and will be pushed as soon as the financial requisites, now in progress, are settled.86  But after this somewhat misleading introduction, the series confined itself mainly to details of the Fourth Ave Improvement. 

The writer suggested that the construction near the Normal College at 69th St (later called Hunter College) proved that a tunnel could be built under Broadway without disturbing other important masonry buildings.  Not the least injury to the college walls ensued.87

But the angle of repose of the soil was not disturbed, and the stability of the College building was therefore at no time endangered, although, at the time, it appeared otherwise to the inexperienced eye. … The successful carrying along the front of the College of so great a work as this underground railway, the outer walls of which at this point occupy a space of 78 feet in width, while the foundations are 33 feet below the street surface, is an example of the facility with which such works may be prosecuted in New York city without danger to adjoining buildings.  … Fear has been expressed in some quarters that the building of the Underground Railway under our great thoroughfare of Broadway, which, it will be remembered, was finally authorized by the Legislature in May last, might interfere with some of the adjacent buildings ; but all such objections are idle, in view of the successful completion of the present great underground railway on Fourth avenue, where the works are much wider and often deeper than will be required on the Broadway line.  The width of the Broadway Underground Railway will not exceed 32 feet, whereas 78 feet is the width of the work on Fourth avenue in front of the College.88 


[ 11-7 ]

Temporary wooden trestle over the Harlem flats during construction of the stone viaduct, probably 1874. Looking north, with Harlem in the distance and Mount Morris rising over the rear of the train.


[ 11-8 ]

Another view of the temporary wooden trestle at 108th St looking south, showing the swampy ground.


The Hudson River tunnel

The next underground railway project in Manhattan was begun in November 1874 in Jersey City.  A man called De Witt Clinton Haskin, inspired by seeing compressed air used in constructing the foundation of the Eads Bridge in St Louis, made the decision in 1871 to build a tunnel under the Hudson River.  He was not even an engineer, although he had been concerned in railroad construction, wrote an anonymous chronicler in 1905, but was a man of engineering turn and enterprise, of long foresight and undaunted courage.  Haskin believed it would be possible to dig under the river using compressed air but no shield.  And so convinced was he of the merit of his proposed enterprise that he would not seek state or municipal aid, or the aid of the great railroads centering in Jersey City, but would do it all himself, out of his own means and the means of friends who might have faith in the enormous values he proposed to create.  It is almost unnecessary to say that he died in poverty.89

The work done in November 1874 was confined to the sinking of a shaft, of 30 feet inside diameter, in the line of 15th St, Jersey City.  After it had been sunk twenty feet, with perfected brick walls four feet in thickness, the further prosecution of the work was enjoined at the suit of the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad Company.90  This halted work until 1879, but the project, in fits and starts, led to what is now the midtown PATH rapid transit tunnel, which opened in 1908.  The peculiar location of the PATH river crossing between the former Lackawanna terminal at Hoboken and the Erie terminal (now Newport/Pavonia) was determined by the location of Haskin’s shaft of 1874 and the river tubes built from 1879.  The Lackawanna railroad, which extended to Buffalo with through connections to Chicago, was one of the several trunk railways that terminated at Hudson River tidewater, unable to cross by rail to the city.  They all operated ferry connections.  Haskin was speculating that one or more would pay to run trains to Manhattan through his tunnel, but they were hostile to it. 

Across the East River, the idea of rapid transit took hold in 1873 when the Brooklyn Steam Transit Company was authorized to run from the Fulton Ferry to the south side of Prospect Park (the city line), but despite its promoters’ efforts, nothing came of it.  But the second charter, that of the Brooklyn Elevated, Silent, Safety Railway, May 1874, led nine years later to the first elevated railroad in Brooklyn.91 

The ASCE rapid transit committee

In October the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) appointed a committee to investigate the subject of rapid transit for passengers, consisting of W O Chanute, chief engineer of the Erie Railway; W N Forney, Railway Gazette; Charles K Graham, New York City Department of Docks; Francis Collingwood, assistant engineer of the East River Bridge (Brooklyn Bridge); and Ashbel Welch, Pennsylvania Railroad, replacing Isaac C Buckhout.92

The ASCE committee were the forerunners of the Rapid Transit Commission of 1875 and an inspiration for it.  They began hearing a large number of inventors and promoters with idea for rapid transit.  Among those presented was the Speer plan for a travelling sidewalk, with little houses and chairs set thereon93, as usual promoted by respected businessman and philanthropist Peter Cooper.94  Simeon Church now favored the old four-track Arcade railway plan still being promoted by Melville C Smith.  Gardner’s plan for an elevated along the docks, previously pitched to the Legislature, was presented again.93  The committee continued into 1875. 

The continued need for rapid transit

In December, wrote the editor of the Times, came the yearly outcry on the subject of quick transit for the people of New-York.  Neither age nor familiarity causes the theme to grow stale ; repeated failures cannot daunt the hopeful souls who cry for conveyance between the City Hall and Harlem River in half an hour …  So many plans had come and gone, including the Beach Pneumatic.  But as that subterranean concern remained as stationary as the national monument, it became the turn of the elevated projects to engage public attention.  Speer’s sidewalk secured a temporary notoriety, and the Gilbert Elevated overshadowed, for a while, all the others, as there really seemed a probability that after much legislation, numerous appointments of Commissioners to map out the route, and many confident promises about coming capital, that the thing was really coming at last.  But all fell apart in the Panic;  the scramble of last session for a loan of the City credit gave evidence of the hopelessness of inducing private investors to furnish the people with quick transit just at present

Only one project was worthy of praise.  Meanwhile one rather shaky concern had actually covered the distance between the Battery and Thirtieth street.  Abandoned by its first projectors the despised Ninth avenue road had been bought up for a song, and after a brave struggle against public diffidence, had been successfully demonstrated to be secure and reasonable rapid.  So, while the big corporations were fighting over routes and charters, the Ninth Avenue Company had actually, without the aid of a cent of public money, made their experiment pay, and stepped to the front as the only successful bidder for the suffrages of the friends of quick transit.95

1 Times, 1874 Jan 20.
2 Railroad Gazette, 1874 Jan 24.
3 Times, 1874 Jan 23.
4 Times, 1874 Jan 30.
5 Times, 1874 Feb 4.
6 Times, 1874 Feb 6.
7 Times, 1874 Feb 6.
8 Times, 1874 Feb 9.
9 Times, 1874 Feb 13.
10 Horn, roster.  White, ‘Spunky little devils’.
11 Times, 1875 Apr 14.
12 Times, 1874 Dec 26.
13 Cunningham & De Hart, History, part 1: 8.
14 World, 1874 Feb 5.
15 Times, 1874 Feb 5.
16 Tribune, 1874 Feb 4.
17 Times, 1874 Feb 6.
18 Times, 1874 Feb 8.
19 Times, 1874 Feb 14.
20 Times, 1874 Feb 19.
21 Times, 1874 Feb 21.
22 Times, 1874 Feb 19.
23 Times, 1874 Feb 24.
24 Times, 1874 Apr 1.
25 Times, 1874 Jan 22.
26 World, 1874 Feb 20.
27 Times, 1874 Jan 27.
28 Tribune, 1874 Jan 22.
29 World, 1874 Mar 11.
30 Times, 1874 Mar 11.
31 Tribune, 1874 Mar 11.
32 Times, 1874 Mar 19.
33 Times, 1874 Mar 21.
34 Times, 1874 Mar 24.
35 minutes, undated, late 1874. Museum of the City of New York.
36 Documentary History, 22.  Times, 1874 Feb 5.
37 Tribune, 1874 Feb 5.
38 Times, 1874 Feb 20.
39 Times, 1874 Mar 21.
40 World, 1874 Mar 21.
41 Times, 1874 Mar 21.
42 Times, 1874 Mar 27.
43 Times, 1874 Mar 27.
44 Times, 1874 Mar 25.
45 Manufacturer and Builder, 1874 Feb.
46 Times, 1874 Mar 26.
47 Evening Mail, 1874 Mar 26, quoted in Times, 1874 Mar 27.
48 Times, 1874 Mar 31.
49 Times, 1874 Apr 11, and World, Tribune.
50 Times, 1874 Apr 12, Apr 25.
51 Walker, Fifty Years, 92.
52 Tribune, 1874 Apr 25.
53 Times, 1874 Apr 28.
54 Documentary History, 680-681.
55 Times, 1874 Apr 26.
56 World, 1874 Apr 3.
57 Times, 1874 Apr 17.
58 World, 1874 Apr 26.
59 Times, 1874 Apr 22, much detail.
60 World, 1874 Apr 29.
61 Tribune, 1874 Apr 29.
62 World, 1874 Feb 4.
63 Scientific American, 1874 Aug 15.
64 receipt from G S Greene Jr, July 1 1874.  Museum of the City of New York.
65 Scientific American, 1874 Nov 14.
66 Manufacturer and Builder, 1874 Jul .
67 Tribune, 1874 Jun 23.
68 Times, 1874 Jun 23, also Tribune.
69 Times, 1875 Jul 7 1875 not 4.
70 Times, 1874 Nov 10.
71 Times, 1874 Dec 26.
72 Documentary History, 1389-1390.
73 Times, 1875 Feb 13.
74 Times, 1874 May 19, May 30.
75 Times, 1874 Jan 23 .
76 Condit, Port of New York, v2, 6.
77 Times, 1874 Feb 24.  The sculptor was the 25-year-old son of the better-known German-American monumental sculptor also named Robert E Launitz (1806-1870).
78 Times, 1874 May 17.
79 Times, 1875 Mar 5.
80 Times, 1874 Jul 14.
81 Times, 1874 Jul 31, Sep 29.
82 Times, 1874 Jun 6.
83 Times, 1874 Jul 1.
84 Times, 1874 Aug 18.
85 Times. 1874 Oct 1.
86 Scientific American, 1874 Nov 14.
87 Scientific American, 1874 Dec 12 .
88 Scientific American, 1874 Dec 18.
89 Chamber of Commerce, Rapid transit, 27-28.
90 Scientific American, 1875 Apr 3.
91 Documentary History, 200-201.
92 Times, 1874 Oct 16.
93 Scientific American, 1874 Nov 14.
94 Times, 1874 Oct 23.
95 Times, 1874 Dec 18.

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