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B E A C H    P N E U M A T I C

by Joseph Brennan

Alfred Beach’s Pneumatic Subway and the beginnings of rapid transit in New York

an original web publication     copyright 2004-2005 by Joseph Brennan




c o n t e n t s

0 INTRODUCTION : 2004
1 “MANY PLANS HAVE BEEN BROUGHT FORWARD” : 1830 - 1866
— The transit problem in New York — Surface transit: Omnibus and streetcar lines — Broadway — The Metropolitan Railway — The Senate Committee of 1866 — Alexander T Stewart
2 “A TUBE, A CAR, A REVOLVING FAN!” : 1866 - 1868
— Atmospheric railways in England — Pneumatic railways in England — Elias P Needham’s pneumatic railway — Alfred E Beach and pneumatic transit in New York — The American Institute Fair of 1867 — Beach’s plans to tunnel New York — The Pneumatic Dispatch — The Beach Pneumatic Transit Company — The New York City Central Underground Railroad — Charles T Harvey and the cable elevated railway — The West Side and Yonkers Patented Railway
3 “TO EXCAVATE THE EARTH” : 1869
— The Post Office and Devlin’s store — The small tube — The large tube — The tunnel shield — Digging the Beach Pneumatic tunnel — The Tower Subway, London — Installing the blower — The West Side Elevated Railroad — The New York City Central Underground Railroad — Struggling companies
4 “THE MYSTERIES OF THE BROADWAY BORE” : 1870
— Sinking pavement — The Beach Pneumatic Transit prepares to go public — The Broadway Tunnel Explored — Official visitors
5 “RECEPTION HELD IN THE BOWELS OF THE EARTH” : 1870
— The Grand Opening — The entrance — The waiting room — The tunnel entrance — The car — The tunnel — No rides — Sponsors
6 “LIKE A SAIL-BOAT BEFORE THE WIND” : 1870
— Pneumatic power — The Roots blower — The cars — The start of operation — Air pressure in the waiting room — Car design — Riding in the pneumatic car — Advertisements for Beach Pneumatic Transit, I — Renovations and the second car — Advertisements for Beach Pneumatic Transit, II — The end of operation — Further use by Beach Pneumatic Transit — The station and tunnel as a rifle range — Closing up the tunnel
7 “AN EXTRAORDINARY PNEUMATIC TUNNEL BILL” : 1870
— Boss Tweed introduces a Beach Pneumatic bill — The Arcade Railway — A T Stewart and the failure of both plans — The New York City Central Underground Railroad — The West Side Elevated Railroad — Cable car operation on the West Side Elevated — Elevated or tunnel?
8 “A VIADUCT ROAD COSTING SIXTY MILLIONS” : 1871
— The need for rapid transit — The Viaduct Railway — Beach Pneumatic versus the Viaduct — The Beach Pneumatic bill passes — The Viaduct bill passes — Beach Pneumatic versus A T Stewart — The governor vetoes the Beach Pneumatic bill — The New York Railway — The route of the viaduct road — Structures and real estate — Finances of the Viaduct road — The end of the viaduct plan — The New York City Central Underground Railroad — The West Side Elevated Railroad — Steam operation on the West Side Elevated — The elevated edges ahead of the underground
9 “SINKING THE TRACKS” : 1872
— A revised history of Beach Pneumatic Transit — The Broadway Underground Railway — Tunnel engineering and the example of London — The Arcade Railway — Swain’s three-tier Metropolitan Transit road — The New York and Harlem Railroad in Fourth Ave — Rufus H Gilbert’s pneumatic elevated railway — An underground railway alliance — Beach Pneumatic versus the Central Underground — The New York and Harlem’s underground railway — Three underground bills — New York City Rapid Transit — The Gilbert Elevated Railway — The New York Elevated Railroad — Everybody wants rapid transit
10 “PROVING ITS FAITH BY ITS WORKS” : 1873
— Political winds of change — More revised history of Beach Pneumatic Transit — A city railway for rapid transit — The Beach Pneumatic bill, for the fourth time — The governor signs the Beach Pneumatic bill — The New York Elevated Railroad — The New York Elevated at number 7 Broadway — New York Elevated extended to 34th St — Existing and approved routes, 1873 — The Gilbert Elevated Railway — The Fourth Ave Improvement — A tour of the works on Fourth Ave — The Panic — Rapid transit plans to date — The future of rapid transit
11 “THE ‘JOB’ WHICH CHANGES THE NAME” : 1874
— Hard times — Expansion of the New York Elevated Railroad — A city-owned rapid transit railway — An elevated railway for the East Side — Beach Pneumatic Transit to become the Broadway Underground Railway — The Gilbert Elevated Railway — The rejection of city-owned rapid transit railways — More time for the Broadway Underground and Gilbert Elevated — Work done on the Broadway Underground and Gilbert Elevated — The governor vetoes the New York Elevated bill — The Fourth Ave Improvement — The Hudson River tunnel — The ASCE rapid transit committee — The continued need for rapid transit
12 “OVER, ALONG, AND THROUGH” : 1875
— Governor Tilden in charge — The ASCE rapid transit committee — Raising capital for rapid transit — Improvements on the New York Elevated Railroad — The New York Elevated Railroad bill — Action on a Rapid Transit law — The Rapid Transit Act — Petitions for a Rapid Transit Commission — The New York Elevated plans extensions — The Gilbert Elevated Railway — The Broadway Underground Railway — The Fourth Ave Improvement — The Rapid Transit Commission of 1875 — Routes designated by the Rapid Transit Commission — The Rapid Transit Commission and underground railways — Structures designated by the Rapid Transit Commission — New York Elevated extended to 59th St — The Manhattan Railway — Alfred E Beach abandons the station and tunnel
13 “THE UNDERGROUND RAILWAY, NEW YORK CITY” : 1875
— The New York and Harlem as a Rapid Transit route — The Fourth Ave Improvement — 59th St station — The beam tunnels — The southern brick arch tunnel — 72nd St station — The northern brick arch tunnel — 86th St station — The Mount Prospect Tunnel — The stone viaduct — 110th St station — The Harlem cut and the later steel viaduct — Electric operation and Park Ave
14 “FINALLY NEARING A CURIOUS SOLUTION” : 1876
— Lawsuits — Validating the Third Ave route — The New York Elevated extension to South Ferry — Start of construction on the Sixth Ave El — The New York Elevated Railroad — The Patten lawsuit : ownership of Greenwich St — The Spader lawsuit : private use of Battery Park — The Ninth Avenue Railroad lawsuit : the second track — The Sixth Avenue Railroad lawsuit : the type of structure — Rapid Transit service in the Fourth Ave Improvement — Construction stopped by the lawsuits — The Ninth Avenue Railroad suit dismissed — The Sixth Avenue Railroad injunction upheld — Construction of the Gilbert Elevated in Third St — Construction of the Gilbert Elevated in South Fifth Ave — Validating the South Fifth Ave route — Second track on the New York Elevated — The slow progress of rapid transit
15 “SCARCELY A DISSENTING VOICE” : 1877
— Rapid transit almost achieved — Continued opposition to the Gilbert Elevated — New York Elevated extended through Battery Park — Proposals for underground railways — Rapid Transit in 1877 — Arguments at the Court of Appeals about the Rapid Transit Act — The New York Loan and Improvement Company — Cyrus Field in control of New York Elevated — Public meetings — The Sixth Avenue Railroad’s double-deck car — The Court of Appeals upholds the Rapid Transit Act — Rapid transit now certain — The Sixth Avenue Railroad suit dismissed — Construction of the Sixth Ave El — The Story and Patten lawsuits dismissed — Alfred E Beach’s dissenting voice — Last gasp of the New York City Central Underground
16 “AN INTERMINABLE BRIDGE” : 1878
— All clear for elevated railway construction — Alfred E Beach on elevated railways — The Sixth Ave El : types of structure — The Sixth Ave El : stations — The Sixth Ave El : locomotives and cars — The Sixth Ave El : the start of service — The Sixth Ave El : a tour
17 “MOVING IN MID-AIR UPON NOTHING” : 1878
— Second track on the Greenwich St El — The joint line to the Upper West Side — The Third Ave El : types of structure — The Third Ave El : locomotives — The Third Ave El : the start of service — The Third Ave El : a tour — Rapid Transit in September 1878 — Alfred E Beach out of the Broadway Underground Railway
18 “THE TWO ROADS ARE IN PERFECT ACCORD” : 1878 - 1879
— The success of elevated railways — The noise on Sixth Ave — Dangerous riding — The Third Ave El completed to Harlem — The Upper West Side : New York Elevated construction — The Second Ave El : start of construction — The City Hall Branch — The 42nd St collision — Grade crossings prohibited — Rapid transit for the Annexed District — The Manhattan Railway Company reborn — The Upper West Side : open to 104th St — The Rapid Transit Commission of 1879 — The Upper West Side : completed to 155th St — Progress of the Manhattan Railway
19 “A COMPREHENSIVE SYSTEM” : 1880
— The Rapid Transit Commissions of 1879-1880 — The Second Ave El : opened to 65th St — The crossing at Chatham Square — The Ninth Ave El — The 34th St Branch — The Second Ave El: completed to Harlem — Raven Rock Road bridge — The Manhattan Railway, 1880
20 “IT IS CONTEMPLATED TO AMALGAMATE” : 1881-1891
— Extending the elevated system — The Rapid Transit Commission of 1881 — The West Side and Yonkers Railway — Jay Gould in control of the Manhattan Railway — The crossing at Chatham Square — Gould and the New York City and Northern — The Suburban Rapid Transit and the New York, Fordham and Bronx — The Yonkers Rapid Transit and the Putnam Division — The death of Rufus H Gilbert — The later career of Charles T Harvey — The Story lawsuit — The Manhattan Railway and the Interborough Rapid Transit
21 “CONTRARY TO THE ADVICE OF ENGINEERS” : 1879-1880
— The Hudson Tunnel — The start of work in Jersey City — Progress of the tunnels to July 1880 — The temporary entranceway — The collapse of the temporary entranceway — Survivors’ tales — Reopening the tunnel with a cofferdam — Sinking a caisson — The coroner’s jury
22 “THE BEACH SHIELD HAS BEEN INTRODUCED” : 1880-1908
— Restarting the Hudson Tunnel from Jersey City — The problem of the south tunnel — Hudson Tunnel progress under Haskin — The Hudson Tunnel in New York — The end of construction — Attempts to revive the Hudson Tunnel — Revival with English capital — The Beach or Greathead shield — Engineering success, financial failure — The New York and Jersey Railroad — Completion of the Hudson Tunnel — The Hudson Tunnel open for passengers — The Hudson Tunnel today
23 “TO SQUIRT PEOPLE THROUGH A DARK HOLE” : 1880-1893
— Dixon v Beach — New underground railway plans — The Broadway Underground Connecting Railway — The Central Tunnel Railroad — Revival of the Broadway Underground Railway — The Broadway Underground Connecting Railway Commission — Revival of the Metropolitan Transit Company — Plans for the Broadway Underground Railway — The Broadway Underground Connecting Railway denied — Plans for the New York Arcade Railway — The New York District Railway — The Arcade and the District — The Broadway Elevated — Hewitt proposes the Elm St route and city construction — Last battles for the underground roads — The end of the New York Arcade Railway — The end of the New York Underground Railway — The Rapid Transit Board of 1891 — The legacy of the nineteenth century projects — The death of Vandenburgh and Smith
24 “HIS LIFE’S WORK IS OF PERENNIAL CHARACTER” : 1894-1909
— Death of Alfred E Beach — The Western Union tubes — The Post Office tubes — The New York Parcel Dispatch Company
25 “THEY FOUND THE TUBE IN EXCELLENT CONDITION” : 1898-1912
—The destruction of Devlin’s clothing store — A visit to the tunnel in 1899 — The new Rogers, Peet building — The grate in City Hall Park — The destruction of the Beach Pneumatic tunnel — The Broadway subway — Relics of Beach Pneumatic Transit — Monuments to Beach
26 “THE WORLD BENEATH THE CITY” : 1903-2004
— The legend — Beach’s spin on the story — ‘Oldtime Tunnels’ — Stories from 1912 — Deaths of the last Beach Pneumatic officials — Fifty Years of Rapid Transit — ‘Broadway Tube Proposed in ’49’ — Underneath New York — The New-York Historical Society exhibit in 1950 — The World Beneath the CityAmerican Heritage — Poison in the academic well — Uptown DowntownUnder the Sidewalks of New YorkLabyrinths of Iron722 MilesMole People — The legend continues — ‘Sub Rosa Subway’
S SOURCES


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