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“THEY FOUND THE TUBE IN EXCELLENT CONDITION”

1898-1912


The destruction of Devlin’s clothing store

The Beach Pneumatic Transit station, offices, and machine rooms were in the second basement level of Devlin’s clothing store at 260 Broadway, the southwest corner of Warren St.  Devlin and Company kept a store on the ground floor for many years until they relocated to Union Square in 1889. 

The building was then leased to Rogers, Peet and Company, who opened their third clothing store there on May 18, 1889.  Their other two stores were on Broadway at Prince St and 32nd St.1  At Warren St Rogers, Peet occupied the ground floor, the floor above and the two basement levels.  The upper three floors were rented to other small firms. 

 

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Rogers, Peet announce the new store.  From the Times, May 18, 1889 (originally in one column). 

Details of the Beach Pneumatic exhibition had begun to fade by this date.  Reviewing the Beach company’s history when the charter was declared invalid in March 1889, the Times mistakenly identified the vent in City Hall Park as the entrance.  The tunnel was used for a while thereafter as a shooting gallery, but even that did not pay, and for years the tunnel has been neglected and the entrance has been closed by an iron grating.2  The vent became the only entrance when the portal from the basement of 260 Broadway was walled up, which may have been done when the Homer Fisher rifle store closed at the end of 1878 (see chapter 6).  No further use of the tunnel is documented. 

 

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Broadway looking north from Mail St, right foreground, in the shadow of the Post Office.  New York in the 1890s was changing rapidly as old walk-up buildings like the ones on the left gave way to new office towers like the adjoining Postal Telegraph and Home Life buildings in the center, sharing the block from Murray St to Warren St with the little Rogers, Peet building.  On the right at the end of City Hall Park is the former A T Stewart store at Chambers St.

 

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View from the World building looking west, 1894.  Facing the park, in the first block from Murray St at the left edge are the Postal Telegraph building, the Home Life building with its pointed roof, and the small Rogers, Peet building.  Across Warren St is the dark United States Life building with all the light-colored awnings.  In the lower left is City Hall, to its right the ‘Tweed’ courthouse, and above that the white former A T Stewart store at Chambers St. 

 

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Once again the Postal Telegraph, Home Life, and Rogers, Peet block from Murray St to Warren St, and the United States Life building across Warren St.  From the Herald, December 5, 1898, but credited to Rand, McNally. 

The Devlin’s building was destroyed in a spectacular fire on December 4, 1898. 

New Yorkers were still digging out from a freak early snowstorm on November 27 that had dropped almost ten inches of snow, when a fierce nor’easter whipped into the city after noon December 4.  Winds increased from 20 mph at noon, to 40 at 2:00, 60 at 8:00, and 75 mph at 9:30 that evening, accompanied by increasingly heavy rain.  Temperatures remained above freezing into the night.3 

In the fierce wind and rain, on a Sunday night when shops had been closed all day, a fire broke out at 260 Broadway.  Two police officers on patrol heard an explosion between 9:00 and 9:30 but could not find the cause.  Five minutes before 10:00 they saw flame come from the basement of Rogers, Peet near the corner and they turned in the alarm.  As the first fire company arrived at 10:00, the fire blew out the plate glass windows of the ground floor and the building was ablaze.  Despite the driving rain outside the fire raced up through the interior of the building.  By 10:15 the winds were throwing flaming pieces of wood onto the United States Life building across Warren St, and when the fire reached the roof of Rogers, Peet at 10:30 the flames began to attack the ‘skyscraper’ Home Life building next door.  The fire shot a hundred feet in the air and burning debris showered for blocks around. 

The firefighters had to battle not only the fire but hurricane winds and torrential rain that was turning to steam as it hit the white-hot buildings.  Also on the scene within the first half hour were thousands of spectators, unmindful of the weather, filling Broadway and City Hall Park.  Some came down the Sixth Ave El to Park Place station, where the Manhattan Railway had to station men with buckets of water to extinguish burning debris as it fell onto the crossties. 

By 10:30 the interior of the Rogers, Peet building had completely collapsed, and the firefighters concentrated on putting out the firebrands that the wind carried to nearby buildings. The United States Life building was brought under control quickly and it suffered minimal damage.  The Home Life building was a different story because to the intense dislike of the fire chief it was too high for his forces to fight the fire from the ground.  It was the seven upper floors that caught fire from the flames coming off the roof of Rogers, Peet, all blazing by 11:15.  The fire then spread from Home Life to the upper floors of the last building on the block, the Postal Telegraph building, which was evacuated at 11:30.  The Postal Telegraph company had staff working round the clock and the evacuation during the next several hours interrupted communications between the United States and Europe.  The fires were not considered under control until the morning of December 5.4 

 

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‘As the great fire looked from the Pulitzer Building at 11.20 o’clock last night, sketched by a World artist from a window of the editorial rooms— the City Hall tower silhouetted in the foreground, the skeleton of Rogers, Peet & Co’s burned building in the background at the right, the Home Life at the left, and still further to the left the Postal Telegraph building.’ From the World, December 5, 1898. 

 

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‘The fire as seen from City Hall Park’.  From the Herald, December 5, 1898. 

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Ground plan of the four buildings, from the World, December 5, 1898. 

Of the Rogers, Peet building nothing was left but the exterior stone and mortar walls, now weakened by the heat of the fire and cooling of the rain. The Warren St wall began to fall before 11:00, and portions continued to fall as the night went on.  The upper floors of the Home Life Insurance building were gutted, but the ‘fireproof’ building remained structurally sound, and was repaired.  It is still there today.  The Postal Telegraph and United States Life buildings had limited fire damage but much water damage from the firefighters’ successful efforts at containing the fire.  Among the offices damaged was that of the Board of Rapid Transit Railroad Commissioners on the ninth floor of the Home Life building.4 

 

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The scene of the fire, the day after.  Much of the Warren St wall of Rogers, Peet was down but the Broadway side was standing.  The upper floors of the Home Life building were burned out but the floors and walls and steel frame remained, contrasting with the complete collapse of the Rogers, Peet building.  From the Tribune, December 6, 1898. 

The cause of the fire was never determined.  The clothing in the store was acknowledged to be good fuel for a fire once started.  In the basement were steam boilers for heating and an electrical plant.  There was no night watchman, and no janitor either from Saturday evening until the time of the fire.5 

The next day John R Waters, a ‘veteran at fire inspections’ representing Rogers, Peet, said he thought it was ‘incendiarism’ (arson) although he admitted he had no evidence.  Only a few days ago, I made an inspection of the basement, and found it in first-class order.  The floors were cemented and clean, and no inflammable stuff was allowed to accumulate.  The boiler was new and seemed to be working all right.  The only way we can account for the fire is that it was of incendiary origin.  Some Anarchist or discontented person must have crept in with combustibles and set it on fire.  That is all I can say now.6  There can be no doubt that the fire started in the basement, but how, unless some discontented person piled up the combustibles and applied the match, I cannot tell.  Nothing of a combustible nature had been allowed to accumulate in the basement … The floors of the cement were absolutely clean.  There was a furnace, but no woodwork near it to catch fire.  The furnace was in thorough working order and I do not believe it could have been the cause.  The only way I can account for it, is that some one crept into the cellar with combustibles and set them blazing.7  But the fire chief discounted the Anarchist theory for lack of evidence. 

F R Chambers, a partner in Rogers, Peet and Company, was not able to say what the rebuilding plans would be.  The Tribune reported, The Hoffman estate, which owns the property, has however for a long time wished to put a more modern structure on the site, but has been prevented because of the lease owned by the firm of Rogers, Peet & Co.  The impression prevails now that the trustees of the Hoffman estate will utilize the present opportunity to put up a tall office building, which, with those of the Home Life Insurance and Postal Telegraph companies, will transform the block into one of the most imposing in the city.8 

The Beach Pneumatic Transit station was noted by the Times and Tribune in identical language from an unknown source.  The building has a double basement, the lower cellar being the opening of the old tubular railway company, which ran across Broadway to Mail Street.  The construction of this tunnel was the beginning of the underground railway system idea in New York.  It was constructed about twenty-five years ago.  After the underground railway idea was abandoned, the tunnel was used for a shooting gallery.9  Nothing was said of any remains of the station or machinery. 

More of the Warren St wall fell the morning of December 6, and that night the rest of it and the Broadway wall were pulled down by men pulling at cables.  The walls were pulled into the interior, filling the basement.  By 1:00 in the morning of December 7, the old Devlin’s building was rubble.10 

 

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The scene about December 7, with all the walls of Rogers, Peet pulled down except small portions that seem to hang from the Home Life building.  The damage to the upper half of the Home Life building is obvious, and it was still smoking.  From Scientific American, December 17, 1898. 

The destruction of the building took with it any remaining traces of the Beach Pneumatic Transit station.  This is not to say that anything had survived as long as this anyway.  The basement rooms were used for Broadway Underground Railway offices and related commercial activity until 1875 and then for the Homer Fisher rifle shop and Creedmoor Junior Range from 1875 to 1878 (see chapter 6).  The rooms may have been completely renovated in connection with both uses.  The steam boilers and Roots blower would have been uselessly in the way and were probably taken out by 1875.  Nonetheless as long as the building stood there was a chance that renovations merely covered up and adapted some remaining parts of the Beach Pneumatic quarters.  That chance did not matter once the entire building was reduced to ashes and rubble and carted away in the cleanup.  Nothing of the station, entrance, and machinery could have survived.

 

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Rogers, Peet announced a new location within two days.  The Leonard St store was open by December 15.  From the Times, December 8, 1898. 


A visit to the tunnel in 1899

The remains of the old building were removed from the site in the early months of 1899.  By the start of April it was possible to reach the bottom of the basement. 

In clearing away the rubbish from the cellar of the Rogers, Peet & Company’s burned building … the contractors have brought to view the entrance to the Beach Broadway Tunnel under the sidewalk vault on the southwest corner of Warren Street and Broadway, which, since the tunnel was closed, has been walled up.11  Representatives of Scientific American were among the gentlemen invited into the tunnel.  One of them was Stanley Yale Beach, son of Frederick, grandson of Alfred.

 

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The entrance to the tunnel.  The stone wall that protected the tunnel from the fire has been broken away.  The straight edges on the left and lower right sides show that at one time the opening had been partly closed but with a doorway leading into the tunnel.  But even this must have been walled up afterwards.  Across the top is the arched opening seen in the images from 1870.  From Scientific American, April 15, 1899. 

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The start of the tunnel, showing the iron plates on the curve and the brick lining in the straight section.  Much of the white paint on the iron plates was still there.  The rails can be seen although detail of the space between them is obscured by shadow.  From Scientific American, April 15, 1899, which notes for the technically minded that this and the following photograph were taken with flash.

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The remains of the two cars at the end of the tunnel under the vent shaft leading to City Hall Park.  From Scientific American, April 15, 1899. 

The third illustration (just above) shows the present appearance of the car, driven by pneumatic power, now located at the extreme south end.  On the opposite side of the transverse brick wall is where the shield is buried.  A glimpse of the wall is seen just beyond the car.  The figure in the car conveys and idea of its size, the oval aperture having once been closed with glass.  There were doors at each end opening on to small platforms.  All are now missing, but we see just in front the remains of the car truck which once carried the car.11  The last point is wrong; there is no way this truck could be fitted under that car, as should be quite clear from the height of the floors.  Illustrations from 1870 show that the enclosed car had separate axles for all four wheels.  The truck in front is the base of the open car. 

The large opening in the top of the tunnel just in front of the car is a vertical and horizontal smaller tunnel between 4 and 5 feet in diameter running in a northeasterly direction under Broadway to an air well covered by a grating in City Hall Park.  This served as an outlet and inlet for air, according as the car was driven by pressure of air on its end down the tunnel from a huge blower, or drawn back to the place of starting by the suction of the air in a reverse direction.  There was an air space of about 1½ inches around the car, but this leakage had no appreciable effect in reducing its speed.11  This description of the vent as ‘vertical and horizontal’, as if it turns, is interesting because the only description from the 1870s suggested a diagonal course by stating that it extends obliquely from the grating, passing under the sidewalk and carriage-way to the south end of the tunnel, a distance of 78 feet.12 

In describing the tunnel the Scientific American writer carries on Beach’s usual style of commentary on underground rapid transit.  The tunnel was built in 1869, just thirty years ago, and to-day it is still in a good state of preservation, demonstrating beyond a doubt its utility for rapid transit purposes and the fact that such a work could be readily carried on under Broadway without in the least disturbing the traffic overhead or damaging adjoining property.11 

We think the opponents of the Rapid Transit Commission were mistaken in giving out the impression that there might be considerable damage done to adjoining property during the building of a road under Broadway ; for it appeared to be such a probability that … caused the commission to locate the road off Broadway on another street (the new widened Elm Street) parallel to Broadway and to terminate at City Hall Park instead of continuing on down Broadway between rows of new high buildings to the Battery, where its natural terminus should be.11 

The fears of architects and engineers of former days, who contended that a tunnel passing through the center of Broadway at a depth of twenty feet below the surface might cause such a massive structure then as Trinity Church steeple to crack and fall over into the street, have been proved by actual experience, to be unfounded … During the past few years, on the west side of Broadway, in the same block, has been erected one of the highest buildings in lower Broadway, the Home Life, nearly to the height of Trinity Church steeple, yet its foundations are as solid and firm as they would be if no tunnel existed.11 


The new Rogers, Peet building

Plans for a new building on the ‘Hoffman Corner’ were made in March 1899.13  The building was not a skyscraper, but only eight floors.  This is the building standing on the site today.  At ground level was what a Rogers, Peet advertisement would call a store built expressly for our business and for your convenience.14  The contractor was Robinson & Wallace.15 

The new construction replaced even the basement walls, eliminating any traces of the Beach tunnel such as the walled-up arch shown in the photographs from April.  As described in May, Deep holes have been dug, the sides of which have been shored up with planking.  The plank walls were sustained by beams, running from one wall to the other  … The largest of the holes was about eight feet wide, and ran nearly the entire distance from front to rear of the lot.  Banked up on the outside of the walls was shifting sand.  It was said that the sand was part quicksand, the presence of which necessitated the shoring up of the holes.15  The sand had been noted in 1869 and made Beach’s tunnel easier to dig than it would have been at other locations.  From the description clearly the old basement walls were no longer in place, and trenches were being dug to lay new walls.  The occasion of the notice in May was the death of two workmen when one of the plank walls caved in. 

 

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Rogers, Peet announce their move back to Warren St.  From the Times, February 12, 1900. 

The new building, numbered 258 Broadway, was completed early in 1900.  Rogers, Peet moved into it in February.14  The building had its own direct-current generating station in the basement, not unusual at that time because of the high cost of Edison Company power.  The copper has now been removed but the steam boilers and control panels remain, along with two enormous spoked iron flywheels.  A double height vault under the Warren St sidewalk has the remains of coal chutes.  The outer basement wall is at the curb line and it curves at the corner just as the old wall did.  The wall is cement, not the rough stone of the old foundation.  It is perfectly smooth across the site of the Beach Pneumatic portal with no indication of any past opening.15

Among the tenants of the the upper floors were the Ohman Map Company in the 1920s and George J Nostrand in the 1930s, both makers of city and subway maps.  The interior of the building was renovated in the 1990s for residential use.  Above the ground floor it is now cooperative apartments, some with wonderful views across City Hall Park.  Rogers, Peet closed their Warren St store in November 1976 (and the chain went out of business in 1978).  The ground floor and first basement are now rented to another clothing store called Strawberry. 


The grate in City Hall Park

The Beach tunnel had become one of the historical curiosities of New York.  Newcomers to town knew nothing about it, but long-time residents remembered it from thirty years earlier.  A Times editor remarked in 1912 that the tunnel was so nearly forgotten that it has since been ‘rediscovered’ about once in every ten years by some writer of special articles on ‘old New York’.16 

There was glaring evidence of the tunnel in the form of a large grate in City Hall Park near Murray St.  Any passerby could tell that something was down there.  But who would recognize it as an air vent for a pneumatic railway tunnel?

The Tribune of October 4, 1903, carried a feature on ‘Oldtime Tunnels in This Borough and Brooklyn’, inspired probably by the impending completion of the first subway.  In the City Hall Park, on the Broadway side, near the drinking fountain at the end of the wide walk leading past the front of the City Hall, is a grating over a large opening in the ground.  It is rusted and shows little evidence of having been opened in a long time.  It covers a large passageway, which, as one can see as one peers down between the bars, leads under the sidewalk and out under Broadway.  One could easily enter the passage if the grating was lifted, for it is six or eight feet across and four or five wide.  It leads to the terminus of an experimental underground railway which few recall in these days.17 

 

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Looking north on Broadway, about 1905.  From the left are the Postal Telegraph, Home Life and Rogers, Peet buildings.  Trees block a view of the grate, which is at the corner of the lawn on the far side of the walk in the right foreground. 

 

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From a similar location, looking east from Broadway across the park toward the World building, 1906.  City Hall is in the center, and on each side of the walk are the kiosks of the City Hall station of the I R T subway.  At lower left is a sign that seems to say ‘SUBWAY’.  Just to the left of it, a few people are at the drinking fountain, and just left of them at the edge of the image is the grate, in the shadow of the trees. 

 

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Frederick C Beach standing next to the grate in 1912, holding a circular object, a model of the tunnel shield.  The drinking fountain is just outside the image on the right.  From Scientific American, February 24, 1912. 

 


The destruction of the Beach Pneumatic tunnel

The Public Service Commission for the First District was established in 1907 to regulate public utilities in the city (the rest of the state was the Second District).  A pressing need was to expand the new subway system and plan additional routes.  Not only was the population growing fast, but ridership per person was growing faster.  The Commission adopted a system of routes in 1908 called the Tri-Borough Plan, including a main line in Manhattan that ran in Broadway from the tip of City Hall Park to Ninth St, through private property to 14th St, and then in Irving Place and Lexington Ave to the Harlem River.  The route was to be separate from the first subway, so that it would be open to bidding by any company.18  Once again an underground railway was proposed for lower Broadway.  This time, at long last, it would be built. 

During the next few years the Commission negotiated with the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (operator of the first subway and the Manhattan Railway elevated lines), the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company, and the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad Company over routes and contracts.  By 1911 a plan emerged called the Dual System, providing for two separate sets of routes for the I R T and B R T systems.  The Broadway portion of the Tri-Borough main line was adapted into a B R T route that continued up Broadway to 45th St.  Although operating contracts with the two companies were not signed until 1913, the Commission began awarding construction contracts in July 1911, proceeding as fast as the preparation of plans would allow.19 

 

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Notice to contractors.  From the Times, January 3, 1912. 

 

Section 2 of what was still called the ‘Lexington Avenue Rapid Transit Railroad’ ran in Broadway from a point 75 feet south of the center of Park Place to a point 90 feet north of the center of Walker Street.  Bids from contractors were opened on January 22, 1912, and the Degnon Contracting Company was awarded the contract as the lowest of the twelve bidders.20  The Public Service Commission then took the bid to the city’s Board of Estimate for approval and the appropriation of city funds.  The contract with Degnon was signed on February 6.21 

When the Degnon Contracting Company begins work on Section 2 of the Broadway Subway, noted the Times on February 4, it will come across an interesting relic of the engineering enterprise of forty years ago, which has already performed a small part of the work for it.  Underneath Broadway from Warren to Murray Street runs a section of tunnel eight feet in diameter and brick lined, with a smaller tunnel running up to the surface and emerging in a grating just inside the grass limits of City Hall Park, north of Murray Street.  This was the beginning of the first subway ever constructed in New York City, and if tradition be correct somewhere in it has been immured for forty years one of the cars which it was designed to accommodate22— a tradition just thirteen years old!

A party of officials from Degnon Contracting and the Public Service Commission entered into formal possession of the old pneumatic railway tube beside the City Hall Park on February 8, 1912.  As reported in the Times, they went with lighted candles into the old tunnel from the ventilating shaft which comes up into the Park.  They found the tube in excellent condition.  The rails were rusted almost entirely away, but the brickwork was sound and dry, and the only discomfort came from a steam pipe which was escaping through a leak in the pipe.  The one car that has been immured for the last forty years was a total wreck.  Its woodwork is falling all to pieces, and even its wheels are gone.23  From this description it appears that the remains of the cars had deteriorated a great deal since 1899.  There are no known photographs of the cars from 1912. 

The members of the expedition then extracted a few souvenirs of their visit and examined the tunnel.  It had been used at one time by a large men’s furnishing firm, which had a store at its northern end, as a storeroom, and tradition has it that that once upon a time a shooting range was erected within it.  At one end the brickwork gives way to iron plates, which are now in excellent condition.  The contractors fear that it will take quite as much labor and expense to pull down the old work as to dig an entirely new tunnel.23 This is enough detail to show that the entire length of the tunnel was still open, from the car at one end to Dixon’s plates at the other. 

 

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Beach tunnel, July 25 (?), 1912, looking south from the iron-plated curve at Warren St.  There seems to be a cave-in just ahead, and timber bracing just beyond it, but the tunnel was described in February as being in good condition.  The photo therefore is probably from July when Degnon Contracting had broken into the tunnel.  From the Report for the year 1912, Public Service Commission for the First District. 

 

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Beach tunnel, July 25,1912.  The date in the negative appears to read 7 . 25 . 1912, which from other evidence is just about the date that Degnon began to take the tunnel apart.  Apparently someone at the Public Service Commission sent a photographer to document the tunnel as soon as Degnon Contracting opened it up.  From The Dual System by the Public Service Commission for the First District, 1912. 

 

Having claimed the tunnel, Degnon started construction the next day.  The Tribune could scarcely believe that a Broadway underground railway was finally being built.  It is the first work done in Broadway, and means that whatever other changes may be made the Broadway line will be built as planned.24 

Eugene W Austin, president of the New York Parcel Dispatch Company, sent a letter dated February 19, 1912, to the Public Service Commission.  Notice is hereby given that the tunnel under Broadway, from Warren Street southward, about two hundred and ninety-four (294) feet, in the Borough of Manhattan, City, County and State of New York, is the property of the New York Parcel Dispatch Company, that any one molesting or interfering therewith will be proceeded against as a trespasser, and the rights of the owner will be enforced in the courts.25 

Someone from the Public Service Commission told reporters that it was rather late in the day for a company which had practically abandoned a tunnel for forty years to appear in opposition to a great public improvement and to try to prevent the city from tearing up its own streets and building its own subway.25 

The conclusion of this story was never published.  The act of 1897 did provide that the right to construct or maintain any pneumatic tube or any such construction should be absolutely subject and subordinate to the powers of the Board of Rapid Transit Railroad Commissioners and subject to their control or regulation26 (in the words of the Public Service Commission’s Documentary History of 1913), and that clause appears to apply to the Beach Pneumatic tunnel.  If so, that was all there was to it.  Whether some payment was made to the company is unknown.

Degnon Contracting excavated around the Beach tunnel and then began taking it apart late in July 1912, exposing the shield.27  At the request of Frederick C Beach to the Public Service Commission, the shield was not cut up, with a view of its removal, preservation and restoration as a historical relic.28 

An inspection of the shield from the exterior as it lay partly embedded in the sand, by Mr F C Beach (who actively supervised the operation of it in 1869), disclosed the fact that in all these 43 years the iron and brass work, including the thin hood of iron in the rear, had remained in pretty good condition, but the wood staves between the front cutting ring and the rear ring carrying the hydraulic rams and the cross front wood shelves had entirely disappeared and rotted away.28 

 

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Construction site under Broadway, 1912 or 1913, showing the heavy timber used to support the temporary street surface.  From New subways for New York by the Public Service Commission for the First District, 1913. 

 

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Frederick C Beach at the shield, from Scientific American, September 7, 1912.  See text below. 

 

The flashlight photograph, with Mr Beach standing near the cutting edge, shows one half of the front cutting ring with projections on its interior surface, to which was secured by bolts the ends of the thick transverse shelves for the purpose of preventing the inflow of loose sand.  In the center is observed the timbers used by the contractors to support the present street planking over head as well as the electric street railway.28 

 

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The remains of the shield, in place, after the brick tunnel was removed.  The cutting ring is on the left.  The completed tunnel started inside the hood and extended to the right.  The rails in the foreground are for the contractor’s railway.  From Scientific American, September 7, 1912.  See text below. 

 

The side view shows the side of the front cutting ring connected by inch stay rods to the rear of the hood-ram supporting ring, and between these rods at equal distances will be observed the cylinder ends of the hydraulic rams with bent tubing on the rear, which connected with the main supply pipes from the hydraulic pump.  This was operated by manual power.  The long thin cylindrical hood is attached to the rear piston ring and extends back from it some two feet or more.  The pistons within the rams are forced out by water pressure against the completed tunnel, built up within the hood, pushing the shield forward through the sand to the extent of the hood; then a new layer of masonry is built and the process repeated.  By this method only the quantity of earth is removed that is required for the tunnel to occupy.28 

Scientific American described the shield again in December.  Frederick C Beach was Secretary and Treasurer of the journal, together with Charles A Munn, President, the sons carrying on the work of the fathers, and Beach presumably had some input into the detail of these descriptions.  The eighteen hydraulic propelling rams were in good condition.  The screw threads at their inlet ends, where the inlet pipe is attached, were perfectly fresh and good as if they had just been made.  The iron inlet pipe was secured to the ram by a very thick brass nut.  The quarter inch thick iron hood, over two feet wide by about twenty-seven feet long, except for a small film of rust on its surface, was in serviceable condition.  It overlapped the cast iron rear hydraulic ram ring and was secured to the woodwork just ahead of the ring with 4½ inch long iron bolts, having flat heads on the outside.29 

 

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Broadway looking south from Chambers St, August 5, 1912.  The Beach tunnel was being taken apart at this very time.  The first corner on the right is Warren St, and very clearly the planking over the excavation extends all the way to the curb line.  The location of the grating is the exact center of this view, just left of a work shed.  From The Dual System by the Public Service Commission for the First District, 1912. 

 

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Similar view seen from the east side of Broadway, winter of 1912-1913.  From the right: a little bit of the Rogers, Peet building, the Home Life and Postal Telegraph buildings, Murray St, a block of small buildings, Park Place, and the Woolworth Building.  The tower farther down is the Singer Building.  Broadway is still planked over, and so is the sidewalk on the park side.  Along the curb line are construction sheds and materials as in the previous photograph.  From New subways for New York by the Public Service Commission for the First District, 1913. 

 

A reporter visiting the site in October was shown the special precautions being taken because of the fine, loose sand.  Building owners were assured that Degnon was erecting a retaining wall between their vaults and where the subway wall will come.  Shafts were being sunk, within strong timbers, down to below the level of the subway, and then filled with rebar and concrete.  As each was done, another was set about six feet away, and as those were done a shaft was made between them, until a continuous wall of reinforced concrete was formed.30  This was done in the blocks facing City Hall Park, so the Beach tunnel must have been removed all the way to the outer wall of the Rogers, Peet building so that the retaining wall would continue through the location of the old portal. 

The floor of the excavation was by this date reaching its final depth of about forty feet.  This was about twice as deep as the Beach tunnel had been when it existed.  There, high above the present excavation, among the timbers is to be seen the first shield ever used in America.  When the Beach enterprise was abandoned the shield was built into the wall, and when the old tunnel was opened up forty years later it was found, a great barrellike structure of wood almost as good as new.  For the time being it is suspended to the timbers supporting the roof pending arrangements for its safekeeping.30 

The shield was finally cut up on December 2 so that it could be removed.  Scientific American reported where it went.  The parts of the Beach shield have been sent to Ithaca, New York, and presented to the College of Civil Engineering of Cornell University, of which Mr E E Haskell is Dean, by Mr Frederick C Beach, son of the inventor, Mr Alfred E Beach (now deceased), where it is to be set up and restored for permanent exhibition.29 


The Broadway subway

The site of the Beach tunnel is almost completely within the limits of a station called City Hall, which extends under Broadway from Warren St to a point south of Park Place, its 600 foot length dwarfing the old 300 foot tunnel.  The only small part of the site not within the station is the very end of the curve at the Rogers, Peet building, which is within the retaining wall along the west side of the station.

The station has peculiarities unrelated to the Beach tunnel.  At the time the subway was put under contract, the Public Service Commission had not yet adopted the routing by which the Broadway express tracks turn at Canal St and run to the Manhattan Bridge.  Instead all four tracks continued together to City Hall, where local trains would end their runs and express trains would continue into a two-track subway under narrow downtown streets and then on to Brooklyn.  The first subway did the same thing.  The City Hall station was accordingly designed to have two levels, a terminal for local trains over a through station for expresses, with island platforms so that passengers could easily go to the next departing local train.  The plan that routed express trains over the Manhattan Bridge was adopted in 1913, but by that time most of the structural work from Canal St to City Hall had been done, and it was adapted to the new requirements.  The trackways through the upper level of City Hall station were connected to the tunnel running south by a ramp just south of the station.  The lower level of the station has never been used for public train service, and has no tile or signs, but tracks were laid in it so that extra trains could be held there.  In this modified form the station opened on January 5, 1918.  The Broadway subway dreamed of since the 1860s had been achieved.31 

The station site is offset from the center of Broadway.  The slight reverse curve on the downtown track can be seen from the north end of the downtown platform.  Because of the offset the wide platform spans a space from about the center line of Broadway to a point under the sidewalk on the park side, making it possible to drop stairs without needing a mezzanine level over the station.  The retaining wall along the west side of Broadway may also have influenced the offset of the station.  There is some small distance between the west wall of the station and the retaining wall, because a door set into the station wall near Murray St opens into a small space. 

Was the Beach tunnel definitely within the limits of City Hall station?  Laterally, the Beach tunnel was along approximately the center line of Broadway.  It is so shown in the Scientific American plan of 1870 and so described.  The ninety-degree curve starting at the curb line of Devlin’s further proves that the tunnel was out under the middle of the street or even toward the east half.  Vertically, the Beach tunnel floor was 21 feet below Broadway.  Exact plans of the present station are not publicly available but by observation the present track floor appears to be 15 to 20 feet below the street, and the lower level runs another 15 to 20 feet down.  The photographs of the shield in place show that the new subway was opened all the way around it.

As the Public Service Commission observed in 1912, The old tunnel had remained undisturbed under Broadway for forty years until the contractors for the new Broadway subway removed it.32


Relics of Beach Pneumatic Transit

Two major relics of the Beach tunnel were supposed to be preserved in 1912. 

The shield should have been preserved at Cornell.  James Blaine Walker wrote in 1918, The University accepted it, took it to Ithaca, and placed it on exhibition in the museum of Sibley College, where it can be seen today.33  Sibley was the college of mechanical engineering, not civil engineering.  No further record of the shield is known.  The Sibley College museum was closed many decades ago.  No one at Cornell now knows what happened to the first tunnel shield in America. 

The closed car was partly preserved.  Walker wrote, The remaining wood work of the car was brittle with dry rot, and some of it fell apart when removed.  Enough of it was saved to assemble in the office of the Public Service Commission almost the complete end of the car.33  What happened to it after 1918 is unknown. 

The visitors in February 1912 took ‘souvenirs’, details unknown and present whereabouts unknown.  Perhaps they still exist in private hands.  The officials were:  Superintendant Morris of Degnon Contracting; and from the Public Service Commission, Travis H Whitney, Secretary; Robert Ridgway, Engineer of Subway Construction; Leroy T Harkness, legal; and D L Turner, J B Shipman and J H Myers, civil engineers.23 

The Museum of the City of New York has a metal ring about 7 inches in diameter that is supposed to be a window frame from the Beach Pneumatic Transit car.  None of the windows were that small, but there were two circular openings over the end door that were about that size.  It was donated in 1946 with no provenance.34

Some paper ephemera has survived.  Copies of Beach’s Illustrated Description survive in several library and museum collections.  At least one museum and one private collector have original tickets.  These printed papers may be all that now remains. 


1 Times, 1889 May 18.
2 Times, 1889 Mar 13.
3 World, 1898 Dec 5.
4 Fire story summarized from Times, Herald, World, Tribune, all 1898 Dec 5.
5 Herald, 1889 Dec 5.  Times, 1898 Dec 7.
6 Times, 1898 Dec 6.
7 Herald, 1898 Dec 6.
8 Tribune, 1898 Dec 6.
9 Times, 1898 Dec 5.  Tribune, 1898 Dec 5 (omitting one sentence).
10 Times, 1898 Dec 6, Dec 7.
11 Scientific American, 1899 Apr 15.
12 Beach, Illustrated Description, 1872.
13 Times, 1899 Mar 12.
14 Times, 1900 Feb 12.
15 Author’s site visit, February 2004.
16 Times, 1912 Feb 23.
17 Tribune, 1903 Oct 4.
18 Dual System, 5-8.
19 Dual System, 11-12.
20 Wall Street Journal, 1912 Jan 25.
21 Wall Street Journal, 1912 Feb 7.
22 Times, 1912 Feb 4.
23 Times, 1912 Feb 9.
24 Tribune, 1912 Feb 9.
25 Times, 1912 Feb 22.
26 Documentary History, 23.
27 Times, 1912 Jul 28.  Note also the photographs dated Jul 25.
28 Scientific American, 1912 Sep 7.
29 Scientific American, 1912 Dec 14.
30 Times, 1912 Oct 27.
31 Public Service Commission for the First District, Report for the years 1912 to 1918.
32 Dual System, 50.
33 Walker, Fifty Years, 94.
34 Museum of the City of New York.  Archivist Melanie Bower found this item and provided a description.


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