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Rapid transit almost achieved

The new year was often a new beginning for transit issues.  For several years up to 1873, the rhythm of the legislative session brought rapid transit plans to the public stage for the early months of each year; the panic caused a break in activity just before the start of 1874; the need for a rapid transit law turned on the legislative session in 1875; and the preparations for construction at the end of that year led to the lawsuits starting early in 1876 that were partly resolved at the end of the year.  So once again in 1877 the new year marked also a new round in the fight for rapid transit.  The two elevated companies had their goal almost in reach, and somewhat unexpectedly after a year’s rest the matter of underground rapid transit would awake briefly from its slumber.

Continued opposition to the Gilbert Elevated

The Gilbert Elevated Railway won a round with the Supreme Court decision on December 28, 1876, though that would be appealed.  The new time limits and the new type of structure that the Rapid Transit Commission had established were confirmed and the Rapid Transit Act was ruled constitutional. 

The court appointed commissioners to assess the damages to property values in South Fifth Ave,1 and the company could go ahead and build there.  But the property owners appealed the decision to the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, where it was first scheduled for March 20, 1877,2 and then moved to April 27 when the court would hear it together with the New York Elevated lawsuit in an effort to resolve the issues of constitutionality and compensation for damage.3 

Construction in Sixth Ave was still held up by the Superior Court decision in August 1876 in favor of the Sixth Avenue Railroad.  That company based everything on their old franchise, which they even argued was a contract protected by the United States constitution.  In January a group of Wall Street men petitioned the Board of Aldermen.  An examination of the contracts by which the ‘Sixth Avenue Railroad Company’ holds its present right, discovers that it is authorized to carry on its present business only by free license of the city authorities.  The contract under which it derives its right contains the following provisions: … ‘Also, that said parties, on being required at any time by the corporation, and to such extent as the Common Council shall determine, shall take up, at their own expense, said railroad or such part thereof as they shall be required, and on failure to do so, in 10 days after such requirement, the same may be done at their expense by the Street Commissioner’.4  The North Side Association— representing what is now the west Bronx— asked the Aldermen later in the month to exercise this power if the companies did not withdraw their objections to the elevated railways.5 

The property owners became more active in opposition.  The new mayor Smith Ely Jr was greeted on January 31 by a large delegation from the West Side Association led by Edward A Morrison, who told him that the property owners and business men on Sixth avenue were, he might say to a man, opposed to and protested against the erection on Sixth avenue of a structure like that now on South Fifth avenue and Third street.  They assured Ely that they were not opposed to rapid transit itself.  They told him that Fifth avenue presented the natural route for a rapid transit road.  It ran up the centre of the city, passed the Fifth Avenue and other leading hotels and the Grand Central Depot.  The road proposed to run up South Fifth avenue, but as soon as it came in sight of the aristocratic houses on the other side of Washington Park it turned off and went to Sixth avenue.6  It is hard to imagine this was serious.  Ely told them that he hoped compensation could be arranged for loss of property values. 

The editor of the Evening Post pointed out the growing number of shops on Sixth Ave and predicted— correctly as it turned out— that the road will help the street, and five years after it is built there will probably be scarcely a business man on its line who would not want an injunction if it was proposed to change the route.7  The Tribune drew attention to the young householder who would gain by cheap transportation to northern Manhattan.  The property-owners on Sixth-ave might suffer some, but they are not to be exempted from the common lot of humanity.8 


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Notice of an anti-elevated meeting, from the Times, March 11, 1877.


Morrison charged in response to such remarks that the Rapid Transit Commission was merely intended from the beginning as an extra official indorsement of the elevated railway schemes, which had until then been looked at as crude absurdities that would never attract the serious attention of capitalists.9  He spoke the truth.  The provisions regarding the two elevated companies were clearly added in their interest and this situation was precisely the issue that would be going to the Court of Appeals in April.  And the salutary effect of the commission on attracting investors was already apparent in the composition of the yet-inactive Manhattan Railway board and it was to become more obvious very soon. 

Many speakers at the opposition meetings were less insightful.  Dr Gilbert was denounced as a ‘New Jersey pill vendor’ and the directors as ‘a banditti of rascals’.  Posters were made showing a very wide elevated railway with an engine spouting steam and (the old complaint) frightening horses.  They show only that they have lost their temper, wrote the Evening Post.10  The Tribune thought the opponents were unusually and suspiciously active in comparing the company finances to the Crédit Mobilier, coming up with engineering studies showing that the proposed structure would not stand, and promoting the idea of underground railways.  The editor continued to insist that the opposition was that of the special interests like the Sixth Avenue Railroad.11 

The company explained its plan of operation in January in an effort to gain support.  Trains will be run every two minutes during the day and night except between the hours of 1 and 5 in the morning.  The intervals, during those four hours, will be longer.  The ‘tidal wave’ of travel, it is said, will be between 5 and 7 a.m. and 5 and 7 p.m., when the working classes will be passing to and from the city.  The trains during those hours will be called ‘commission trains’ and will carry passengers for half fare— that is, for five cents for five miles.  These trains, however, will have regular passenger cars attached, and those wishing to travel in them will pay regular rates.  The commission cars will not be so elegantly furnished as the other coaches, but will be in every way perfectly comfortable.  They will be arranged somewhat after the fashion of English or Continental railways.  The entrances are on the sides, and the seats extend across the car …  The doors will slide, and will all be opened or closed at once. This type of car was never actually supplied on the line. 

The passengers will not be annoyed at being obliged to give their tickets to a conductor on the train.  The sole duty of that officer will be to look after the comfort and safety of the passengers.  At each station there will be separate places of entrance and exit.  The passengers will buy tickets before entering the waiting-room, and that there may be no confusion there will be three windows where tickets can be bought at each station lobby.  Two turnstiles will register the entrance of passengers and show the number of tickets sold.  These tickets are again taken up at the turnstiles at the exits as the traveler leaves the station at the end of his journey.  Each station will have a number and a color for the ticket.  It sounded as if the fare might vary by distance, but actually one fare was charged for any ride. 

The effect of train loading on acceleration and braking was expected to be a factor.  To accomplish this the projector of the road has devised a method to increase the weight upon the drivers as it is needed  … by hydrostatic pressure, and the center of gravity will be kept beneath and between the drivers.  Thus there will be little or no oscillation of the engine.  Nothing further was heard about this.  The trains will be run on the block system of signals … danger will be avoided.12 

New York Elevated extended through Battery Park

The New York Elevated Railroad went public in January 1877, listing securities on the New York Stock Exchange.  The railway was described as:  Main Line from Battery Place to Sixty-first street, 5 miles ; sidings, 2 miles ; South Ferry Extension, nearly completed, three tracks, 0¾ miles ; 14 stations, 16 engines and 34 passenger cars.  The company had $1,050,000 stock paid up, $1,000,000 bonds and $412,000 floating debt, and the extension to South Ferry was to be completed at a cost of $30,000.  The company wanted to issue $450,000 in stock and $730,000 in bonds, which would be $561,739 per mile of road, $349,180 per mile of track.  In October 1876, it earned $22,650 gross and $10,650 net, a 98.7% increase gross and 113.9% increase net over October 1875.13  That time period saw the extension from 34th St to 59th St. 

Good news came on February 8.  The Spader suit over Battery Park was dismissed in the Special Term of Superior Court.  The South Ferry extension could be built. 

Justice Curtis found that Spader could show no special injury and that the company was acting under authority of law.  He found that all or almost all the land in question had been below high tide in 1790 and so was not covered by the old acts.  Moreover the Rapid Transit Act stated that courts were to treat rapid transit railways as a public use, and Curtis found this acceptable since public uses were those in which the public at large may become sharers or may be benefited thus contradicting Spader’s argument about turning over the Battery to private use.  On the constitutional question over section 36— allowing any existing rapid transit railway to be extended to connect with ferries and railroads— he found that the extension was simply the direction and adaptation of a franchise already given, and not the conferring of a new franchise by a private and local bill … The Legislature has the power, with regard to this class of corporations, to regulate, define and direct their privileges.14 

Some of the foundations had been built before the suit.  The company quickly hired a large force of men … operating at as many points as possible to get the extension built.  The iron for all the uprights was already on the ground, and some of the cross beams were also at hand to be placed across the uprights. Work was suspended only when they ran out of iron pieces, but the Passaic Rolling-mill Company rapidly loaded 30 cars of iron and sent them down on February 13.  It passes between the trees standing in the park, and it will only be necessary to lop off a few overhanging branches to permit the cars to pass.15 

Just at this time the company suffered a loss.  Daniel W Wyman, the chief engineer who had designed the dummy engines, improved the structure, and altogether made the railway into a functional success, died on February 18 at age 53.  At his funeral he was honored with a floral broken shaft, placed there by employees of the Elevated Railway, and he was buried with the ‘grand honors’ of the Masons to which he belonged.16 

The 1500-foot extension opened on April 5.  From the end of the old structure it ran across Battery Place, through Battery Park near State St, and over the plaza at the foot of Whitehall St.  The last pair of columns were on the east side of Whitehall St pointing at Front St.  The structure in the park carried three tracks.  The railroad company is having light iron trestlework prepared which will be placed between the columns of the road across the Battery Park, and the Park Commissioners have agreed to ornament the structure with trailing vines and decorative shrubs17 which were to completely hide the superstructure from view18 but this was apparently never completed. 

The extension made the 7 Broadway terminal into a siding.  It was closed to passengers and replaced by a station at Morris St at the north end of the block that the newspapers called a new station although it may have included parts of the disused station.  Morris St station was finished yesterday evening, the day before it opened.18  7 Broadway remained the company offices until the later part of 1878, after which the property was sold to the Metropolitan Elevated Railway, successor to the Gilbert Elevated.19 

South Ferry station was located over Whitehall St at the very end of the structure.  It was only the length of a three car train and was reached by one stairway.  With characteristic enterprise, as soon as a rude wooden stairway could be made safe enough to walk upon at the South Ferry Station they immediately commenced running the trains.  The station house is not yet finished, and will not be for a week to come.  The trains come and go amid the flying shavings and the sound of the workmen’s hammers, but the number or time of trips will not be affected thereby.20  The company was still thinking small.  About two years later the station was replaced by a much larger four-track South Ferry terminal sited at a right angle to this one.21 


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A crowd of engraver’s dwarfs pass out the doors of the South Ferry terminal and see the new elevated railway station.  Note the engine at the downtown end of the train on the left which if accurate means the push-pull operation had ended by the date of publication.  From Scientific American, June 15, 1878.


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Looking north from South Ferry station into Battery Park, State St at the right.  The little kiosk on the platform must be the ticket office.  From Harper’s Weekly, February 9, 1878.


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The same view as above but at ground level.  Once again an engine is at the downtown end of a train, in the background, and this detailed rendering appears to be from a photograph.  From Scientific American, June 15, 1878. 


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South Ferry station seen from the land side, Battery Park on the right, ferry terminal out of frame on the left background.  The near train with drop-center cars is standing in the station while the other is departing or arriving.  From a stereo view.


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A similar view looking more to the east reveals the end of the structure at Front St on the left.  The very last pair of columns support the structure in the new way planned for the downtown part of the east side line, with solid columns at the curb and a lattice girder across the street between them.  All the rest of the South Ferry extension uses a version of the Wyman four-part column.  The ferry terminal is out of frame to the right.  From a cabinet card.


While the extension was being built, the company was appealing the Patten suit, in which they were enjoined from building a second track in front of Patten’s Pacific Hotel near Cortlandt St.22  On February 23, Judge Daly of the Special Term of the Court of Common Pleas ruled that the act of 1875 that extended the franchise of the New York Elevated Railroad Company was unconstitutional because it was a private bill granting the right to lay tracks, not an amendment of a previous right, the company’s old franchise having expired in 1873.  This contradicted the findings of the Special Term of Superior Court in the Spader case.23 

The decision also provides a documented record of the second track built to date, to the nearest streets:  382 feet from Battery Place to Morris St, 649 feet from Thames St to Cortlandt St, 530 feet from Harrison St to N Moore St, 1,060 feet from Vandam St to Clarkson St, 4,772 feet from Perry St to 24th St, and unspecified sections of 253 feet and 2,531 feet in Ninth Ave up to 51st St.  The court held that only the single track built by April 1873 was legal.23  It remains to be seen whether any attempt will be made to force the company to tear down the switches already built, and what efforts the company will make to secure authority to finish the road, wrote the editor of the Evening PostSince the new switches have been in operation the company has reduced the interval between trains from eighteen to eight minutes, much to the convenience of the public.24 

As of the opening of South Ferry station, the railway scheduled 228 trains a day.18  It was not a long operating day either:  trains left South Ferry from 06:13 to 19:26 and 59th St from 06:01 to 19:12 at headways from 8 to 15 minutes.  Sunday trains started about an hour later and skipped 30th St, apparently because the Hudson River Railroad trains did not run.25 

Engines 16 and 17, Tarrytown and Williamsburgh, had been added in December 1876 to add service made possible by the additional double track sections, and now engines 18 and 19, Brooklyn and Staten Island, were added in March and April to handle the extension to South Ferry and add more service.  They were the last named engines.  The unnamed 20 and 21 arrived in July, and the very last dummy engine was received in November, numbered 1, a number unused since Pioneer was sold.  All these were built by Brooks.  The 22 engines handled a total of 39 passenger cars of which numbers 26 to 39 all arrived from builder Gilbert and Bush during 1877.26


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Staten Island poses with a train from South Ferry at the West 11th St station footbridge.  From a stereo view.


The construction to South Ferry prompted another injunction.  A week before the extension opened, John E Parsons continued his monopoly on east side elevated cases by representing one Rufus Story, a property owner in Front St, in the Court of Common Pleas, asking that the company be stopped from continuing past South Ferry.  Once again it was claimed that the street was owned by the abutting property owners, while the company claimed it was owned by the city.27 

In an attempt to settle the question of using steam engines the company formally applied to the commissioners that had been appointed in 1867 for the West Side and Yonkers Patented Railway.  The commissioners reported on May 20, 1876.  The adopting, using, and operating by said company on their said railway of such locomotive Dummy Steam Engines, of the size, plan and structure, as are now in use, and such similar new and improved engines as they may hereafter construct and desire to use, in place of stationary steam power in the propelling of cars thereon is hereby authorized and approved.28 

Proposals for underground railways

One is almost wholly concealed from view and does not in any degree shut out the sunlight from the street ; the other, as is now the case in Amity street and South Fifth avenue, turns the street into a sort of vault or sub-way, and hence (from this cause alone) inflicts enormous damages on the property along the line … The Rapid Transit Commission … in common with the greater part of this community, believed that an elevated railway would be some sort of gossamer structure which would be rather ornamental than otherwise, but when practical constructing engineers are brought face to face with the realities of the situation by being called upon to plan a structure to carry two tracks, each to sustain ‘1,200 pounds per running foot’ with a ‘factor of 6’, the gossamer and ornamental part disappears.  In its place is the structure now on exhibition in Amity street.29  In a letter from ‘MANHATTAN’ the opposition to the elevated lines began to turn into a renewed movement for underground railways. 

On March 11, the Times mentioned editorially the organization of a Great Metropolitan Railway Company to take up the old Vanderbilt plan for an underground railway from Grand Central down to City Hall, and urged William H Vanderbilt’s involvement in it if he was not already involved.30  They followed this a week later with a lengthy letter from developer John H Sherwood.  He praised the New York and Harlem as responsible and abundantly able to prosecute a work of this kind, which would now cost one-half less than when the Commodore was willing to undertake it because of the continuing drop in wages and prices.  The elevated roads can never be as safe or obtain the same rate of speed as the depressed roads ; neither can they do as much work.  A depressed road does no harm to the property along its line.  He considered the underground route to Harlem as two-thirds finished and merely needing completion.  If the Gilbert Elevated Road is ever built … it will injure the property on that splendid avenue at least $20,000,000 … this Gilbert scheme is mostly in the hands of non-residents and a few citizens who are not likely to give the public what they have been led to expect.31 

The Aldermen passed a resolution in favor of the underground railway, and a contractor supplied a construction estimate of only two million dollars.32  In response Mayor Ely sent the Commissioner of Public Works Allan Campbell to speak with William H Vanderbilt.  Campbell had been the New York and Harlem’s engineer on the project when it was proposed in 1872.  He reported that Mr Vanderbilt said he had no intention of going into the project, and expressed his determination with great positiveness.33  The Times would question why Vanderbilt was so indifferent:  72nd St station had never been opened and the New York and Harlem horsecar was 6 cents but the others 5 cents; a ride from Harlem to City Hall was therefore 10 cents plus 6 cents, and the paper proposed a 10 cent ride by tunnel the whole way that would net more profit because its speed would attract so many riders.34 

It was on this occasion that the editor of the Tribune thought that the opponents of the elevated railways were suspiciously active (see above).  It is just possible that some persons might be deceived by these simultaneous efforts.11  But there were actual underground railway interests, notably the tireless Origen Vandenburgh, who expressed his disappointment with Vanderbilt and emphasized the profits that could be made from such a road.35 

The name of Alfred E Beach even reappeared on the scene when the Assembly took up a bill to extend the charter of what was now called the Broadway Underground Railway Company.  The company’s revised charter of 1874 required completion from the Battery to Grand Central by April 1877, but the company had not built anything at all for seven years.  The Times’s Albany reporter wrote that the bill for the notorious Beach Pneumatic Broadway Company was considered by the Railroad Committee thoroughly, exhaustively, and deliberately and then reported with nearly every vote against it, but that one Assemblyman Dr Hayes moved despite this to consider the bill in the full house.  It was pointed out that the company had never filed the $100,000 bond required in the bill of 1874, and a representative of the company told the committee ‘that the company was advised that there was no law which compelled them to comply with this requirement’.  As to the bill the reporter commented, There is no likelihood of its passing, and the only regret is that the time of the House should be wasted in discussing it.36 

The bill was tabled for a month and then Hayes brought it up again.  The reporter again dismissed it, calling it a bogus concern because it never had, nor has now, a solitary dollar ; its only asset is this charter, which it has twice or three times extended  … The Beach Pneumatic ‘Company’ is one man, whose only property seems to be this charter.37  Hayes still pushed the bill along into May, when as the Times’s reporter noted it would have passed if it had not fallen 22 votes short.38  Beach now had a company but no right to build, since he had not completed the first section by April.  It was not unheard of for charters to be renewed after they had expired— the New York Elevated Railroad relied on it— but for the time being Beach was out of the rapid transit scene. 

But during the time Beach’s bill sat on the table, underground plans in general were still being proposed.  Edward A Morrison called attention to the potential volume of traffic for rapid transit, giving as his example that the Third Avenue Railroad horsecars carried 32 million passengers a year while the 7,000 miles of steam railroads in the state carried 38.5 million.  Should this work be performed by steam on surface, or elevated railroad, it would render the houses along the line uninhabitable for man or beast.  He praised the examples of the London underground railways and the Fourth Avenue Improvement.  The Metropolitan Railway (London) carried 52 million passengers in 1876.  Now it is proposed to give Sixth Ave to a steam elevated railway company, without compensation, to erect an iron bridge 15 feet in height, which will shut out light and air, obstruct the view, and prevent free access to and from the property, and by running frequent trains, will scatter smoke, steam, ashes, cinders, dirty oil and water, and by rattling, steam whistling, and jarring, drive off and destroy business, and turn the finest business avenue in the City into a tenement street or ‘slum’.39 

Allan Campbell reported to the Aldermen in April 19 as to the costs of an underground railway.  He had obtained from Vanderbilt details of the New York Rapid Transit plans from 1872 for a route from City Hall to 55th St (thus running under the terminal and yard and up to the start of the Improvement), which totalled $9.1 million.  The estimate for the New York City Central Underground Railway over a variant route was $10.1 million.  A third estimate for a depressed or open cut route was mentioned as $7 million, but the type of road was not considered desirable.  Campbell mentioned that all the charters for underground roads seemed to have expired by the present date and suggested calling a new Rapid Transit Commission to consider the question.40 

Origen Vandenburgh had purchased the New York City Central Underground Railway the year before, and vociferously protested that he held a decree of the court declaring the existence and perpetuity of the rights granted to that company.  He reckoned the cost of the road as only $5,185,000, based on current prices and on comparisons with projects including the Fourth Avenue Improvement ($6,300,000 for a mile longer) and the Morris and Essex Railroad’s rock tunnel through Bergen Hill near Hoboken.  He asked the public why three of Central Underground’s former directors (unnamed) later became a majority of the Mayor’s Rapid Transit Commission, why these ex-Directors then kept the commission in secret session until it died, and why they exploited elevated railroads in streets, and why another of the former directors, Allan Campbell, was now estimating a cost as high as $10 million.41  He seemed to see a wolf in sheep’s clothing advocating underground railways at an excessive cost that would kill the idea. 

This would have been an ideal time for Beach to give his views as well.  The Broadway Underground bill was being discussed in the Assembly this same week.  But he said nothing until much later in the year. 

Rapid Transit in 1877

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Rapid transit in New York from April 1877 to June 1878— the final state of the old New York Elevated Railroad line.  The other lines approved by the Rapid Transit Commission are shown in yellow.


Arguments at the Court of Appeals about the Rapid Transit Act

The Court of Appeals heard two elevated railway cases together on April 26 and 27.  In the matter of the petition of the New York Elevated Railroad Company was an appeal of the acceptance of the report of the commissioners in April 1876 by the General Term of the Supreme Court.42  In the matter of the petition of the Gilbert Elevated Railway Company to acquire title to lands in the City of New York was an appeal by two property owners in South Fifth Ave of the order from the General Term of the Supreme Court to appoint commissioners to determine compensation for the condemnation of property.43  Both cases raised questions related to the clause in the constitutional amendment effective January 1, 1875, that prohibited any ‘private and local bill …  granting to any corporation, association, or individual the right to lay down railroad track’.  The decisions on the two cases would later be indexed in law references under the heading ‘What is a General Law’.  The outcome would also affect the Sixth Avenue Railroad and Patten cases and the new Story case.  The court heard arguments for ten hours over the two days.44 

In the New York Elevated case, The basis of the commissioners’ report was that the public benefits to be conferred upon the city of New York out-weighed any damage likely to be inflicted upon the property adjoining the route.  The report stated that the commissioners did not regard themselves as required or permitted to determine whether the Elevated Railroad proposed was the only or best form of steam railroad for rapid transit in the city of New York, or whether the particular route selected was the only or the best route for such a railroad.42  Parsons argued first that the Rapid Transit Act itself violated the constitutional prohibition against local bills and charged that in section 36 in particular the references to an operating elevated railway and to a company with unbuilt valid franchises might as well have referred to them by name.  Secondly if the act was constitutional, the commissioners of 1875 were bound to consider the rights of property-owners, but they did not announce their decisions to the public until the end when there was no time left to hear opposition.  Thirdly he charged that neither the legislature nor the city could appropriate certain public streets for elevated railways because they were not fully public property but were still in part owned by the abutting property owners.  Co-counsel George F Comstock added to this an argument that the New York Elevated Railroad Company did not own the old West Side and Yonkers franchise and that therefore its nonexistent franchise could not be extended by the Rapid Transit Act.44 

The Gilbert Elevated case repeated the arguments as to section 36 of the Rapid Transit Act and the ownership of public streets.  The property in dispute was a curious length of South Fifth Ave, formerly Laurens St, running 143 feet from Amity St (now Third St) south to the former location of Amity Lane, that had never been deeded to the city.  This much seemed to be agreed upon, and the company had sought to purchase a portion first by offer and then by the court proceeding known as condemnation (much as any railway could do to acquire a right of way).  Counsel William M Evarts argued that because the Rapid Transit Act was not general and therefore unconstitutional, and the company proposed to build something other than the arches and tubes and pneumatic power defined in the charter, therefore the company had no right to build at all, and the condemnation should not proceed.45 

From the historical record there should be little doubt that the Rapid Transit Act was intended to shatter the roadblocks that had so long held up the long-sought goal of rapid transit.  The two powerful forces against rapid transit were obstructionist property owners like A T Stewart and the wealthy street railway companies.  It is no accident that neither of those was given a voice in the process by which a commission would establish routes and plans.  The legislative history also strongly suggests that the contentious section 36 was inserted precisely as charged to benefit the two existing elevated railway companies, which to many observers seemed to be the only organizations likely to accomplish the goal provided they could escape limitations of their old charters.  The plaintiffs were correct as to the purposes of the Rapid Transit Act. 

The public question if not the legal one was whether the intrusive noise and darkening of elevated railways was an acceptable cost against the benefit of rapid transit.  For years some analysts including Alfred E Beach argued that it was not.  Comparisons always were made of construction costs alone and not payments to property owners for damage and loss of value or the intangible loss of quiet and light to many more New Yorkers without property.  After all the effort put into the elevated railways, most of them would be declared a total loss in less than sixty-five years and torn down within the living memory of old people who had seen them go up.  By contrast the investment of money, sweat and tears in London’s Metropolitan and District tunnels and stations of the 1860s and 1870s is still paying off for the riding public. 

The franchises of both elevated railway companies had expired by 1877, and had been extended solely by the New York Elevated Railroad’s special bill of 1875 and by the decisions of the Rapid Transit Commission to designate connecting routes to the New York Elevated and a coinciding route that the Gilbert Elevated could build.  It was because of the action of the commission that two companies began to attract wealthy investors.  It is tempting to imagine what circumstances would have similarly validated underground railways for Beach or more likely Vanderbilt and what would have resulted from the same investors going in to their projects instead.  The demand for rapid transit was very great and underground railways would have shown good profits.  Judging by the statements of Morrison’s Sixth Ave group, many of the property owners might have facilitated rather than delayed construction, and in the end the work would like that in London have endured longer.  But no underground plan had had any momentum for years, and the public had come to settle for what they could get. 

The court took until September to give a decision.  In the meantime, construction was almost at a standstill, but public meetings kept the topic alive, and more financiers came on board the elevated companies. 

The New York Loan and Improvement Company

The financial arrangements of the Gilbert Elevated company had taken a turn in middle of 1875 when José Navarro and his group of investors had finally brought in the needed cash to construct the railway provided it was to be built under the plans they submitted to the Rapid Transit Commission that did away with the difficult arch design.  Whether they had a part in the crafting of the act itself is not known.  Unlike Rufus H Gilbert with his desire to improve the city and the lot of workmen by spreading the population into less dense development, these investors wanted primarily a return on their investment. 

In an anonymous letter to the Times in February 1877, a well-informed ‘Citizen’ described the deal.  This Loan and Improvement Company occupies the same relation to rapid transit that the Crédit Mobilier did to the Pacific Railway.  Having contracted with a concern in Delaware or Maryland to erect a structure mostly of sheet-iron, at something less than $300,000 per mile, they arrange to issue securities to the modest amount of $2,500,000 per mile, viz :  $1,000,000 first mortgage bonds, $1,000,000 secured mortgage bonds, and $500,000 in stock ; that is to say, if the road is 10 miles long, they will build it for $3,000,000 and have $25,000,000 to pay for it, or a profit of $22,000,000.  Truly a ‘big bonanza’.46 

By 1877 the financiers were hiding the books from Gilbert, who was still a director.  He charged in court in June that stock was being transferred fraudulently to unnamed persons to give them votes at the annual meeting in July.  In the election he lost his seat as a director, and in August he brought suit against Navarro, William Foster, the Gilbert Elevated and New York Loan and Improvement companies, and Edge Moor Iron, saying that he was about to be defrauded of half a million dollars.  The story was as follows.

The first stock issued by the Gilbert Elevated company in 1872 was a block of 5,000 shares to Gilbert himself in exchange for his patents and his rights, which at par value of $100 was $500,000.  It was issued at the company’s first meeting at which also Foster was elected president and Gilbert superintendant and engineer.  No other stock was issued until May 1875, when others bought stock from Foster, and were then elected as directors in July.  This coincided with the meetings of the Rapid Transit Commission.  Navarro, Foster, George Pullman and Cornelius Garrison then bought up stock of the New York Loan and Improvement Company and elected themselves its directors and officers in the company meeting of January 1876.47 

Gilbert said that he made the acquaintance of William Foster while organizing the company and that Foster told him he had large influence with capitalists whose co-operation and assistance he would secure, and thus insure the success of the proposed enterprise … if sufficient inducement was given them by way of gratutity or bonus in the shares … Dr Gilbert says he assented to the conditions, and … that in order to enable Foster to complete the arrangements with the capitalists he gave Foster 4,300 shares of the company’s stock, without any consideration being given by Foster.  The latter failed to procure the promised capital, and has also failed to return the shares of stock, which, as is alleged, he has disposed of in connection with the defendant Navarro.  The capital stock of the Gilbert Company was limited in its issue to 5,285 shares, of which Dr Gilbert owns 750 … As a result Foster and Navarro controlled the company with no investment. 

The two then took control of the New York Loan and Improvement Company together with Pullman and Garrison, and around the start of 1876 Navarro induced Dr Gilbert to believe … that it was essential that all of the Gilbert Company’s stock should be temporarily placed in his hands, with the authority to pay over one-half to those who provided the capital as a bonus for them, and that the remaining one-half should be surrendered to the Improvement Company, for which Dr Gilbert was to receive a like number of the Improvement Company’s shares. And so Gilbert gave them $65,000 in Gilbert shares for the promise of $32,500 in Improvement shares.  Foster and Navarro, now possessing all of the Gilbert shares, signed a contract with the Improvement company on March 13, 1876, to build and equip the elevated railway for the Gilbert company.  The Improvement company then issued stocks and bonds amounting to $2,000,000 a mile, while contracting with Edge Moor Iron to build it for $300,000 a mile and with other companies to equip the railway for an additional $50,000 a mile.  This greatly reduced the share represented by the $32,500 in stock that was to be given Gilbert, which in fact was never even given him.48 

New York Loan and Improvement ended up taking all of the stock and bonds of the Gilbert company as payment.  In 1879, when the stock had reached a value of $6,500,000 following the opening of the elevated railways, $6,000,000 of the Gilbert stock was distributed to the Improvement stockholders and the remaining $500,000 worth was sold for $627,460.  Navarro told an incredulous Railroad Commission in 1883 that construction costs had really been $700,000 to $800,000 a mile despite other engineers’ assertions that the same structures could be duplicated for half those figures.49

Cyrus Field in control of New York Elevated

Financier Cyrus Field is still best known for laying the first successful Atlantic Cable in 1866.  He said in 1879, I bought a controlling interest in the New-York Elevated Railroad Company in May, 1877, at an average of about $14 for every $100 worth of stock.  The business was then awaiting the decision of the Court of Appeals … if the decision of the court was in its favor, I plainly saw the stock would be worth a great deal of money … I was a little doubtful about carrying it all myself, and I made a proposition to Mr W H Vanderbilt to take part.  He pooh-poohed the idea and did not want any.  I then concluded that it would be well, in case the decision of the Court of Appeals was against us, to have some strong legislative ally in the concern.  It was for this reason and with this end in view that I called upon Mr Tilden and offered him a proportion of my stock at the price I had paid for it.50  Samuel J Tilden’s term as governor had just ended in January 1877.

Tilden said in response, I in no manner meddled with the Court of Appeals on that question.  I neither did nor could have helped the company with that court if I had desired to do so.  According to Tilden, the stock had been offered to him before, but he had declined until Field bought it and asked him about buying half, not as a favor in any sense, Field leaving the papers for Tilden to consider overnight.51  Who offered it before Field?  Was David Dows still returning favors from when Governor Tilden signed the New York Elevated bill in 1875?  The company went public the month Tilden left office.  Tilden decided to accept the deal but, as Field explained it, he did not wish to be mixed up in business affairs, and desired the stock to be put in the name of his nephew, William T Pelton …. Mr Tilden introduced him to me as an excellent man of business— just the one we wanted.

Field became increasingly unhappy about Tilden’s participation.  First Tilden delayed paying for his shares for some weeks until Field threatened to cancel, but Field blamed this on his invincible habit of procrastination.  As Field told it, At Mr Tilden’s request, the stock was entered in Pelton’s name, and at the same request Pelton was made Vice-President of the company.  In all these transactions it was understood that ‘Pelton’ was ‘Tilden’.  He was his nephew, he lived in his house, and was his trusted and confidential agent.  No one of us ever supposed that Pelton did anything without instructions.  There were small transactions of Mr Pelton which were not altogether agreeable to our Directors, so much so that I was at last obliged to inform him, in the presence of the board, that if he did not instantly resign his place as Vice-President, he would be removed ; and he sat down and wrote his resignation on the spot.  It was unanimously accepted.  At the next election he was dropped from the board, and has never shown himself to us again.  Yet the stock still remained in his name.52  Pelton was named Vice President in September 1877 and again at the January 1878 meeting53 and left a letter of resignation that was read at the January 1879 meeting.54  During the course of 1878 Pelton was accused of bribery on Tilden’s behalf during the presidential election of 1876, sending hundreds of cipher messages right out of Tilden’s home in an attempt to influence the electoral votes from four disputed states.55 

The occasion of all this public airing of business relations was a bitter feud between Field and Tilden in 1879 that was never fully explained.  Field claimed to have been wronged when Tilden sold off some of his New York Elevated stock that summer,52 but it all seemed overplayed to some observers as if the motive was to hurt Tilden politically.56  Tilden actually held on to most of his stock until 1881 when he notified David Dows as a courtesy that he was going to cash in his remaining block of stock.57 

At any rate following his stock purchase Field became President of the company by the start of June 1877 and began a series of showmanlike gestures to signal the change.  On June 9 he invited 125 prominent citizens for an excursion trip from South Ferry to 59th St and back followed by a lunch at Delmonico’s in Hanover Square.  Field confidently predicted a rapid transit line on the east side in the near future, and emphasized the steadily increasing travel on the existing route.58  The Times called the campaign an attempt to manufacture public sentiment in favor of the road by means of meetings, demonstrations, newspaper articles, and last, though not least, champagne lunches59— what would today simply be called publicity. 

Public meetings

A public meeting was called for June 6 at Chickering Hall, a new venue, by a group of citizens that happened to include David Dows.60  On the platform were Cyrus Field, Milton Courtright, and James Cowing of the New York Elevated Railroad, with former Mayor Wickham as chairman.  Resolved, That we remind the New York Elevated Railroad Company that, under the promise of affording the people rapid transit, it has acquired the use of two of the principal streets and avenues of the city.  We recognize in its latest form of structure the promise of its future increased capacity and success.  Speakers said that property in Greenwich St was worth more now that the elevated was in operation.61 

Further meetings un favor of the New York Elevated Railroad were held June 16 at the Lion Brewery, Tenth Ave and 110th St62; on June 23 at Association Hall in Harlem63; and on June 29 at Parepa Hall, Third Ave and 86th St.64  At the Lion, the company was asked to build north on the west side by such speakers as former mayors Fernando Wood and Daniel Tiemann, both now interested in real estate development of the area.  The other meetings promoted the Third Ave route.  At the last of these, the New York Elevated Railroad Company was commended and the citizens were called upon to urge its completion.  If Field was behind all this, he was working hard. 

Amidst these an anti-elevated meeting was held June 21 at Chickering Hall.  We do not hold this meeting in order that the Court of Appeals should take cognizance of such demonstrations as this, said chairman Eugene O’Sullivan.  The theme of the speakers was the rights of property owners.65  A speaker at the pro-elevated meeting two days later called them citizens who are in favor of rapid transit, but opposed to its execution.63 

Businessmen in lower Manhattan also held a meeting, on July 13, where they resolved that the people of New-York, wearied with long waiting for the means of rapid transit, and indignant at the embarrassment thrown in its way by the surface railroad companies, call upon the Common Council of the City to investigate the conduct of these companies.  This carried on the call at the start of the year about the revocable franchises the street railways had.  The speakers, who included Rufus H Gilbert, O H Palmer (of the January 1876 commission), and Senator Eastman of Poughkeepsie, said that the lack of rapid transit from the railway terminals to downtown was hurting business all the way up the Hudson valley and that population growth— read real estate development— was still going to New Jersey and Brooklyn because of faster transportation.  The pressure was on.66 

The Sixth Avenue Railroad’s double-deck car

The Gilbert Elevated and the Sixth Avenue Railroad meanwhile were playing games while awaiting the Court of Appeals decision.  By the start of July the street railway put two double-deck cars in service so that they could complain about the limited headroom they would have under the proposed elevated structure.  A drawing in Leslie’s Monthly of July 7 reveals what looks like an old car with an open deck added on top.  In response the Gilbert company announced that they would construct one pair of columns at 41st St with a girder spanning the tracks, and brought materials to the site on July 17.  This was the place where foundations had been laid before work was stopped in 1876.  Reportedly some property owners had withdrawn objections at that spot making construction possible.67  But it seems that the arch was not constructed at this time. 

Comically, the path of the double-deck car was already blocked downtown by its owners.  The Sixth Ave car line ran down to the end of College Place (now West Broadway) at Barclay St and then through the block to Vesey St, which it used to reach Broadway.  The company had put up a small building over the ‘private right of way’ which therefore had the character of an open-ended garage.  The height here in the company’s own property was too low for the double-deck cars, so the cars were terminating in Park Place on the Broadway and Seventh Avenue Railroad’s track by some private arrangement between the companies.  Merchants in Park Place were threatening to go for an injunction to get the double-deck cars off their street.67 

The cars were still running in September, and the street railway company made a claim for compensation for not being able to run them any more when the elevated railway was built.  Their number had not increased in the meantime.68  These were almost the only double-deck streetcars ever used in New York. 


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One of the Sixth Avenue Railroad’s double-deck cars.  From Lesley’s Monthly, July 7, 1877.


The Court of Appeals upholds the Rapid Transit Act

The Court of Appeals issued landmark decisions in favor of the elevated railway companies on September 18, 1877.  The newspapers headlined, RAPID TRANSIT VICTORY69 and RAPID TRANSIT SUSTAINED70 and RAPID TRANSIT’S CHANCE.71

In the matter of the petition of the New York Elevated Railroad Company came first.  The court stated that only the state government has standing to dispute a charter, but they considered the question anyway and reviewed all of the laws that the company relied on back to the general law permitting cable railways that Harvey had lobbied for in 1866.  That was all right and so was the West Side and Yonkers charter of 1867.  It seems that the act of 1868 extending the 1867 charter was void as charged, the court said, because a local or private bill could cover only one subject and must express its purpose in its title, but they refrained from actually ruling on the question because they said it did not matter.  Any defect in that act, however, was obviated by the act of 1875 (chap 595, Laws 1875) which secured to the N Y E R R Co the rights, privileges and franchises of the W S & Y P R Co, and gave to the former company the right to use any motive power for the propulsion of the cars which the commissioners should authorize or approve.  The private New York Elevated act of 1875 was constitutional because it only amended the rights previously given— it was not a local bill granting the right to lay tracks.42  It amended the company’s rights even though the rights had possibly expired.  Therefore the company had the right to run the old line in Greenwich St and Ninth Ave. 

Turning to the Rapid Transit Act the court held that it is not a local or private bill within the meaning of the Constitution, but is a general act … The Legislature has the authority to confer these powers upon a commission.  It cannot in general law determine the necessity of a railroad in any particular locality or its route … but it may provide the machinery for the determination of these matters … The provision  … authorizing elevated railroads in actual operation at the time of the passage of the act, to construct connections with other roads, and with depots and ferries … is not violative of said constitutional provisions ; it does not grant any exclusive privilege or franchise to any corporation, and is not a private or local bill, granting the right to lay down railroad tracks.  The right would not be exclusive within the meaning of the Constitution, even if but one railroad could be built in any street, so long as other routes were permitted.  The fact that said provision applies only to existing companies does not make it private or local ; nor would the fact that there was but one elevated railway in actual operation at the time of its passage.42  By this the court validated the Rapid Transit Act and specifically the disputed section 36 that dealt with charters granted before the act.  It followed that the work of the Rapid Transit Commission of 1875 was valid and therefore the Third Ave route that they designated was valid. 

As to the 1876 commission that was to determine necessity, the court held that neither the Rapid Transit Act nor the constitution required the company to give notice of application for such commissioners, nor was it required for the commission to give personal notice to the property owners.  Parsons’s appeal had hinged largely on whether the owners had had the notice and hearing that they were entitled to.  The court also held that the commissioners did not exceed their authority by placing additional limits on the type of structure that could be built or by rejecting one of the proposed routes (92nd St and Eighth Ave) and not all.42  Therefore the Third Ave route had been given all the approvals it required and could now be built. 

The court drew attention to the principle that in state law nothing but a clear violation of the Constitution will justify a court in overruling the legislative will42 … An adverse doubtful construction is not sufficient to condemn an act.43  These were very general remarks.  As the editor of the World put it, The Court of Appeals has dealt with the subject as largely and effectively as its importance demanded.  It has had the courage to clear the matter up thoroughly so far as its authority goes, not only by deciding the cases submitted to it, but by meeting fully the objections likely to be raised to each decision.  The disposition of the Court was evident to make an end to the subject so far as the laws of the land are concerned, in order that it may be dealt with fairly and promptly by the people of New York, and that further idle and vexatious litigation may be made as far as may be impossible.72 

There was dissent on only one issue, compensation to property owners.  Splitting 4 to 3 on this point, the court ruled that ample provision is made for compensation to the owners of every property, right and interest in the streets of the city … including the rights and interests, if any, of the owners of lots abutting on streets the fee of which is in the city.  The minority opinion was simply that the various acts did not provide for adequate compensation.42  But the right of the New York Elevated Railroad to construct and operate its old and new routes was no longer in doubt. 

The decision In the matter of the petition of the Gilbert Elevated Railway Company to acquire title to lands in the City of New York followed immediately.  The different issue of this case was the clause in the Rapid Transit Act about a route coinciding with an unbuilt route already chartered to an existing company.  Consistent with the first decision, the court held that even assuming that said provision of the Rapid Transit Act was intended to apply only to the G E R Co, such provision, as so applicable, was not within the prohibitions of said constitutional provisions, as it did not grant to said company the right to lay down railroad tracks within the meaning of the Constitution, or any exclusive right not then possessed by it, but was simply intended to protect the rights it already possessed ; that the changes required were simply restrictive in character, and if, in imposing such restrictions, some benefits accrued, such as an extension of time for construction, this did not change the character of the act.43  Therefore the Gilbert Elevated Railway had the right to build the type of structure designated by the Rapid Transit Commission. 

The opinion includes a hair-splitting paragraph about whether the route is void, because the route designated crosses Broadway below Fifty-ninth street, which is forbidden in the Rapid Transit Act.  Here the court decided that although the Rapid Transit Commissioners were required to designate a route for a railway, over, under, through or across streets and avenues except Broadway below Fifty-ninth street, they could not designate routes that they were not allowed to designate, or to put a fine point on it one might ask whether the route to Broadway, and from Broadway on the opposite side are considered one route or two and then whether either or both coincide with the former designation, even if the crossing is not coincident.43  From this reasoning it appears that those segments actually crossing from one side of Broadway to the other were not designated by the Rapid Transit Commission.  If so they were built without authority of law since the original Gilbert franchise had expired.  But the decision in the New York Elevated case made it clear that only the state could challenge an expired charter, and that even then the legislature could remedy it after the fact by a local bill, so it was never pursued. 

Whether the structure contemplated to be built and operated will be an invasion of the property of abutting owners in any of the streets entitling them to some remedy for damages, or whether it will be regarded as a legitimate use of the streets for the benefit of the public, the inconvenience and annoyance of which private abutting ownership is subject to, cannot, with propriety, be adjudicated upon these appeals.  This, noted in the case summary simply as quaere, left the question of damages for later.  The point was that all the parts of the Rapid Transit Act were held constitutional— and the court made this unanimous, the dissenters in the New York Elevated case appending a note to this case stating that the previous case was the law of the land.43 

It was a great victory for the elevated companies. 

Rapid transit now certain

What are you going to do now, Mr Field, the reporters asked.  ‘We are going right ahead— right straight ahead to build the rest of the road according to the approved plans.  We shall begin at once, and we shall complete the work just as fast as money can accomplish it.’71  Milton Courtright, former president and now vice president, said that the first goal was to complete double track on the west side and then to build the Third Ave route.  ‘I fully believe that our way is clear, and that we shall soon be able to give the people genuine rapid transit from end to end of the island.’70  An unnamed director told a reporter, ‘The capital has been ready for some time, awaiting the clearing away of legal obstructions.  Work will be begun at once, and carried on as rapidly as iron can be manufactured and the road constructed.’70

Simeon Church told the paper that every point raised against the Rapid Transit Act and against the companies operating under it was overruled by the court.  All the injunctions obtained against the companies would therefore fall to the ground, and any further opposition to rapid transit would be only factious.  In regard to the Gilbert Company Mr Church said the decision affirmed their right to cross Broadway, which had been disputed.  They are held to have full powers to construct their road under the Rapid Transit Act and their original charter.  Both the rapid transit companies, it is held, are under no obligation to obtain the consent of property owners to the completion of their roads, as their rights were acquired before the passage of the Rapid Transit Act.69 

Rufus H Gilbert said that his company would immediately proceed with the completion of its road.69  Company officials now felt that the Sixth Avenue Railroad would not continue their suit to the Court of Appeals since they could only take it there on grounds which had already been gone over very thoroughly … The Sixth-avenue corporation had not a leg to stand on.  Furthermore, they were liable for all damages sustained by the Gilbert Company from the delay to the completion of their enterprise by the injunction which had stopped the building of the road … This injunction is still in force, and nothing can be done until it is dissolved by the State Supreme Court, which will be done now, as soon as the decree of the Court of Appeals is presented in legal form.  The Sixth-avenue Company had given a bond of $5,000 for all damages which might be sustained by the Gilbert Company when the injunction was sued out.  The president of the Sixth Avenue Railroad could only point out that the question of compensation was still open for debate.73 

The New York Elevated board of directors met two days after the decision at 7 Broadway.  Counsel Dudley Field (Cyrus’s brother) reported that the remaining obstacles were the Patten injunction for one block of Greenwich St and the Story injunction for one block of Front St, both of which he expected to see dissolved soon.  Meanwhile every other part of the route could be built.  Following the meeting Cyrus Field drew up notices to contractors for the second track on the old elevated railway, its extension as two tracks to 81st St, and the Third Ave route up to 59th St.74 

At this meeting, the elderly Peter Cooper retired as a director and Milton Courtright resigned as vice president and member of executive committee but continued as Chief Engineer.  This was when Tilden’s nephew William T Pelton replaced Cooper and Courtright in those positions and Tilden’s stock interest was made public.74 


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‘Rapid transit now certain’— uptown property suddenly became more valuable.  From the Times, October 5, 1877.


The Sixth Avenue Railroad suit dismissed

The Sixth Avenue Railroad fought ‘to the bitter end’ as they had vowed.  The Gilbert Elevated had appealed the injunction to the General Term of Superior Court on July 5 but the decision was held pending the Court of Appeals decision on the constitutionality of the Rapid Transit Act which was the primary basis for the injunction.75  Following the Court of Appeals decision the Sixth Avenue Railroad then argued that because of the Gilbert’s unfavorable deal with the New York Loan and Improvement Company, the Gilbert company might have no money to give for compensation,76 so it was important that compensation come before construction.77  Arguments over how to end the injunction ran on for months.  A decision by the Special Term of Superior Court on October 15 allowed the Gilbert company to build, and the company began on November 5 between 35th and 42nd Sts and between 20th and 22nd Sts.78  This decision was overturned by the General Term; then that was vacated;79 and then the question of the correct procedure was brought to the Court of Appeals who refused to hear it,75 so stopping construction again. 

Finally on January 14, 1878, the General Term of Superior Court on appeal found in favor of the Gilbert Elevated Railway.  The court found that the street railway and its rights and franchises would not be disturbed, and that the plaintiff has no easement or property rights in Sixth-avenue incident or or appurtenant to its ownership of lands abutting thereon, the beneficial use or enjoyment of whereof will be destroyed, diminished, impaired, or interfered with by the construction or operation of the defendant’s proposed railway.80  The court terminated the injunction.

Construction of the Sixth Ave El

The Gilbert Elevated Railway Company now at long last in January 1878 was clear to build in Sixth Ave without further interruption.  A section in Third St and South Fifth Ave had been built earlier and the portion south of there to Morris St had been underway since October.  Some of the foundations had been laid in Sixth Ave.  Now the entire Sixth Ave El was completed over the next four months, tested in May and opened in June 1878. 


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This unidentified stereo view shows Murray St looking west from Church St toward West Broadway.  The structure ends before it turns right into the latter, so the date is 1877.  This is the new type of Gilbert Elevated structure without side trusses.  Others of this type were built with lattice girders.  The track in the foreground curves around to the right-hand side of the street and as it goes back it angles to the left, to ease the sharp curves as much as possible while staying between the curb lines.  The Greenwich St elevated railway crosses left to right in the distance, a block beyond West Broadway.


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The Daily Graphic showed readers scenes of construction in Sixth Ave late in 1877. This one from November 21 shows ‘operations below Sixteenth Street’ looking downtown toward the tower of the Jefferson Market at Ninth St.  The excavations were all in the space between the curb and the streetcar tracks.  The line of utility poles was on the east side of the street.


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‘Workmen laying the stone foundations at night’.  Two or three lanterns cast a brilliant light on an autumn evening in old New York.  All these illustrations are by ‘our special artist’ whose signature appears to be Hartt. From November 21.


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Three above from December 27: ‘excavating for foundations’, ‘driving piles’ and ‘building foundations’.  In the bottom picture, the foundation in the foreground is almost done (see just below) but not far away is another that has just been dug out with a pile driver derrick over it.  The piles were driven until they hit solid rock, and over them was laid a stone and concrete base.


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Two more from December 27: ‘building a brick abutment for column’.  In the upper drawing the stone and concrete layers have just been finished and a workman is fitting nuts to the tops of the iron rods that will hold the column in place.  In the lower drawing the rods have been stablized by a square frame and courses of brick are being added to the foundation.  The two thin rods sticking up above street level can also be seen in one of the previous drawings.


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The December 27 Daily Graphic also included a huge full page illustration called ‘The Gilbert Elevated Railway / section of the completed structure on Sixth Avenue’ but it was of course an artist’s conception.  The dummy engines and cars had not yet been built but these are very good depictions of the cars.  The dummy engine as shown is a 2-4-4T with a very distinct front and rear, while as built just months later they were 2-4-2T and clearly designed to run equally well in both directions.

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The Story and Patten lawsuits dismissed

On the New York Elevated, the Rufus Story suit as to a block of Front St reached the Special Term of the Court of Common Pleas in October81 and was decided in November.  Judge Robinson declares that Story has no title in the fee of the street, and has also no claim for damages against the company for deprivation of an easement, since the company is acting properly under legislative authority.  Under this decision the company will go on and build its road immediately along the east side.82  Story continued to seek damages for years to come, but there was no stopping the construction of the elevated railway. 

The company appealed the Patten injunction to the General Term of the Court of Common Pleas in November, with John E Parsons now appearing for Patten and Dudley Field and others for the company.77  The court held in favor of the New York Elevated Railroad in January and found Patten liable for damages.83  Patten had become ill by this time and died on May 26, 1878, as the elevated second track was being finished in front of his Pacific Hotel, the last rail being bolted just about the time of his death.84

A status report was published on November 23.  The second track in Greenwich St and Ninth Ave was nearing completion except for the block in front of Patten’s Pacific Hotel.  Foundations for the Third Ave route were partly completed from Whitehall St to Beekman St and on this date a permit was obtained to continue up Pearl St, New Bowery, Bowery and Third Ave.  The Gilbert company was working on foundations in Sixth Ave despite the injunction.  Both companies for some reason started work on the City Hall branch in Chatham St (Park Row from Chambers St to Chatham Square) and advertisements for laborers had attracted more than 300 men ready to advance the cause of each company.  A fight nearly broke out, but the officers of the companies agreed to a truce and stopped work on the branch for the time being.85  By this date also the Gilbert company were constructing the lower part of the Sixth Ave route below Grand St to a different plan as mentioned in October, using lattice girders and a simpler structure without side trusses.86 

Cyrus Field held a large banquet at Delmonico’s on December 26 for about 200 city leaders to celebrate the impending success of rapid transit.  Hundreds of men are at work preparing the foundations for their structures.  Huge machines are lifting the iron-work into position, while a dozen mills are in operation night and day endeavoring to supply the demand for posts, girders, and tracks, while manufacturers are building the rolling stock that is to be used in the transportation of passengers.  Field said, ‘The City of New York has never begrudged success to any great enterprise which was profitable to its projectors, provided it was also clearly for the public good.  We do not make a parade of this as if we were moved purely by motives of philanthropy ; but it is with us a matter of honest pride that the enterprise which we have undertaken is for the highest interest for the growth and prosperity of our City.’87 

Alfred E Beach’s dissenting voice

This result is hailed as ‘a victory for rapid transit’ with scarcely a dissenting voice on the part of the press of the metropolis, wrote the editor of Scientific American in October.  We desire none the less to record our disapprobation, and to say, as we have steadily held from the time when the elevated system of city railways was first broached, that in our opinion this mode of transit is unsuited to the wants of the public, unjust to our citizens, open to grave objections from an engineering point of view, and manifestly inferior to other systems, the success of which has been demonstrated by the plainest results of experience.  That rapid transit is an urgent necessity admits of no question ; but the need is not such as to warrant the hasty conclusion that the end will justify any means.  The business welfare of our city depends greatly upon the condition of its streets, and that these should be maintained clear and unobstructed is a measure of public policy even more important than the securing of quick transit.  The Elevated Railroad is a serious obstruction, it has proved ruinous to the property past which it runs, and it is an unsightly blemish on the magnificent thoroughfares which now constitute the chief ornament of New York. 

Beach reminded readers that the New York Elevated was not the only rapid transit service in the city.  The elevated road and the underground road are now and have been for some in operation in this city simultaneously, where one was made and has been maintained in the teeth of the opposition of citizens and property owners, the other, which stands as one of the most splendid engineering achievements of recent years, was constructed in accordance a most urgent popular demand.  Residents along Fourth avenue held public meetings to insist that the tracks of the Hudson River and other lines be sunk, and no one for an instant advocated their elevation.  Rapid transit trains are now constantly run over this underground road, and people have had the opportunity to judge of its thorough efficiency.  In Baltimore and St Louis, the underground system has been adopted in decided preference and now exists ; in London it has been in successful operation for many years, and even in Constantinople, a city destitute in other respects of the most ordinary improvements, the underground railway now furnishes the means of transit.

The subject must now be regarded as singularly anomalous.  A project, the feasibility and advantages of which are recognized by the best engineers, which is a demonstrated success and which is objectionable to nobody, is strangely enough deferred in favor of one, the practicability of which is by no means free from doubt, which had afforded only very restricted proof of its benefits, and which meets the strongest disapproval from every one directly affected by it, and numbers its supporters only among those whose property is not likely to be injured by the incursion of its tracks.88 

Last gasp of the New York City Central Underground

Beach’s wish seemed to take life late in December when Origen Vandenburgh let it be known that an English syndicate has been formed to raise capital to build the Central Underground Railway, chartered by the New York Legislature in 1868 … He has been for several weeks in correspondence with a prominent London banker, and has been informed by cable that his propositions have been accepted by the syndicate.  Sir Edward Watkins, president of the London underground railways, is largely interested in the new scheme.89  Vandenburgh told reporters, The Englishmen do not ask for any American capital.  They have carefully examined every detail in the history of the corporation, and are convinced that there is a clear field for their operations.90 

Vandenburgh obtained legal opinion that the charter of 1869 was still valid.  The original charter of 1868 required completion to 42nd St within three years of the act and to the Harlem River within five, but the amendments of 1869 changed the timing to be three and five years from the start of construction.91  The argument must have been that construction had not yet begun, but it had, the company making a show of two short-lived work sites in May 1871 (chapter 8).  Nonetheless Vandenburgh announced, The franchises of the company are as good as ever they were.90 

The route, it will be recalled, was from City Hall through the Five Points district partly by private property, Mulberry St, Fourth Ave, Union Square, private property east of Broadway, Madison Square and then Madison Ave to the Harlem River.  Vandenburgh said that the syndicate expects to have the first section, three and a half miles, finished by the latter end of 1879, and to have it open for traffic then at a cost of only $5,000,000.  This section would run from City Hall to 42nd St station and some blocks farther for switching.  It was to be an average 20 feet below street level but open or viaduct in the vicinity of the Five Points and Canal St because of the low ground.90 

Vice President Pelton of the New York Elevated expressed the opinion that the charter had expired.  Rufus H Gilbert told reporters that English capitalists would not invest in so expensive an undertaking, when an elevated road could be built so much more cheaply.89  The idea was still spoken of in February 187892 but that was about the end of it. 

The golden year of elevated railways was about to begin. 

1 Times, 1877 Apr 28.
2 Times, 1877 Mar 11.
3 Times, 1877 Apr 28.
4 Tribune, 1877 Jan 5.
5 Times, 1877 Jan 21.
6 Evening Post, 1877 Jan 31; Times, 1877 Feb 1.
7 Evening Post, 1877 Feb 1.
8 Tribune, 1877 Feb 1.
9 Times, 1877 Feb 6.
10 Evening Post, 1877 Mar 13.
11 Tribune, 1877 Mar 21.
12 Tribune, 1877 Jan 25.
13 Railroad Gazette, 1877 Jan 19.
14 Evening Post, 1877 Feb 8; Times, 1877 Feb 9.
15 Times, 1877 Feb 13.
16 Times, 1877 Feb 23.
17 Tribune, 1877 Apr 5.
18 Herald, 1877 Apr 5.
19 Times, 1879 May 3.
20 Herald, 1877 Apr 6.
21 Times, 1879 Feb 16.
22 Times, 1877 Jan 16.
23 Times, 1877 Feb 24.
24 Evening Post, 1877 Feb 24.
25 Times, 1877 Apr 6.
26 Horn, roster.  White, ‘Spunky little devils’.
27 Times, 1877 Apr 1; Tribune, 1877 Apr 2.
28 Reeves, First Elevated Railroads, 13.
29 Times, 1877 Feb 7.
30 Times, 1877 Mar 11.
31 Times, 1877 Mar 17.
32 Times, 1877 Mar 20.
33 Times, 1877 Mar 21.
34 Times, 1877 Apr 29.
35 Times, 1877 Mar 26.
36 Times, 1877 Apr 6.
37 Times, 1877 Apr 29.
38 Times, 1877 May 15.
39 Times, 1877 Apr 7.
40 Tribune, 1877 Apr 20.
41 Times, 1877 Apr 26.
42 Sickels, Reports of Cases, v25, 327 ff.
43 Sickels, Reports of Cases, v25, 361 ff.
44 Times, 1877 Apr 27.
45 Times, 1877 Apr 28.
46 Times, 1877 Feb 5.
47 Times, 1879 Dec 18.
48 Times, 1877 Aug 20.
49 Times, 1883 Mar 27.
50 World, 1879 Aug 21.
51 Times, 1879 Aug 28.
52 Times, 1879 Sep 6.
53 Times, 1878 Jan 9.
54 Times, 1879 Jan 14.
55 Andrews, History of the Last Quarter-Century, 737-738.
56 Times, 1879 Aug 28.
57 Flick, Samuel Jones Tilden.
58 Times, 1877 Jun 10.
59 Times, 1877 Jun 20.
60 Times, 1877 Jun 3.
61 Tribune, Times, Evening Post, 1877 Jun 6.
62 Times, 1877 Jun 17; Tribune, 1877 Jun 18.
63 Times, 1877 Jun 24.
64 Times, 1877 Jun 30.
65 Times, Tribune, Evening Post, 1877 Jun 22.
66 Times, 1877 Jul 14.
67 Tribune, 1877 Jul 18.
68 Times, 1877 Sep 28.
69 Evening Post, 1877 Sep 18.
70 Tribune, 1877 Sep 19.
71 World, 1877 Sep 19.
72 World, 1877 Sep 20.
73 Times, 1877 Sep 20.
74 Times, 1877 Sep 21.
75 Times, 1877 Dec 12.
76 Times, 1877 Sep 28, 1877 Oct 3, 1877 Oct 4.
77 Times, 1877 Nov 14.
78 Evening Post, 1877 Oct 15; Tribune, 1877 Oct 16; Times 1877 Oct 16.
79 Times, 1877 Nov 9.
80 Times, 1878 Jan 15; quote from the decision.
81 Times, 1877 Oct 3.
82 Times, 1877 Nov 8.
83 Times, 1878 Jan 8.
84 Times, 1878 May 28.
85 Times, 1877 Nov 23.
86 Times, 1877 Oct 16.
87 Times, 1877 Dec 27.
88 Scientific American, 1877 Oct 6.  The Baltimore tunnels were not a rapid transit route but the mainline railway through Union Station, opened in 1873 and still in use for passenger service.  The St Louis tunnel likewise was part of a mainline railway approach opened in 1875 from the Eads Bridge to Union Station.  The Pera and Galatea underground railway now known as the Tünel that opened in 1875 in Constantinople was at least a local railway, but it was just a two-station funicular rising 200 feet on a 1 in 10 gradient.
89 Tribune, 1877 Dec 24.
90 Times, 1877 Dec 29.
91 Documentary History, 900.

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