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Governor Tilden in charge

The city and state government went back to the Democrats in 1875, but to reformers.  Samuel J Tilden became governor and William H Wickham mayor.  While considered an honest reformer, Tilden was criticized by some for not speaking out against Tammany corruption earlier than he did.  Tilden had been deeply involved in party politics.  The Republican-leaning Times editors wrote, Mr TILDEN was, throughout this period, as quiet as a mouse.  Or, if he did appear in public, it was generally in a position which led people to suppose he was on the side of the Tweed gang … As Chairman of the State Committee, he must have known that TWEED was carrying elections solely by fraud and robbery … We never questioned the fact that Mr TILDEN all this time in his heart detested the Tammany gang— but he took good care never to say so.1  But he jumped on the reform bandwagon as soon as it started, and became a leader in the movement, to his political gain. 

For the first time in many years, the Legislature of 1875 was not besieged by companies with rapid transit schemes for the city.  It was not from any lessening of the need, but because of a constitutional amendment that took effect on January 1.  This amendment provides that the legislature shall not pass a private or local bill granting to any corporation or individual the right to lay down railroad tracks or granting to any private corporation, association or individual any exclusive privilege, immunity or franchise whatever …2  Instead general laws were to be made, but that had not yet been done. 

Activists in the city began pressing for city or state involvement in the construction of rapid transit roads, and referring to the public good and prosperity that had resulted from the Erie Canal, the Croton Aqueduct, and Central Park.3

Mayor Wickham mentioned the problem late in his inaugural address.  The question of speedy communication between the extremes of the City is forcing itself upon public attention … Charters have been granted by the Legislature, conferring valuable franchises, but from these no advantage to the citizens generally has resulted … All that I can do, acting within the powers conferred upon me by law, shall be willingly done toward accomplishing this much-needed improvement.  He noted the ongoing American Society of Civil Engineers investigation, and praised the two rapid transit projects that had been begun, the New York and Harlem north of Grand Central and the New York Elevated Railroad.  Regarding the Harlem, his remarks seem influenced by the way the recent Scientific American series treated the Broadway Underground Railway as its extension to City Hall. 

As provided by the law authorizing the improvement, two of the tracks are to be devoted exclusively to rapid transit within the City, and as it is probable that the Harlem River Railroad Company will soon extend the four tracks from the Harlem River northerly to the new City limits, we may soon have rapid transit from the northern boundary of the City to Forty-second street— a distance of ten miles— and over a route which is nearly the axial line if the City.  If this work could be extended southerly to the City Hall, three and one-half miles, the problem of rapid transit would be partly solved.

Upon the west side of the City we have the Elevated Railroad, which, running in connection with trains on the Hudson River Railroad, brings the western portion of the northern part of the island into easy communication with the southern part of the City.  I shall watch with interest all developments in reference to this important project …4

The ASCE rapid transit committee

The ASCE committee’s report came in February.  They favored elevated railways, contradicting the 1866 Senate committee which they now said had unfortunately recommended underground railways.  The key elements of a good plan were, they said, safety, accessibility, cheapness of construction, adequacy, recognition of existing interests, and protection of public and private interests. 

They considered that underground railway plans failed primarily on cost, which they put at two million dollars a mile, based on the Central Underground estimate of $17,625,301 for nine miles of double track and the Arcade Railway estimate of $2,096,950 per mile of four-track road.  The old objections were recited about disruption during construction, about re-routing sewers, water mains and gas pipes, and about portions below the high water mark.  Those had all been answered years before.  The smoke would make expensive mechanical ventilation necessary, and the patronage might be limited by the unwillingness of many persons to travel underground

The commissioners admitted that there were also objections to elevated railways, and made a list and answered them.  Iron viaducts were stable and permanent.  The danger of derailments must be guarded against but it could be done.  Your Committee freely confesses that it does not know what the effect of a successful rapid transit railroad will be upon the values of real estate along its line but it might be as good as bad.  The invasion of privacy at windows is part of the price that must be paidVery few horses are frightened by the New York Elevated Railroad.  The posts may obstruct traffic somewhat.  The structure might not be ornamental in the artistic sense of that word but it also need not be hideously ugly

Even the confessedly inferior construction of the New York Elevated Railroad had proved itself safe for almost two million passengers.  The cost, based on New York Elevated and Gilbert Elevated estimates, was under one million dollars a mile for double track. 

The right of way must be given to them, over streets selected for that purpose, and they should be operated by locomotives and cars … made very much lighter than ordinary rolling stock.  The commission recommended two elevated roads east and west of Central Park as a start.  Another effort should be made to induce private capital to build them.  If this fails, they might be taken up by the City and built as municipal works.  The needed roads can be built in one year.5

The government commission that met later in the year was to thank the ASCE for their exhaustive and admirable report.6 

Raising capital for rapid transit

James M Drake, one of the two partners of the Drake Brothers investment banking firm, proposed in January a new method of financing rapid transit roads that would make it easier to raise private funds.  He felt that the problem is not, as has been supposed, the want of capital, but the doubt which has always existed whether the enterprise, in whatever form it might be undertaken, would prove beyond a doubt remunerative.  His proposal was that the government and others immediately interested in its success should together put up half the needed capital with no guarantee of return until the private capital required for the completion of the work should be secured and remunerated.  This method, he said, was being used by three national governments to finance the Gotthard Tunnel in Switzerland, the vital link in a north-south main line from Germany to Italy.  In Europe the risked money was known as enfant perdu.  Drake offered $1,000 of his own to start a fund.7

Others said that the use of city funds was impossible because of constitutional limitations.  But the idea of a private fund took off.  Meetings were held by various civic associations, and other wealthy men offered amounts from $1,000 to $5,000.  Some said they wanted to speed their own journeys from country homes to the city, and others pointed out the benefits to uptown real estate values.  Inevitably, a commission was proposed to handle the funds.8  It quickly became considered a virtue to keep this new movement out of the control of politicians and in the hands of commercial men.9 

Mayor Wickham urged the Board of Aldermen to form a committee, writing, The recent amendments to the Constitution seem to prohibit the Legislature from granting a special charter for construction of such roads as are here contemplated, and to forbid the Municipality from contributing from its own funds to such an enterprise in the hands of private parties.  The general laws which the amendments to the Constitution contemplate to meet the cases in which special legislation is prohibited have not yet been enacted or framed ; but so far as the scope and terms of such laws can be foreseen the power of legislation on this subject will in effect be ultimately devolved upon the Common Council.10  The ASCE committee offered to share their research with the Common Council’s committee.11

An unusual joint committee of the city’s Board of Aldermen and the state Assembly met on February 6 to hear comment on rapid transit.  Simeon Church told them that the city ‘lost’ $23,000,000 in tax revenues for lack of rapid transit, and he proposed a general bill to allow cities to construct rapid transit railroads.  Other speakers made other suggestions on how the city might legally and constitutionally build.  Private interests, said Samuel B Ruggles, had built nothing but that little beast of an elevated railroad in Greenwich street.  A Mr Macomber who said he opposed city construction was asked to laughter whether he was a relative of Rip van Winkle.12

About two weeks later, Charles H Roosevelt of the Chamber of Commerce, who had become a leader in the Drake ‘deferred capital stock fund’ movement, said that the Railroad Law of 1850 would take care of rapid transit, but for the provision in it against construction and operation, upon or along any of the streets or avenues of the City of New-York, except under the authority and subject to the regulations and restrictions which the Legislature may grant and provide.  He proposed that the language be amended, to state in, upon, over, or under any of the streets of any city in the state, and upon such terms as may be prescribed by the Mayor and Common Council of the cities.13

Under the influence of the Drake movement and the ASCE report, proposed legislation began to appear in Albany for a general rapid transit law.  Senator Robertson proposed a bill on February 26 to allow construction of elevated railways that involved the promoters filing papers with the city and state when a minimum amount of capital was paid in.  It specifically excluded Broadway, Fifth Ave, and Central Park in New York, exclusions that would appear later in the bills that passed.14

The committee of the Board of Aldermen reported on rapid transit on March 5.  The Times headline said it all:  THE MAJORITY FAVOR THE BUILDING OF A ROAD WITH PRIVATE CAPITAL— CAPITALISTS TO HAVE THE FIRST OPPORTUNITY TO SECURE POSSESSION— IF NOT TAKEN IN SIX MONTHS THE CITY TO UNDERTAKE THE ENTERPRISE— THE MINORITY WISH TO MAKE IT A PUBLIC WORK.  They wanted the state legislature to pass an act permitting the mayor to appoint three commissioners from the Board of Aldermen, for terms up to three years, to fix or designate the route or avenues through which the roads will pass, to acquire the right of way for the use of the railway in the name of the City, or in the name of such persons or corporations to whom the Mayor and Commissioners may give a license, to set fares, and determine the manner of constructing them.  Five of the Board were to go to Albany to talk to the legislators about it.15

Improvements on the New York Elevated Railroad

Near the start of the year, New York Elevated began strengthening the elevated structure by adding truss-rods to the beams and braces to each side of the posts.16  A trade publication, Railroad Gazette, criticized the latter.  Whatever may be the object of these struts, their actual effect is the transmission of unbalanced longitudinal side thrusts to the columns, which bend quite perceptibly, from the direction of approaching trains.  These columns are ill suited to withstand side thrusts, and the frequent application of such can hardly fail to prove injurious.  As every train bends all the columns over which it passes, more or less, it may be found a wise economy, in prolonging the life of the structure, to entirely remove these struts, which have just been attached at no small expense.17 

The strengthening was in preparation for laying a proper railroad track, by placing wooden crossties and rails on top of the existing structure.16  Up to this point the wheels ran directly on the top of the beams, which were bolted to the columns, and the least settling of the foundations of the latter threw the rails out of line, so that the track soon became zigzag, and the cars subject to so much oscillation as to make it dangerous, notwithstanding the extra wide flange adopted.  A system of adjustable bolts had not solved the problem.18

The new track was to be standard railroad gauge, one and a half inches narrower than the original four foot ten inch gauge.  The company also would lay wooden guard rails so that a derailed train would stay on the structure.  For some reason it was stated to the press that the change would make the track the regular gauge of the New York street-cars— 4 feet 8½ inches, so that its trains may run on the ordinary street rails, or inversely, ordinary street-cars may be transported over this road.18  While this would be correct, there is no known proposal for through running with street railways. 

The company were also preparing to start building more passing sidings to increase train frequency.  The sidings would be parts of the second track authorized by the charter, on a separate one-legged structure on the other side of the street from the first track. 

In February, a group of property owners on the west side of Greenwich St brought suit to stop construction of second track past their six lots between Horatio St and Bank St.  It would by the noise of the cars, causing loss of sleep, by the smoke and cinders of the locomotives, and by the necessity of keeping windows closed, inevitably depreciate the value of their property.  Their counsel seems to have been the first outsider to come across the secret that the original charter had expired, and this they argued made the construction unlawful.19  They sought a restraining order based on a now invalid charter, on use of steam engines without legal authorization, and on improper collection of fares.20  The fare set for the West Side and Yonkers Patented Railway in the original 1867 charter was five cents for a distance up to two miles, and one cent for each additional mile or fraction.  The company charged ten cents for all rides.  It took the judge six weeks to decide that a restraining order was not warranted.21

Peter Cooper and some company officials conferred with Mayor Wickham on March 22 about the company’s plans.  Mr Cooper said that the company intends to facilitate rapid transit by relaying their tracks, building new cars, and making such arrangements as will enable them to run cars, if necessary, at a rate of thirty miles an hour.  They were concerned that the mayor was not in favor of the road, but he denied it.22

The line closed around the start of April for track laying and gauge change.  At this time, the press reported that the gauge standardization would make possible through running to the New York and Harlem or any other mainline railroad, another idea not known to have been proposed. 

Two hundred mechanics are engaged upon this branch of the work of alteration, and others are changing the wheels of the engines and cars.  Perhaps the most important improvement is the new switch built in Franklin street.  Heretofore the first switch above the lower terminus has been at Twelfth street, which rendered it necessary for each car coming down to wait at that point till the preceding car had gone down to the lower depot and returned … Now, with the switch at Franklin street, a car may be run every eighteen minutes, and it is the intention of the company to erect yet another switch so that the time may be cut down to ten minutes.  Six new cars and two dummy engines have been added to the rolling stock of the road, and it is expected that the company will resume business next week, possibly on Monday, reported the Times on Wednesday April 14.23.  But service resumed by the end of that same week according to Railroad Gazette, which noted the gauge change, the Franklin St turnout, and the trussing of all the spans.24

The new engines and cars must have been built as standard gauge.  The two engines, Harlem and Tremont, built by New York Elevated itself and by Hampson, Whitehill and Co respectively, officially entered service in May 4, about two weeks after the reopening.  They were joined on May 19 by a third engine, Spuyten Duyvel, built by Brooks, for a total of eight.  The three names were of places in the northern part of the city that the company hoped to reach.  The six new cars made a total of sixteen, maintaining the two-to-one ratio to the small engines.  They were to be the last cars of the drop-center type.25

Just before the line closed, a new station was opened at 14th St on March 15, and the the Little West 12th St station was closed.  On June 14 another new station opened at West 11th St, which, it needs be said, is eight blocks south of 14th St.  The West 11th St station had two platforms, since it was within the first section of second track built in 1874.  There was only one station house and stairway to the street, and passengers reached the other platform by walking across the near track and over a wooden footbridge.26


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West 11th St station: view across the footbridge used by passengers to cross between the platforms, showing the entire length of the main platform on the east side of Greenwich St and the station house with the usual N Y ELEVATED R R curved sign above it.  The platform is at rail height with wooden steps along the track.  As odd as this seems it was a good safety measure because until track was laid with ties it would have been easy to fall through.  There is an outdoor bench straight ahead at the top of the stairs to the street supplementing the waiting room in the station house.  The drugstore on the left appears to be named ‘Hammond’, the former name of this diagonal portion of 11th St.


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West 11th St station: looking north at Perry St (one block south of 11th St) in May 1876.  The columns on the original structure on the right have the very elaborate ‘strengthening’ braces that were added in 1875.  The columns on the left are Wyman’s four-part type, simpler but much heavier.  In the near background is the station footbridge and the platform along the inner side of the second track (passengers did not cross the far track) which runs south from the footbridge.  In the far background the old structure takes the slight curve to the left at Bank St (one block north of 11th St) where the siding ends as it too curves left.  The pollarded tree on the left is on borrowed time.


The New York Elevated Railroad bill

The issue of the charter was a serious one, and the company lobbied for a bill at Albany to correct it, the first rapid transit bill that year.  In the meantime neither the city nor the state challenged the company over its continued operation. 

The bill was well received.  As Senator Seward put it, of the dozens of schemes which had been projected and incorporated by act of the Legislature this was the only one which had done anything whatever of a practical nature, and the bill was simply to perfect the charter and confirm the company in the rights and powers which were originally conferred.  This was an important point under the constitutional amendment:  the bill was a private bill but it was not granting the right to lay tracks.  Implicitly the sense was that the company’s continuing growth where all others had failed was considered justification to extend the time.  Seward said that this bill had been written to answer the objections of the previous year’s bill that had been rejected.27

Both houses passed the bill on May 13, amidst charges of 65 Assemblymen being bribed at $100 each28 and a lobbyist being paid $10,000 to influence the Senate.  The stockholders of the old road were said to be behind the opposition.29  The Board of Aldermen passed a resolution asking the governor to sign the bill, as a measure highly productive of public and private interests, and likely to afford the first practical solution of the problem of rapid transit for this City.30

Action on a Rapid Transit law

The Rapid Transit Association that had been active in 1874 became active again in April, to further the Drake movement.  Those involved were now expecting to raise $3,000,000 for the fund to jumpstart a privately built rapid transit road.  Among the leaders were Peter Cooper, John Jacob Astor, William E Dodge, Charles H Roosevelt, John A Dix, and ironmaker John B Cornell.31 

On April 22, Mayor Wickham formally wrote the Board of Aldermen:  GENTLEMEN:  I urgently invite your attention to the fact that the Legislature has not yet passed an act to provide better transit facilities for rapid transit within this City.  There is now little time left before the Legislature will adjourn, and I respectfully recommend that a memorial be addressed by the Common Council to Legislature again bringing the subject before it for consideration as one of the greatest importance …32  Under the constitutional amendment, new rapid transit projects would have to be created under a general law that did not yet exist, and time was running out for the 1875 legislative session. 

Senators Selkreg and Moore reported a rapid transit bill on May 5 that was based on the Common Council’s report from two months earlier.33  As a general law, it provided that the mayor of any city could appoint three person resident in that city to be Commissioners of Rapid Transit, and that they and the mayor could fix and designate routes, acquire right of way for the city or persons or companies, grant a franchise for the road, authorize construction, set fares, and authorize bridges.  Three important streets were excluded from consideration:  Fifth Ave, Broadway below 59th St, and Fourth Ave.  The bill was rushed through its three readings and the Senate passed it the day after it was reported.34

The next day, the same bill was introduced into the Assembly, Husted moving to substitute it for a bill already pending, thus bringing it immediately to its third and final reading.35  Known now as the Butterfield bill, it was challenged the following day.  Some said it was unconstitutional in two respects:  first that it should not delegate the legislature’s power to grant franchises, and second that it should require that consent be obtained from the owners of one half the value of property along the route.  Others objected to the singular ‘railway’ being used instead of the plural.36

The debate spilled over to a showdown the next week on May 12.  There was an immense lobby in attendance of street railway men including Jacob Sharp himself, all of whom were here to ‘beat’ the bill unless it could be amended to suit them, and also of city council members favoring the bill.  Controversial amendments had been added providing for the building of a rapid transit road below Forty-second street in Fourth Ave and for the extension of the track of any rapid transit road now in operation, so as to connect with any other rapid transit road or depot.  The Senate version prohibited building in Fourth Ave, so the difference would force the bill into conference committee.  Senator Daly argued that the amendments were intended to stall the bill until the session ran out, a tactic seen in previous years.  The lobby, then as now, was filled with people who were in the interest of the present street railroads, who were the most persistent and powerful opponents of rapid transit and who had invariably succeeded in killing the rapid-transit measures proposed or in so amending them as to leave them impractical or useless.  Daly still held out hopes for an underground railway extension of the New York and Harlem to City Hall.  Husted said that Vanderbilt no longer objected to a lower Fourth Ave route.  The Assembly passed the bill with the amendments, 73 to 31.37

Insiders said the plan of some members was to be able to tell the public that they voted in favor, knowing the amendments would cause defeat in conference.  But to their disgust and astonishment, the stipulated compensation for their services is understood to have been subsequently refused by the disbursing agent of the horse-car companies on the ground that they had failed to fulfill their contract, which was to kill the bill outright.  This unexpected turn in their affairs instantly converted a number of these members, and several of the most notorious of them were heard to declare indignantly this morning (after the vote) that the people of New-York had suffered too long in the matter at the hands of the Legislature.  Finding that this change had come over the House, or, at least, over the marketable portion of it, opponents moved to ask the Senate to return the bill to the Assembly, from which it would probably never emerge alive, supposedly to reconsider the amendments.  But the attempt was defeated.38

The changes did not stop the bill.  The Senate only delayed a day while the amendments were printed up, passing the New York Elevated Railroad bill in the meantime, and then ratified the bill as amended.  The bill was sent to the Governor.39  But the Moore bill was not to become the Rapid Transit Act of 1875. 

The Rapid Transit Act

James W Husted, of the Assembly, introduced another rapid transit bill on the same day that the Moore bill was ratified, May 14.  This was a very late date to bring an important bill.  The legislature were already rushing through remaining business in order to reach adjournment.  Only the peculiar importance of a proposal said to have originated with the governor himself brought it into consideration.40  It was not entirely new, since it had languished in committee for months.  The Attorney General had already said that it was the only bill he had seen under which a company would not have to spend more per mile in lawsuits than in construction expenses.41  Many called it the governor’s bill, but it would be known later as the Husted Act. 

In the Husted bill, five Rapid Transit Commissioners were to be appointed by the governor, not the mayor, whenever fifty tax-payers of a city proposed the need for rapid transit.  The Commission would determine the necessity, and fix the routes over, under, through, or across the streets, avenues, places, or lands, with the exception of such as are already occupied by an elevated or underground railway in actual operation, or by public parks or buildings, and excepting Fifth-ave, Broadway below Fifty-ninth-st, in the City of New York.  The consent of the local authorities is first to be obtained as well as that of the owners of one-half in value of the property bounded by the road, or in default of the latter that of three Commissioners appointed by the Supreme Court, as provided for in the Constitution.  This language was well stated to meet objections to the earlier bills.  It was noted with approval that it did not include ‘upon’ streets, so that street railways were not part of the scope of the act.  From the time of their organization, the Commissioners had 60 days to determine the routes, and 90 days to decide on the plans submitted, the time for completion and the fares to be charged.  Finally within 120 days they would establish a company to build the routes, determining the amount of capital needed and the number of shares, and incorporate it.  If there was underground construction, the company might temporarily move surface tracks but must restore them and the street surface as soon as possible.40  The bill made no provision for the city to construct or operate the road.  If the company formed did not raise enough capital to build, nothing would be built. 

The Rapid Transit Association resolved to ask the governor to sign the Husted bill if it passed, because it was very perfectly prepared, establishing a better system than any other of the bills that we have seen, but if it did not pass, they would ask him to sign the Moore bill, which itself they thought would attract millions of dollars of capital to an approved project.42  The Tribune editors liked the Husted bill.  It is simple and practical in its provisions ; it gives apparently, and we think really, no opportunity for political jobbery or corruption.  It is not the work of novices or enthusiasts, but of men of sober judgment and experience …  There is no reason we should not have the best measure attainable … The law is a good one, just, honest, and business-like …43

Tension grew because the bill was scheduled to come to a vote the day before the expected adjournmant for the year.  Rumors are already current here to the effect that the measure is to be killed, not by negative votes, for those who have already recorded themselves in favor of other and less worthy bills could hardly justify such a course, but by the more dangerous because insidious policy of delay.41 

Discussion of the Husted bill was of the dryest and most uninteresting order, the main subjects of debate being the shaping of amendments calculated to protect the interests of the horse railroad companies, and the efforts made by various Representatives … to exempt the counties which they represent from the provisions of the act.  The editor of the Times called the debate a running fire of amendments designed to kill it.44

The Assembly passed the Husted bill on May 18 by 100 to none.  Under an amendment passed 66 to 28, the commissioners would be appointed by the mayor instead of the governor.45  Governor Tilden had said days earlier that he had no objection to such a change.46 

The bill was introduced into the Senate the next day by Robertson.  Arguments began.  Some did not like a general law because no legislation of the kind was demanded by rural districts.  Some did not like the indecent haste and asked who was putting up the job.  Senator Madden of the Railroad Committee, previous champion of the Beach Pneumatic, professed no understanding of the extraordinary feeling behind the bill, and suggested that Robertson had not favored rapid transit until certain persons were taken into a certain room and talked to.  But those in favor said it had been discussed as much as the Moore bill.  Amendments were made.47

Senator Woodin wanted to add that if routes designated by the commissioners coincided with routes covered by the charter of an existing company, then that company must build and operate some portion of its road under the old charter with six months, or else fall under the new law.  The commissioners could designate routes for existing roads to connect with other railroads or ferries, with all the same rights as if the connections formed a portion of the route first designated.  This amendment was accepted, but allowing twelve months not six for the existing company to build.47  A few other amendments were proposed and some carried.  One added the Boulevard (Broadway north of 59th St) and St Nicholas Ave to the prohibited streets.  Another exempted companies already operating from the time limit on old charters.48

Most of the amendments were very favorable to the New York Elevated Railroad.  The exemption of companies already operating protected the unbuilt portion of their route north.  But the great stroke was the provision about adding connecting lines to other railroads and ferries as if they were part of the original charter.  The company had had lobbyists in Albany a week earlier, promoting the bill to perfect the old charter.  The amendments look like their work.  Whether the senators understood their impact is not known. 

The Senate passed the bill, 19 to 9, on May 20.48  It now had to go back to the Assembly because of the amendments.  Time was short.  The following day the Assembly appointed a conference committee, which reported within hours, accepting most of the amendments including those described above.  But now this new compromise version needed to be voted on by both houses.  The Senate accepted the conference version, 24 to 6, the same day,49 and the Assembly passed it the next morning, again 100 to none.50  And then shortly after noon the legislature adjourned for the year.  The bill had just made it through.  This was the Rapid Transit Act of 1875, known also as the Husted Act. 

Petitions for a Rapid Transit Commission

Governor Tilden signed the Rapid Transit Act on June 18.  Before he signed it, he signed the New York Elevated Railroad bill.  Tilden drew attention to the order, saying that it meant that its provisions should be controlled by the general law wherever the two are in conflict, on the principle that a later law supersedes an earlier one.  He then officially vetoed the Moore bill, since the Husted Act took its place.51

In accordance with the Rapid Transit Act, fifty taxpayers needed to state under oath before a judge that there was a need for rapid transit.  Husted himself drew up a suitable petition form, and arranged for it be available at two judges’ chambers.  Fifty-four taxpayers signed it on the morning of June 19, and Husted hand-carried the papers to Mayor Wickham before noon.52

Husted’s petitions stated, almost quoting the language of the Act, that there is need in the City and County of New-York of a steam railway (entirely within said City) for the transportation of passengers, mails, and freight, and requested certain extensions of the New York Elevated Railroad line to connect with other railroads and ferries.  The connections were to Grand Central Depot, to the ferries at South Ferry, and to the Hudson River railroad somewhere between 29th St and the northern tip of Manhattan.52  All specific routings were left to the commissioners.  Among the signers was street railway owner Jacob Sharp. 

Mayor Wickham was brought a second petition that morning, signed and sworn by a different group of fifty.  This one stated simply, quoting precisely the language of the Act, that there is need in the City and County of New-York of a steam railway or railways for the transportation of passengers, mails, or freight.  If the first petition might be read to refer only to the New York Elevated, this second one was clearly broader in scope.  Charles H Roosevelt appeared with yet a third petition sponsored by members of the Rapid Transit Association, but it was considered unnecessary.52

Mayor Wickham said he would take action as soon as he had received a certified copy of the law.52

The New York Elevated plans extensions

The New York Elevated Railroad announced on June 19 that they would now begin extending their line north to 59th St without delay.  They expected to contract the work within fourteen days and complete it in ninety as a further single track structure with one or more turnouts.  This was to be done under their original charter as approved by the law just signed.  They hoped then next to extend to South Ferry and Grand Central under the approval of the Rapid Transit Commission, possibly by the end of the year.53

The new structure would run 25 blocks from 36th St to 61st St, where a service ramp would be built to street level.  New stations would be at 42nd St, 50th St and 59th St.  The cost was estimated at $250,000 for the one and a quarter miles.53  The structure would continue the use of Wyman’s ‘cluster columns’ as on the previous extension to 34th St.  It was all to be wrought iron, six spans to a block of about 36 feet, and longer spans of 45 to 60 feet over narrow and wide cross streets (from curb corner to corner).  The company planned to build the foundations and took bids from contractors for the iron work.54


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Diagrams of the New York Elevated Railroad extension show details of the ironwork including the Wyman four-part column and the thicker girder spanning cross streets.  The unlabelled detail to the right of ‘Section AB’ shows the mounting of the girders with one end bolted in slotted holes allowing it to expand and contract.  From Railroad Gazette, July 3, 1875.


The southern extension to South Ferry would run only about 1500 feet past the end of structure at Battery Place, and was estimated at $60,000 for one track and $100,000 for double.  This might need Commission approval, and the Grand Central extension certainly did, so both were on hold for the present, but the company wanted to start on both as soon as possible.55  A contract for the uptown extension was let on July 12.56

The New York Elevated Railroad reported 98,000 passengers for June 1875, up from 70,000 the same month in 1874.53

The Gilbert Elevated Railway

The Gilbert Elevated Railway had still built nothing.  In April, they had had a bill introduced in the Assembly to change their east side route to the Bowery and Third Ave, but it went nowhere.57  This must have been driven either by fund raising problems or by opposition from the Sixth Avenue Railroad, but it is hard to see the advantage.  Both Third Ave and Sixth Ave were considered prime routes near the heart of the city, the nearest possible to the unavailable spine of Fourth Ave, Fifth Ave and Broadway, and the Third Avenue Railroad was at least as litigious as the Sixth Avenue company. 

During the debate on the Husted bill, Senator Madden had proposed an amendment that failed, providing for compensation to Rufus T Gilbert if the company changed it plan of construction.  The reason given was that Gilbert had given most of his rights to the company and would receive income from a royalty on his patented structure.  If the type of structure were changed, the Doctor would lose all the fruit of years of labor and thought.58

The company found it helpful to negotiations in London to have a respected English engineer endorse the plans.  B Baker, an engineer of the Metropolitan Railway, well known by capitalists there, wrote up a report so favorable that an iron merchant and contractor in London, J S Bergheim, offered to build it.  Baker corrected Gilbert’s plans in some details.  The cross girders and arched rib carrying the main girders required the most careful investigation, as there is some perplexity in the problem … The arched rib requires to be stronger, the cross stiffening girder not nearly so strong, and the columns rather less than before.  The ordinary cross girders should be cut down considerably in weight.

In the somewhat complex structure, much of the load was to be suspended from the arch overhead, leaving a lightweight cross girder under the tracks.  Baker calculated the rolling weight of trains passing, pulling at the arches and and deflecting the structure.  It will be assumed in what follows that the rib is a semi-ellipse 62 feet by 20 feet in general outline, but that the curve at the crown … and at the foot … is flatter than a true ellipse by about three inches, wrote Baker, who then went into detailed calculations of the stresses on all the members.59


[ 12-6 ]

Cross section of the Gilbert structure, from the Tribune, July 10, 1875.


Having read the report, Bergheim wrote Gilbert with a formal offer to build the first five miles from the Battery to Central Park within twelve (12) months of the contract being signed, delivered and erected in New-York … the structure to be so proportioned that it will carry a fifteen (15) ton engine, with a factor of safety of 6, at speed of thirty (30) miles per hour … everything complete, except woodwork, including cast iron for foundations, ornamental work for brackets, telegraph wires, lamp brackets, two pneumatic dispatch tubes (not including blowing or exhaust machines), steel rails, spikes, and the whole structure to be complete and painted … for ninety thousand pounds (£ 90,000) per mile … this will include freight by fast steamers, all duties and insurance …  He would accept one-third payment in company bonds, but the rest in cash to be paid on completion.59  But cash was always the problem. 

Gilbert and the company secretary Bacon admitted in July that out of the four things requisite to build the road, they are already in possession of three, the charter, the route and the plan, but the fourth thing they need is the money.  They translated Bergheim’s estimate for a double track railway to $450,000 a mile, safe, durable, and ornamental, and which will answer the purpose for which it is intended for at least fifty years to come.  At this time they still did not see where the Husted bill affected them in any way, shape, or manner, and still hoped to raise the money within about three months.60

The Broadway Underground Railway

The Broadway Underground also had accomplished nothing so far.  In February, Alfred Beach stated that work, it was expected, would soon be begun, the financial negotiations being well in progress, one-half of the money necessary for construction having been secured.  The authorizing law was stringent, requiring, under the amended charter of 1874, that the entire money necessary for the building and equipment of the line should be secured before the construction of any portion is begun.  This provision had caused considerable embarrassment.  Had the Company been authorized to begin work upon a cash capital of $1,000,000 or more, they would have done so before this.  The amount required before work could be begun was $10,000,000, and the negotiations to this end promised to be successful.  He said this as if the company had not sought the very legislation that was the burden.  Beach went on about how the underground railway would benefit the city, very confident in the ultimate success of his scheme.61

He had not lost sight of postal dispatch, pneumatic or not.  The basement portion of the new Post-Office on Broadway [has] been specially constructed with a view to communication with the Underground Railway, that postal cars from all he different railways might be run directly into the Post-Office, thereby saving much time and labor in the dispatch and receipt of mails.

This thought led him directly to another.  The work of constructing a tunnel under the Hudson River, from the foot of Fifteenth-st, in Jersey City, to the foot of Canal-st, New-York, …  thence to a connection with the Broadway Underground Railway, was begun in December, 1874, but was arrested by legal proceedings.61  The Hudson Tunnel was proposed to carry freight at night, and Beach’s mental leap suggests that he had the idea of mail passing through a direct rail connection that is not otherwise documented. 

After the Rapid Transit Act passed, a reporter spoke with Moses S Beach, a company director and the brother of Alfred.  He said the plans and specifications and maps and surveys were all made, and that it was proposed to build the road just as soon as the money was raised to do it with ; and that the last positive information he had upon the subject was to the effect that negotiations were pending, whereby the money was to be obtained, and that, so far as he knew, thoese negotiations might have been already closed and the money loaned ; in fact, he had been informed that such a result was to have been consummated a week ago, and having been out of town for ten days he was not in possession of positive information on the subject.  He had no doubt, however, that the money would be obtained, and that when it was, the road would positively be built.  He did not see how the Husted bill could possibly have any bearing on their project, and did not think it would interfere with them in any manner.60

The Fourth Ave Improvement

An underground railway opened in 1875.

Trains began to run in the Fourth Avenue Improvement as far as 96th St on May 2, a Sunday.  From 07:00 to 14:00 more than 300 men replaced track at three locations to re-route trains.  Between those transition points improved steel rails had already been laid on the new grade.  At 49th St the temporary tracks leading up to each side of the street were removed and replaced with new track leading into the new grade below street level.  At 65th St and 79th St temporary wooden trestle-work over the new track level had to be removed.  The rails and ties were first torn up, then the heavy cross-beams were sawed in two, and the tall beams which upheld the superstructure were pulled down and taken apart, and the timbers were piled up along the sides of the cut.  The dirt and stone in the bottom of the cut were next shoveled away, the ties were quickly laid in place, the rails were brought, clamped together, and nailed down.  All this was done with great rapidity.  Crowds gathered to watch the performance.  The first train went through to cheers. 

The new tunnel roof was reported complete only from 54th St to 65th St and from 69th St to 79th St, and the old Mount Pleasant Tunnel near 95th St had of course remained.  The rest of the roof was still to be done, although the iron for the beam tunnel was almost all in place.  Only two tracks were laid at this time, in the center tunnel.  This was sufficient to start since the railroad had never had more than two tracks.62

The vibration produced by the passage of trains is scarcely noticeable in the adjoining houses, wrote Scientific AmericanThe avenue surface above the railway tunnels is now being repaved, and will soon present a most beautiful, attractive appearance.  A stranger passing through this portion of the avenue would be surprised if told that, directly under his feet, the trains of three great railways were flying along at lightning speed.  The large ventilation openings should of course have produced enough noise and smoke to alert the stranger.  The unstated point was that the Broadway Underground Railway would be like this too.  The value of property along this portion of the line has augmented since the tunnels were authorized.  The same may be said of property at the northerly or Harlem portion of the avenue, where the tracks, although not arched, are placed below the street surface, and bridged at the street crossings.  But the contrary is the case along that portion occupied by the viaduct …  Beach never missed a chance to criticize elevated lines.63

The viaduct north from 96th St was opened on Sunday, June 20.  The Harlem cut was opened at that time or earlier.  With this all of the temporary track was out of service.  Considerable masonry work yet remains to be done to roof over the cut.  The side tracks were to be laid soon for rapid transit trains to the local stations between Grand Central and Harlem.64

Just after this occasion Commodore Vanderbilt was asked about the Husted Act and his plans for a rapid transit road to City Hall.  He gave a remarkable answer.  At one time I offered to furnish rapid transit to the City Hall Park, but legislative action was necessary, and the moment I took hold of the matter the papers began to cry out ‘Monopoly!’ and the scheme was defeated.  Whenever I attempt anything the people call it a monopoly.  I have therefore dropped the question of quick transit to the lower part of the city, and I shall have nothing more to do with it.  At the time I proposed to build a road to the City Hall, it was my intention to invest, if necessary for the completion of the work, as much as $5,000,000 in the enterprise, and when it was completed to make a present of it to the city.  Of course it would not do for me to say anything of this kind, as they would have only said humbug, and, as they refused to have the road in the way I wished to construct it, they now will have to get it the best way they can.  There was no money in the enterprise to me, and there is little, considered as an investment, in the recent improvements above Forty-second-st.  I can say truthfully I never undertook anything simply on account of the money I hoped to make by it.65

As preposterous as that sounds, an associate of Vanderbilt, H E Peterson, backed him up days later.  Two years ago last winter, Peterson wrote, Vanderbilt had told him in confidence about giving the road to the city.  But there was a cry of monopoly, and he encountered official opposition to the use of City Hall Park for a depot, and then his engineers gave him a detailed estimate of ten to twelve million dollars, twice the earlier rough estimate.  For these reasons Vanderbilt gave up the idea. 

Peterson wrote that Vanderbilt would still be willing to provide all the plans and surveys without charge to another company, if he were asked, and that Vanderbilt would provide trains from 42nd St to Harlem for five cents if the other company would do the same from City Hall to 42nd St, making a through route for ten cents.  I believe further that rapid transit, instead of impeding, will aid the street road in the same avenue, by concentrating on that particular avenue the gathered travel of the city and suburbs and visitors, wrote Peterson, with foresight rare at the time.  The street railway owners had always expected to lose passengers to a rapid transit line.  In saying this Peterson echoed what had been said at Albany, that Vanderbilt no longer objected to a rapid transit road under the New York and Harlem south of 42nd St.66

In September, when a route had been designated on Third Ave, Peterson wrote the Commissioners in support, saying that the value of property on Third avenue will be enhanced, under the circumstances, as the short travel would be greatly increased.67

The Rapid Transit Commission of 1875

Mayor Wickham appointed five Commissioners of Rapid Transit on July 1:  Joseph Seligman, banker in Seligman Brothers; Cornelius H Delamater, owner of the Delamater Iron Works on West 13th St; Lewis A Brown, a trader in real estate in the city and in New Jersey; Jordan L Mott, owner of the Mott Iron Works at Mott Haven on the Harlem River; and Charles J Canda, the youngest, a trustee of the Brooklyn Bridge (under construction) and an investor in iron mines and railways.  Wickham explained that none of them was an engineer, a lawyer, or of a profession that would be likely to associate them with rapid-transit schemes or plans, and all had been recommended by the very best-known citizens and merchants.68  That three men from the iron industry were considered unbiased shows how far the ASCE report had turned opinion in favor of elevated railways.  Wickham only wanted to avoid people who had been involved in past transit proposals— but even so Joseph Seligman had been a director of the Viaduct company.  Canda had worked for Tilden’s Iron Cliffs mining company in the 1860s and was involved in a deal the company had with Charles T Harvey in 1864 that Harvey later called fraudulent.69

All five accepted appointment and met on July 6.  Seligman was elected president.  The meeting was private, but representatives of the Elevated Railroad Company were in attendance previous to the meeting.70  A regular meeting place was arranged in a courtroom in the new courthouse71 (the so-called Tweed Courthouse, finished at last). 

Jordan Mott, asked by a reporter, said he was not conversant with the subject of rapid transit, but was waiting to learn, by a closer investigation of the matter, how to form his opinions about it, and he was more anxious to received suggestions than to give them.  He had thought when he accepted that he would be done in ninety days and had just realized it might take longer.  On the question of elevated or underground, he refused to comment, even though he had his impressions, because he did not want possibly to contradict himself later when the commission reported.  Joseph Seligman similarly said that he had no views on the subject, since he had not had time form any.  He thought an elevated road would be more feasible, on account of its cheapness, than an underground road, but he could not say which, on the whole, was to be preferred.72 

C J Canda told reporters on July 9 that the Commission had determined necessity, their first assignment, and so they now had sixty days from July 9 to determine routes, and ninety days from the same date to decide on plans.72  They began to place advertisements in the newspapers asking for plans and suggestions by August 1. 


[ 12-7 ]

Ad, Tribune, July 16, 1875.


In the end more than a hundred plans were submitted.  Most were for elevated railways.  The Commissioners say that probably one-half the plans which have been proposed to them are worthless, while many others seem to be almost alike excepting in detail.73  In one of the former type, Dr A B Barnes proposes a system of hand cars which should provide a safe and agreeable substitute for steam and horse cars.74  Alfred Speer brought them his travelling sidewalk plan.75  The meetings were mostly held in private.  Mott said that they would hold them publicly except that they objected to the flock of insane inventors who would crowd the apartment, making it generally uncomfortable for every one except the insane inventors.76

Milton Courtright, president of New York Elevated, formally requested on July 12 that the Commissioners fix and determine the route or routes for the extension of said road.  He requested an extension to South Ferry, and, publicly showing his hand for the first time, a further extension connecting from the line or track of said company’s road at or near said ferries, or from such other point upon the line of said company’s railroad as said commissioners may deem advisable, with the depot of the New-York Central and Hudson River Railroad Company on Fourth avenue, at or near Forty-second street.75  Up to this time, the proposed connection to Grand Central may have been understood to run along 42nd St from Ninth Ave.  Here Courtright proposed to build a second main line on the east side, using the law’s provision for a connection from the existing line to another railroad.  Under that provision, a connection would be treated as if it were part of the original charter, and did not have to comply with the stricter terms for a new route. 

The Commissioners may not have read the request carefully.  They said that they had to ask their legal counsel whether they could grant a route to Grand Central, because the law prohibited rapid transit routes in Broadway south of 59th St and in Fifth Ave.76  The misunderstanding continued in the press as late as September, when Courtright wrote the Times to say, The company neither asked for, nor expected to make such a connection from the west side.77

Something big happened at the Gilbert Elevated Railway in the middle of July.  On July 27, they sent drawings to the Commission with a communication stating that if the commission should require the road to be constructed according to the plans sent in, they had secured the necessary capital to complete it within the time fixed by the charter.  They finally had the money, but only if they cut costs by dropping the ornamental structure of the Gilbert patents.78  The company president William Foster Jr elaborated two days later before the Commissioners that the great trouble so far had been the excessive cost per mile.  He pointed out that the Commission could incorporate a new company with a ‘coincident’ route for the cheaper structure, and that they feel positively sure that they have the capital to build it.79 


[ 12-8 ]

Two or three of the Commissioners become distracted by a fine model of a drop-center New York Elevated car as the secretary prepares to take the minutes.  Models and drawings of iron viaducts clutter the back of the room.  From Leslie's Monthly Magazine, August 7, 1875.


After August 1, the Commissioners met in private for several weeks and made few public comments.  Their first charge was to determine routes, but the evidence does not show that much time was spent on it.  The submissions from inventors and dreamers were mostly about types of structure and motive power.  Among the few that proposed routes were J B and J M Cornell, owners of an iron works, who suggested a route from South Ferry via Broad St and Nassau St, Lafayette Place, and Lexington Avenue.79 

There are signs that the primary purpose of the Rapid Transit Act was to assist the New York Elevated Railroad.  Governor Tilden became involved with the company at some date in 1875 through a deal with one of its directors, David Dows.  Tilden thought that the New York Elevated bill was unconstitutional, but Dows persuaded him to sign it and let the courts decide.  The favor in return was Dows’s public support of Tilden’s reform programs.80  It is totally unclear how Tilden’s sponsorship of the Rapid Transit Act fits in.  The most openly favorable part of it was the amendment added late in the legislative process allowing existing roads— the New York Elevated was the only one— to be granted connections that would be treated as if part of their original grant.  This was a loophole to grant new routes to the New York Elevated without requiring the more rigorous permissions of new routes.  And as soon as the bill passed, Husted appeared with a petition to extend the New York Elevated.  For most of the sixty days allotted, the Commissioners made no effort to obtain the necessary permissions for new routes.  The Gilbert Elevated Railway was brought into the plan not as a competitor but under some collusion that began to become clear to the public toward the end of the sixty days. 

On several reported occasions, Milton Courtright and others of New York Elevated were allowed into the private meetings to discuss the extensions.  On August 4, they made no request as to specific routes, merely reminding the commission of the desire to build new roads and of the power vested in the commission to grant the necessary permission.  On the company’s showing that it was able to carry on the work at an outlay of not more than $145,000 per mile for construction of track, independent of the cost of rolling stock, it was finally determined to hold another consultation on Monday … The East-side road to Harlem will at the outset consist of only a single track, the establishment of a double track remaining a matter for after-consideration.81  It may be said at least that the commission set a higher standard than this and required all new routes to be double-track. 

Late in August, Delamater let it be known that the downtown portion was now the only problematic part.  The routing described was Whitehall St, Beaver St, Broad St, Nassau St, Chatham St (now Park Row), which took it past the future Brooklyn Bridge entrance.82  The Gilbert Elevated Railway already had a charter for a route along Pearl St, so some other route had to be found to avoid conflict.  Men from the Gilbert Elevated Railway also attended some of the meetings especially toward the end.83  The Commission met on September 2 with representatives from both elevated railways.84

Routes designated by the Rapid Transit Commission

The Rapid Transit Commission turned in their report on routes to Mayor Wickham on September 6, and he sent it to the Board of Aldermen, who passed it, 12 to 7.85  There can be no doubt that the Rapid Transit Commission of 1875 splendidly executed its mandate, which was in reality to foster and confirm the routes and plans already decided on by private enterprise, wrote modern historian Wallace B Katz.86  The major new route was the Third Ave route awarded to the New York Elevated Railroad to allow it to connect to other railroads and ferries, and there was also a new upper west side route in 92nd St and Eighth Ave to connect with railways near High Bridge.  The routes of the Gilbert Elevated Railway were restated as previously granted.  Most of the system described was eventually constructed from 1877 to 1880 as the elevated railway system of Manhattan. 

The Commissioners attempted to explain why so little was new.  The law also provides that no new railway shall be operated or constructed in a street, even after location by this board, except upon the previous consent of the local authorities having control of the streets or such portions thereof as was intended to be occupied, and also the consent of the owners of one-half in value of all the property bordering on such streets or of the Supreme Court.  The language of the section referred to gave rise to to doubts whether such consent must not be obtained by this board prior to any designation of streets by us, or whether that consent would be given in time if given only prior to the actual construction of the railway.  Being desirous to avoid every technical objection to our action, they wondered whether they could grant any routes not already approved.85  It is an old adage that a law must not be interpreted in a way that makes it meaningless.  The power to approve only what has been already approved must rank as such an interpretation. 

The Commissioners had accordingly asked the Mayor to ask the Common Council to approve in advance whatever routes they were would select, so that they would have prior consent before they named the routes.  But the Aldermen tabled the resolution because most of them wanted to know what they were voting for.84  Since that failed, the Commissioners would have to chance approving routes not already approved, but the danger then would come if the Common Council did not agree.  The Commissioners had let time slip so close to deadline that there was not time to negotiate.  There was only one way out.  We have therefore adopted routes which, throughout nearly though not quite their entire extent, may, under the conditions of the law herein explained, be occupied by the New-York Elevated Railroad Company or the Gilbert Elevated Railway Company, without consent of either local authorities or property-owners.  Their decision therefore was to approve routes that did not need approval by any other body.  In the cases of the two companies above mentioned, existing chartered rights, conferred prior to the adoption of the recent amendments to the Constitution, permitted them to build upon certain important streets.85

The Commission accepted $250,000 bonds from each company, and required them to formally accept the Commission’s construction deadlines and rates of fare.85 

The fares were to be ten cents south of 59th St, then two cents per mile to a maximum fifteen cents, or a maximum seventeen cents on the west side to High Bridge.  These were not the cheap fares once foreseen that would get the poor out of crowded conditions downtown.  These were fares to support real estate development for the middle class.  To soften it, there were to be half fare trains run between 05:30 and 07:30 and between 17:00 and 19:00, to be known as Commission trains, adapted from the name Parliamentary trains used for similar trains in England.85 

The Gilbert Elevated Railway had to build at least three miles from 42nd St south, on one of their two routes, by August 1, 1876, and then at least five miles per twelve months.  The New York Elevated Railroad must build via the Battery to 59th St (east side) by September 1, 1876 and to the Harlem River by June 1, 1877, and on the west side to High Bridge by June 1, 1878.85  None of these deadlines were met, for reasons to be seen. 

The new east side route granted to the New York Elevated Railroad was as constructed later:  via Battery Park, Front St, Coenties Slip, Pearl St, New Bowery, Bowery and Third Ave.  It ran all the way to Harlem in order to connect with an unspecified Harlem River ferry.  Branches from it would make further connections:  a very short branch to South Ferry (built); in John St to Fulton Ferry (not built); Chatham St (later called Park Row) and Park St to the Brooklyn Bridge railway (built in Chatham St); 34th St to the Hunter’s Point ferry (built); 42nd St to Grand Central (built); 92nd St to the Astoria ferry (not built); 129th St and over the Harlem River to the New Haven Railroad terminal (built in 129th St).85 The new west side route was not constructed, as will be seen.  It crossed from Ninth Ave to Eighth Ave in 92nd St instead of 110th St, and although this got a better street grade, it awkwardly put the elevated line along the side of Central Park.


[ 12-9 ]

Routes in lower Manhattan.  RED, New York Elevated Railroad; BLUE, Gilbert Elevated Railway; PURPLE: route granted to both companies. The thicker red line at left shows the constructed route of the New York Elevated Railroad. The more lightly colored lines show portions that were never built.


The plans for the type of viaduct were to be in the Commissioners’ next report, due on October 8.  This was their opportunity to change the Gilbert Elevated Railway structure, and to determine whether the New York Elevated Railroad could continue its one-legged structures up the east side. 

Milton Courtright thought that the results of the report would be to place the company on a better standing before capitalists and the public generally.87  And stimulate private capital it surely did, as historian Katz put it.  After 1875 the elevated roads attracted a whole new breed of capitalists:  men like José Navarro, who actually built the Gilbert road through the medium of his New York Loan and Improvement Company …86  Navarro began to appear before the Commissioners after mid July, signalling that the sudden changes in Gilbert Elevated Railway company policy and finances came with his involvement.  But still, at the time of the award, Rufus H Gilbert himself was found in good spirits and saying that the award had really done nothing.87  Both companies expected further opposition from the Third Avenue Railroad.  An unnamed Commissioner told the Tribune that the reason they had designated double routes up the east side was to have one in reserve in case one was not built.88

We have made a mutual agreement in writing with the Greenwich Street Elevated Railway Company, said Gilbert, in which it is stipulated that in all cases where both companies use the same street, the expense of building and maintaining that portion of the road shall be borne equally by the two companies, and the tracks shall be used by them in common.  We shall probably not want to make any use of this agreement except over a portion of Ninth-ave.  Of whether they would build the Sixth Ave or Second Ave line first, he said I have no preference although that through the center of the city will probably secure a greater number of passengers at the start.  It will doubtless be necessary to run a train every two minutes during the morning and evening hours … Our idea is to run trains with few cars and run them often.88  In retrospect this sounds reasonable, but Gilbert was proposing much more train service than New York Elevated was operating at the time. 

The Rapid Transit Commission and underground railways

There was apprehension among many New Yorkers about elevated railways.  It was understood that something more substantial than the one-legged New York Elevated structure was to be built.  The plan should not be based on the single consideration of cheapness, wrote one person to the Times.  Another thought the property-owners’ opposition in Third Ave was to a structure extending curb to curb, in which the vista is as if one were under the unfinished roof of a railroad depot, and the iron limbs of the huge iron centipede were endeavoring to seize the whole avenue in their cold embrace, this leaving the sidewalks (or alleys, as they would then be called) the only public property left.  He suggested that whereas were the centre portion only claimed, and a light, handsome roadway, resting on iron columns, constructed thereon, most of their objections would disappear.89

The question of underground roads had scarcely been mentioned.  There is no evidence that the Broadway Underground Railway ever sent a representative to the Commissioners.  Melville C Smith of the Arcade project and Simeon Church appeared before the Commissioners on September 3, but were not told about the purely elevated plans that were about to be announced.90  On September 24, Smith and Church and a few others attended the first hearing of any consequence on underground plans, where the example of London was cited and the superiority of underground railways was emphasized.91  The Commissioners had in naming the only new route used the phrasing ‘thence over, along, and through Third avenue’ without using the word ‘under’.  Their counsel now advised that ‘through’ might include open cut, but not tunnel, so all underground plans were moot.  There are those who charge the Secretary with intentional omission, said the reporter for the Times.92 

In the Commissioners’ report to the mayor on October 6, they even denied hearing about underground plans.  Instead they propped up the straw man of open cut railways and documented their argument against that.  Nobody has proposed to us to construct a railway either upon the surface of the street, or in a tunnel.  But, when we determined the routes, we had already heard the arguments of the engineers who have proposed what are called ‘depressed’ or ‘open-cut’ railways ; and we had examined their drawings and specifications  … But our deliberate judgment has been against it ; and, had we been otherwise inclined, we are advised by counsel that, having designated the routes already described, it was not within our power …6  Therefore, by omitting a word in the determination of routes, they determined the type of construction too.  Now it was down to what kind of elevated construction was best, not whether it would be elevated construction. 

Structures designated by the Rapid Transit Commission

Not surprisingly, during the next thirty days the Commissioners consulted privately with men from the elevated companies about plans for elevated structures.  The presidents, Courtright and William Foster, appeared personally, the latter bringing also José F Navarro.93  Other inventors were heard, but they did not matter. 

Three plans were adopted:  two tracks over the center of the street with pillars at the curb, for narrow streets; the one-legged structure as in Greenwich St; and pillars along the outer line of the streetcar tracks, for wide streets.  The third was the controversial one.  To support a track thus constructed would require no less than 296 pillars to the mile.  This system cannot possibly leave the surface-road entirely unobstructed, and such a primitive plan can only have one recommendation, that of utility in construction.94  It was to become the most common style of elevated construction. 

On Wednesday, October 6, After a session of nearly two hours the Commissioners announced, with many expressions of relief, that their labors were finished.  They then adjourned until Monday at noon, when they will proceed to further organize the ‘Manhattan Railway Company’, and will prepare books of subscription to its capital stock.  They have thirty days in which to complete this work.  Afterward they must incorporate the new company, arrange the details of its government, and turn over to it all their plans, specifications, papers, moneys, etc, before their labors will end.95

The Commissioners explained why they were forming a company.  Although the New-York Elevated Railroad Company and the Gilbert Elevated Railway Company give us reasonable assurance that they will construct and operate railways within the times and upon the routes prescribed to them by us, we still adhere to the opinion suggested in our previous report and for the reasons there stated :  that a new corporation should be organized, as the law allows us to do to render ‘assurance doubly sure’ that our labors will result in rapid transit actually accomplished.  That corporation we have decided to name ‘The Manhattan Railway Company’.  It is to be organized with a capital stock of $2,000,000, and books of subscription to the capital will be opened within the next thirty days, and as soon as practicable after we shall have drawn the articles of association, by the law required to be by us prepared for the subscribers.6

The report contains 58 ‘general specifications’ about elevated railway construction, mainly the placement of columns and the strength of columns and girders.  The type of structure was specified for three classes of street.  Columns along the curb line were allowed generally, with separate one-legged structures or with transverse beams or gothic arches supporting tracks over the center of the street.  Streets between 36 and 55 feet wide could have an off-center structure with one line of columns down the center and one along the curb, but that was never built.  In wider streets, the line of columns could be in the roadway supporting transverse girders, but no column authorized in this plan of construction shall be erected between any two tracks of street railroad upon the surface of the roadway, or in other words the columns would have to be outside the pair of streetcar tracks found in the avenues.  One-legged structures were not allowed in Eighth or Ninth Ave from 61st St to 110th St or in Second Ave from Houston St to 23rd St.6

The Manhattan Railway was given its own deadlines for construction, all later than those for the two existing companies since the Manhattan Railway was to construct if they did not.  On the east side, from City Hall 59th St by May 1, 1877, to the Harlem River by December 1, 1877, and on to High Bridge by December 1, 1878.  On the west side, from Chambers St to 59th St by May 1, 1877 and to the Harlem River by June 1, 1878.  The ‘remainder of the railway’ which would the lower Manhattan portion was to be finished by June 1, 1878.  All of the deadlines were to be extended automatically if work was stopped or delayed by the pendency of legal proceedings or by the interference of the public authorities.  Given that exemption, the deadlines were met over the next few years.  If the Third Ave elevated was constructed by any company, the Manhattan Railway was not required to build the Second Ave elevated at all.6

The New York Elevated Railroad was given deadlines of eight months to build from the Battery around to 59th St (east side), or June, 1876, and six months more to the Harlem River.  But these conditions and requirements shall not be deemed to limit or abridge any rights, privileges, or exemption conferred on said Company by either of the special acts of the Legislature heretofore enacted for said Company.6

The Gilbert Elevated Railway shall so modify the plan of structure according to the 58 specifications given.  This freed them from building Gilbert’s gothic arches.  The company had been given a first deadline to build three miles south from 42nd St by either route and then by mileage afterwards.  If the company elected to build the Sixth Ave elevated first, then the deadlines for the Second Ave elevated shall not begin to run until the expiration of one year after the New York Elevated Railroad’s deadlines for the Third Ave elevated shall have remained unexercised and shall have expired.6

James Drake was very much disgusted with the action of the Commissioners because he thought everything had been done for the New York Elevated Railroad Company and not for the people who wanted rapid transit.  He was still interested in a new proposal for an elevated railway.  The plan was that of a Col Williams who had shown it to the Commissioners but was not satisfied with the way they had received it.96  Drake, the leader of a movement in January, had been cast aside. 

New York Elevated extended to 59th St

New York Elevated Railroad officials now hoped to be running from South Ferry to 61st St by January 1, 1876.  They said that the northern extension was expected to be done by October 25 and that the short extension to South Ferry could easily be finished this year.  Everything was ready for the contractors at the upper end, and the completion of their work in the specified time was easy.  They planned to build all of the routes granted within the time stated but with an exception that the Commissioners had not allowed:  As to the question of building a double track the whole length of the road, it was too soon to speak.  A meeting of the directors would have to be held before that was discussed.  Such a meeting would be held in three or four weeks, and then all such questions would be settled.  They thought it might not be necessary to get the consent of property-owners, but that the question might eventually go to the courts.96

As to the question of capital, the stockholders of the company could go ahead and build the road themselves, but so far they had not proposed to do any such thing.  The property-owners of the upper part of the City were interested in the completion of the road, and it was proposed to let them come in and furnish some of the money.  They want the road, and the question was how much they wanted it.  If they wanted it enough to pay for it they would probably have a chance.96

The northern extension was opened to 42nd St station on November 6 and to 59th St station on January 18, 1876.  The work included a passing track at 34th St station and a ramp to the street at the end of the structure at 61st St for equipment moves.97  It was once again a one-legged structure on the west curb line of Ninth Ave, but it was the last single-track structure the company built. 

The passing track at 34th St was the first elevated structure built under the Rapid Transit Commission’s specifications.  It was located not on the opposite curb line of Ninth Ave but in the roadway along the west side of the streetcar tracks, in accordance with the specification for a street wider than 55 feet.98 


[ 12-10 ]

Looking north from 33rd St, May 1876.  The ‘old’ line along the curb opened in July 1873 making it only two years and some months older than the more substantial second track in the street.  This photograph documents the first construction of el pillars along the edge of the streetcar track, the usual location for many later elevated lines.  A figure stands on the station footbridge.  Beyond it can be seen the other end of the siding.


When the 42nd St station opened, the New York Elevated Railroad began running an omnibus or cab service from the station crosstown to Grand Central.99  The service made no intermediate stops and only elevated railway tickets marked as to or from Grand Central were valid.  It cost nothing extra.  This much faster service was a blow to the omnibus and street railway lines, and the New York and Harlem tried to stop it in court.  The elevated company maintained that it was not an omnibus line in the meaning of the law but just a transfer service between railway stations.  It was even operated by Dodd’s Transfer Company.100  There was no other crosstown omnibus or horsecar in 42nd St until years later. 

To handle the extension, two more engines were ordered.  Kingsbridge was built in the company shops and was put in service in November.  Fordham was built by Brooks and arrived in December.  The last three engines (with Brooks’s Spuyten Duyvel of March) were a little larger and heavier at 6 tons.  The elevated railway structure was getting stronger and the company needed to run longer and faster trains.  There were now a total of ten engines of two similar types but only sixteen cars.  Surviving rosters show nine cars added in 1876 and probably the first of them were on hand for the opening to 59th St in January.  The new cars had a center side door in addition to the end doors, made possible by not having the lower floor level in the center.  They were also heavier, 8 tons compared to 5.  Photographs show them mixed in trains with drop-center cars.25


[ 12-11 ]

59th St station. The platform is longer than had been usual, and so is the train, with three cars including one of the new center-door cars.  The columns and beams are like the those of the 34th St siding.


The company reported carrying 50,000 ‘in round figures’ in November 1874, but 110,000 in November 1875.  This number would be still further increased but for a scarcity of rolling stock.  The company have not half cars enough, and complaint is made along the entire line because of the lack of accommodations.  Several locomotives and coaches are now building …101

A new station at Warren St seems to have opened in 1875, in the long gap between Liberty St and Franklin St;  it is first mentioned in passing in a news story in March 1876.102

The short extension to South Ferry met with great opposition because it was to run over park land.  It was litigated throughout 1876 and not opened until the second quarter of 1877. 

The Manhattan Railway

The Commissioners adopted ‘articles of association’ for the Manhattan Railway Company on October 25 offering 20,000 shares with a par value of $100 each in a company that was to exist for 99 years from November 1, 1875.103  The subscription books were opened on October 29 at the Corn Exchange Bank and all of the shares were quickly taken.  It was a peculiar sale. 

A previous arrangement had been made between the leading representatives of the Gilbert and the New-York Elevated Railway Companies that the stock of the new companies should be equally divided between them.  Within half an hour after the books were opened the whole amount of capital stock ($2,000,000) was subscribed and five per cent of the subscriptions paid in to C J Canda, Treasurer of the Board of Commissioners.  The stock was taken by 26 persons— 13 from each of the Companies previously mentioned.104 

It might appear from this that no one else wanted to buy the stock, but that was not the case.  William H Morell, who represents in some way the Rapid Transit Association that was organized a year or two ago came to subscribe $100,000 for ten of his friends but found the books already closed.  He left the bank, apparently in no pleasant humor.104

Others simply knew that their presence was not wanted and stayed away.  At one time it was apprehended that the Third Avenue Horse Railway Company would make an effort to secure control of the Manhattan Company by subscribing for a majority of the capital stock, but this scheme was easily headed off, the Commissioners reserving to themselves the right to reject any subscriber to the capital stock, as also the right to distribute to any subscriber a number of shares less than the number actually subscribed.  The board appear to be well-satisfied with the present stock-holders of their rapid-transit company.105

So it was a charade.  Milton Courtright told the Tribune’s reporter that the two companies would try to build under their old charters unless some obstruction is thrown in the way in which case they would simply use the Manhattan Railway to do it.104 

Opposition was already brewing, especially along the Bowery and Third Ave route.  The companies still maintained that they did not need consent of the property-owners along the route under their old charters, while the people living in the streets mentioned are not opposed to rapid transit, but they want to stipulate the kind of road which shall be built, and just where the supporting columns shall be placed.106 

To resolve the matter, the Manhattan Railway directors asked the Supreme Court to appoint a commission, who did their work in the early months of 1876. 

Stockholders of the company met to elect directors on November 8.106  From the nine directors chosen this day, Milton Courtright, president of the New York Elevated Railroad, was elected president and José Navarro, major investor in the Gilbert Elevated Railway, was made secretary and treasurer.  The other directors were Cornelius K Garrison of the Missouri Pacific; George M Pullman and Horace Porter, president and vice president of the Pullman Palace Car Company; John F Tracy, president of the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad; David Dows and John Ross of the New York Elevated Railroad; and William L Scott, Mayor of Erie and director of many railway projects including the Rock Island.  The only stockholder present who was not elected to the board of directors was William Foster, president of the Gilbert Elevated Railway, but he was an associate of Navarro.107  The Manhattan Railway was therefore under the control of the New York Elevated Railroad directors and the Gilbert Elevated investor group led by José Navarro.  Big-time railroad capitalists with interests far beyond local New York rapid transit were now buying into the elevated companies.

The Manhattan Railway Company was officially incorporated on December 20, 1875.  The route was not absolutely identical to that of the Gilbert and New York elevated companies.  The Manhattan’s Second Ave route from Division St to 23rd St would run not in Allen St and First Ave but in Chrystie St and Second Ave, much closer to the Third Ave route, but it was seen as a substitute for the Third Ave route if that was not built.108

As a result of the manipulations of 1875, the management of the New York Elevated Railroad had captured the desirable Third Ave route that the Gilbert company had originally wanted; through the Manhattan Railway they had a chance at half-interest in the Sixth Ave route if the Gilbert company failed to build it; and on the Second Ave route they could have the Manhattan Railway take it or leave it if Gilbert did not build.  The future of the Gilbert Elevated company now depended on making the new deadlines, but most of its management— minus Gilbert himself— had secured half-interest in the backup plan.

Alfred E Beach abandons the station and tunnel

Alfred E Beach quietly gave up the lease on the basement of Devlin’s in December and arranged with the Parks Department to permit occasional entrance to the tunnel through the grating in City Hall Park (see chapter 6 for details).  Most would date the end of his dream to some time between the Panic of 1873 and the report of the Rapid Transit Commissioners.  But the company was not dead yet, and survived the victory of the elevated railways into a new period when subways were once again proposed as the best solution to rapid transit in New York.  This future however was beyond knowing at the end of 1875. 

1 Times, 1872 Dec 26.
2 Documentary History, 1410.
3 Times, 1875 Jan 1.
4 Times, 1875 Jan 5.
5 Tribune 1875 Feb 20. Times, 1875 Feb 19.
6 Report of the Board of Commissioners of Rapid Transit dated October 6, 1875, quoted in Times and Tribune, 1875 Oct 7.
7 Times, 1875 Jan 18.
8 Times, 1875 Jan 28, Jan 29, Jan 30, Jan 31, Feb 1, Feb 2, Feb 5, Feb 10, et al.
9 Times, 1875 Feb 1.
10 Times, 1875 Jan 29.
11 Times, 1875 Feb 3.
12 Times, 1875 Feb 7.
13 Times, 1875 Feb 16.
14 Tribune, 1875 Feb 27.
15 Times, 1875 Mar 5.
16 Times, 1875 Feb 10. Railroad Gazette, 1875 Feb 13.
17 Railroad Gazette quoted in Scientific American, 1875 Jun 5.
18 Manufacturer and Builder, 1875 May.
19 Tribune, 1875 Feb 18.
20 Times, 1875 Feb 19.
21 Times, 1875 Apr 4. Tribune, 1875 Apr 5.
22 Times, 1875 Mar 23.
23 Times, 1875 Apr 14.
24 Railroad Gazette, 1875 Apr 17.
25 Horn, roster.  White, ‘Spunky little devils’.
26 Reeves, First elevated railroads, 82.
27 Times, 1875 Apr 27. Tribune, 1875 Apr 27.
28 World, 1875 Jul 10.
29 Tribune, 1875 May 14.
30 Times, 1875 May 18.
31 Times, 1875 Apr 14, Apr 21.
32 Times, 1875 Apr 23.
33 Times, 1875 May 6.
34 Times, 1875 May 7.
35 Times, 1875 May 8.
36 Times, 1875 May 9.
37 Times, 1875 May 13.
38 Tribune, 1875 May 14.
39 Times, 1875 May 15.
40 Tribune, 1875 May 15. Times, 1875 May 15.
41 Times, 1875 May 17.
42 Times, 1875 May 16.
43 Tribune, 1875 May 17.
44 Times, 1875 May 18.
45 Tribune, 1875 May 19.
46 Times, 1875 May 16.
47 Times, 1875 May 20.
48 Times, 1875 May 21. Tribune, 1875 May 21.
49 Times, 1875 May 22.
50 Times, 1875 May 23.
51 Times, 1875 Jun 19.
52 Times, 1875 Jun 20.
53 Times, 1875 Jun 20.
54 Railroad Gazette, 1875 Jun 26.
55 Times, 1875 Jul 7. Reeves, First elevated railroads, 14.
56 Times, 1875 Jul 10.
57 Times, 1875 Apr 2.
58 Times, 1875 May 21.
59 Tribune, 1875 Jul 10.
60 Times, 1875 Jul 7.
61 Tribune, 1875 Feb 2.
62 Tribune, 1875 May 3.
63 Scientific American, 1875 Jun 5.
64 Times, 1875 Jun 21.
65 Tribune, 1875 Jun 24.
66 Tribune, 1875 Jul 10.
67 Times, 1875 Sep 11.
68 Times, 1875 Jul 2.
69 Times, 1876 Oct 16 (charged publicly during the last weeks of Tilden’s race for the presidency).
70 Times, 1875 Jul 7.
71 Times, 1875 Jul 8.
72 Tribune, 1875 Jul 10.
73 Times, 1875 Jul 15, Jul 16, Jul 17, Jul 21, Jul 29, Jul 30, Jul 31.
74 Times, 1875 Jul 17.
75 Times, 1875 Jul 21.
76 Times, 1875 Jul 24.
77 Times, 1875 Sep 9.
78 Times, 1875 Jul 28.
79 Times, 1875 Jul 30.
80 Flick, Samuel J Tilden, 275-276.
81 Times, 1875 Aug 5.
82 Times, 1875 Aug 25.
83 Times, 1875 Sep 1, Sep 2.
84 Times, 1875 Sep 3.
85 Report of the Board of Commissioners of Rapid Transit dated September 6, 1875, printed complete in Tribune, 1875 Sep 7, and quoted in Times, 1875 Sep 7.
86 Katz, The New York Rapid Transit Decision of 1900.
87 Times, 1875 Sep 8.
88 Tribune, 1875 Sep 8.
89 Times, 1875 Sep 9.
90 Times, 1875 Sep 4.
91 Times, 1875 Sep 24.
92 Times, 1875 Sep 25, Sep 28.
93 Times, 1875 Sep 15, Sep 18, Sep 29.
94 Times, 1875 Oct 6.
95 Tribune, 1875 Oct 7.
96 Times, 1875 Oct 8.
97 Reeves, First Elevated Railroads, 14.  Also Times, 1875 Nov 2.
98 Not remarked at the time.  The evidence is the photograph shown in this chapter.
99 Times, 1875 Oct 22.
100 Times, 1877 Aug 28.
101 Times, 1875 Nov 30.
102 Tribune, 1876 Mar 8.
103 Times, 1875 Oct 26. The company actually existed until about 1942.
104 Tribune, 1875 Oct 30.
105 Times, 1875 Oct 30.
106 Times, 1875 Nov 7.
107 Evening Post, 1875 Nov 10.
108 Documentary History, 646-652.

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