The Long Island Rail Road: A Comprehensive History, Part Two: The Flushing, North Shore & Central Railroad
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Volume I of the Long Island Rail Road history presented the story of the South Side Railroad, one of the Long Island's early competitors. Volume II presented here tells the interesting story of the other great competitor that the Long Island faced in the post-Civil War period: the Flushing, North Shore & Central Railroad. As the title implies, this railroad was essentially a union of three originally separate roads; its history, in effect, is the story of the railroads that radiated from two centers: Flushing and Garden City.
As in the case of the South Side Railroad, almost no original sources relating to the Flushing roads or to the Central Railroad have come down to us; successive warehouse fires and the disinterest on the part of officialdom have effectively destroyed the records of an earlier day. It has been necessary, therefore, to rely on the contemporary newspapers of the island for a detailed account of the road. All the newspapers in the area served by the Flushing, North Shore & Central Railroad have been searched to make this story as complete as possible. These include: FLUSHING JOURNAL, 1850-1880; FLUSHING TIMES, 1873-1884; LONG ISLAND FARMER (Jamaica), 1865-1871; LONG ISLAND DEMOCRAT (Jamaica), 1865-1882; NEWTOWN REGISTER (Elmhurst), 1873-1882; HEMPSTEAD INQUIRER, 1870-1880; SOUTH SIDE SIGNAL (Babylon), 1869-1880; LONG ISLAND HEADLIGHT (Farmingdale), 1873-1875; LONG ISLAND LEADER (Port Jefferson), 1873-1876.
Although accounts of the Flushing & North Side Railroad and the Central Railroad have appeared from time to time, it has been possible to present here a much fuller and more detailed picture, thanks to the large amount of new material uncovered in the little-known country press of that day. The original Flushing Railroad and the North Shore Railroad have never been researched before to the writer's knowledge, and the account presented here is the first to tell the full story of these pioneer roads.
The author is indebted to Mr. Harold Fagerberg of Babylon and to Mr. Harold L. Goldsmith of Woodside for photographs of rolling stock and stations; to Mr. Jeffrey Winslow for layout and arrangement of the pictures and maps; to Mr. Felix Reifschneider for his unfailing counsel and encouragement, and for arranging the publication of the book; finally, to the Long Island Historical Society for making available its extensive newspaper collection.
Volume III, covering the history of the Long Island Rail Road proper from the end of the Civil War to 1880, is now in preparation.
- VINCENT F. SEYFRIED
- Garden City, N. Y.
- April 1963
CHAPTER I: Construction Days: The Flushing R. R. Takes Shape
By 1850 the village of Flushing, situated at the head of Flushing Bay and facing Long Island Sound, had already passed its 200th year of existence and had become populous and wealthy. Located only six miles from New York City and endowed with many scenic advantages, Flushing had already become well-known as a rural retreat for many wealthy New Yorkers, whose substantial homes dotted the village. Historically, Flushing was the home of the Quaker movement on Long Island, George Fox himself having preached in its rural lanes, and John Bowne having won the fight for religious freedom in Dutch days. Commercially, Flushing had long been famous for its botanical gardens and nurseries, which exported rare trees and flowering shrubs to the entire eastern seaboard. By the year 1850 there were about 2000 persons in the village itself and as many more in the township.
The people of Flushing, because of their proximity to the water, had for years depended primarily on steamboat accommodations to reach New York. Besides the boats which left the Town Dock several times a day, two or three lines of stage coaches provided communication with Brooklyn on the west, Jamaica to the south, and the north shore villages to the east. The coming of the railroad to Long Island in 1832 marked the beginning of a new era in communication. Because of the east-west orientation of Long Island, it was but natural that the first railroad should be constructed the length of the island from Brooklyn to Greenport. A village of the size and importance of Flushing, however, could not long remain outside the railroad network. The financing of the Long Island Rail Road itself had been a slow and difficult process, and the road was in no condition to undertake branch lines. It was clear that Flushing, if it wanted the benefits of rail connection with the metropolis, would have to finance and build a road of its own. The first impulse toward a rail project arose in the early 1840'S and gradually gained momentum as line after line began to be built and successfully operated in and around New York City. The Flushing Journal took up the project as part of its campaign for municipal improvement, and regularly presented to its readers accounts of successful railroad schemes in towns of comparable size and situation.
The railroad project was not without its opponents, however. At the very time that a Flushing Railroad was first being seriously discussed, the plank roads were enjoying a surprising revival. Half a century before, in 1801, the first plank road was built from Flushing to Brooklyn. Thereafter, others were built at intervals, but in the short period 1850-1855, plank roads again sprang into public favor as a form of investment, and several new roads of this type appeared in Queens County. For a few years an active debate went on among Flushingites as to the relative advantages of a plank road vs. a railroad.
Gradually, the advocates of rail travel prevailed. It was argued that stage coaches on plank roads were limited as to size and uncomfortable to ride in, and the road itself precluded fast travel. The railroad, on the other hand, offered comfort, space, speed, and prestige to the community that boasted it. The completion of the Burlington & Mt. Holly R.R. in New Jersey in 1849 provided the first statistics on the probable cost of a Flushing R.R. The Jersey road was of comparable length and served a similar territory. It boasted two each of engines, coaches, freight cars and flat cars, and cost in all $90,000 to build and $12 a day to operate. The same engineer went over the Flushing ground and estimated that a road could be built for $121,000, and that the total time of travel, including ferry passage, would be only 23 minutes. There were at that time roughly 80 to 100 commuters daily to New York; if these paid 12½¢ a trip, the full daily running cost of about $13.50 a day would be earned, with a comfortable surplus for maintenance. Way passengers and freight would increase the profit further. It was pointed out that the trunk railroads out of New York had greatly developed building and settlement in the suburbs and the same could be expected from a road through Queens.
In January 1851 proponents of the railroad scheme drafted articles of association and began preparations to sell stock. In May a corps of engineers walked the Flushing meadows and reported back that a solid gravel stratum underlay the muck at a depth of 15-20 feet. At this point the project again became quiescent and months passed. In February 1852 the backers of the road formally incorporated and elected officers and a board of directors. The most solid men of the community were behind the project, bearing names like Bowne, Parsons, Underhill, Peck, etc.--names still commemorated by the streets of Flushing of our day. The capital stock was set at $200,000 and shares set at $20 each, so as to be within the reach of all classes. On March 3, 1852 the charter of the new road was officially issued at Albany. With the company officially launched, active promotion of the railroad scheme was begun in newspapers and public lectures. The directors made efforts to buy up the right of way as quickly as possible, for news of the scheme was inflating the value of land daily. The backers predicted a rosy future for the investors of the road and reasoned that the short, fast haul would divert all the business from the steamboats.
The enthusiasm of the Flushingites received its first check when some of the directors went to the neighboring village of Newtown (Elmhurst) to sell stock. The men set up headquarters in Wheeler's Hotel on Broadway, and in the course of one full day, failed to sell one single share of stock. Inquiries were made and explanations forthcoming. Newtowners brought forward three objections to the road: 1. Possible settlement in the wake of the railroad might drive out the market gardens from which Newtowners derived their revenue. 2. Railroad crossings would endanger life and property. 3. The travelling time to New York would probably not be materially shortened. The directors took this rebuff in stride and determined to do a little missionary work in Newtown to sell the railroad idea.
In Flushing, meanwhile, sales were going slowly, averaging about $15,000 a week. The newspapers scrutinized the subscription list, and commented that the buyers were too often wealthy men; the working class and those that owned property were insufficiently represented, and the paper urged their support as a public duty and moral obligation. Sales promotion continued all through the spring and summer of 1852 and in the fall public rallies were held. No public hall existed so the speakers mounted a wagon in front of the porch of the hotel and harangued the citizenry. Nothing in the way of construction could be done until enough money had been raised to buy the right of way and let contracts. As the months flew by, the directors had been dismayed to notice the spiraling price of land, and the beginnings of villages along the proposed route further complicated the acquisition of land. Statistics were released on travel and income designed to prove that the road would pay: 600 through passengers at 15¢ each and 300 way passengers at 12½¢ each would yield a profit of $27,084 a year, or between 13 and 14% on the capital stock. At the worst the return would be 7 to 8%. In December even the little village of Whitestone held a railroad rally and subscribed 100 shares of stock on the spot.
With the advent of the new year 1853, the directors and officers felt that further delay in land acquisition would be fatal and that enough money was on hand to let contracts. One important problem, however, still defied solution: where was the road to terminate? No one, from the beginning, had considered any other terminus than the Brooklyn waterfront. The problem was, to which ferry should the railroad run? Unfortunately, the main ferry terminals were located in heavily populated, commercial areas, and the streets all about were 80 feet wide at the most and choked with carriages and wagon traffic.
The directors had originally planned to operate by steam to Bushwick Avenue, and then operate horse cars over wooden rails to the Bridge Street Ferry in downtown Brooklyn. Later it had been decided to shorten the long horse car haul by running to Peck Slip Ferry at the foot of Broadway in Williamsburgh. An informal application to the Common Council of that village was rejected, on the ground that railroad operation would depreciate property, especially if steam power was used. Mayor Berry of Williamsburgh expressed the opinion that plank roads were of greater benefit to his city, and that he would veto any application for railroad operation in the street.
Faced with exclusion from Williamsburgh, the railroad men turned to Greenpoint as an equally favorable outlet. Greenpoint had been farmland until 1834, when streets were laid out, but by 1850 settlement was still very thin and no local opposition to a railroad could be expected. In any case a modified application was again made to the Williamsburgh authorities in May 1852, asking to use Montrose Avenue and Broadway to the Broadway Ferry and promising not to use steam inside the city limits (Bushwick Avenue). Meanwhile surveyors checked on the feasibility of the Greenpoint route. The newspapers championed the Greenpoint route in their pages and insisted that a terminus there would be cheaper to acquire and less crowded, not to mention being slightly nearer.
After almost a year of waiting, the Common Council unexpectedly granted the Flushing Railroad a route in April 1853. The road would come by steam through Greenpoint and then use horse cars the full length of Kent Avenue and Wythe Avenue (one direction only), returning through North Thirteenth and South Eleventh Streets. Grooved rail was to be used and the grant would run for twenty-one years. No sooner had the Common Council acted than a public outcry arose against their action; Mayor Berry vetoed their grant, and the councilmen, unwilling to be caught out on a political limb, hastily rescinded their action.
Four months passed and the directors then publicly announced their final choice of terminus: the barren, swampy and wholly unsettled area of Hunter's Point. When this decision was made in September 1853, Long Island City as such had no existence at all. The whole area was low meadow and swamp land, covered with salt grass and dotted with occasional rock outcroppings. Several excellent reasons prompted this startling choice of site. By going to Hunter's Point the company could go through all the way to the water by steam; also it could operate over its own land the full distance. These two major advantages were available nowhere else. In addition, the Hunter's Point route was nearly all level, shorter, and therefore cheaper to build, and ran the length of Newtown Creek where way passengers and freight might reasonably be expected.
With the beginning of pleasant spring weather in April 1853, active work on the road began. The directors appointed Colonel James Warren Allen as chief engineer, and Mr. Cross sub-engineer; to Mr. D. F. Hoadley of Bridgeport, Connecticut, went the contract for grading and masonry between Flushing and Newtown. The directors themselves were busy negotiating for the right of way; some landowners resisted selling at all, resenting the invasion of their privacy; others held out for exorbitant sums for lands of little intrinsic value.
The route, as finally settled on, ran from Main Street, Flushing, in almost a direct line to Maurice Avenue, Winfield; then curved very slightly southwest and again moved in a straight line to just short of Newtown Creek, where the road curved west and followed the creek line closely to the East River. By following the Newtown Creek route the road served Calvary Cemetery, founded five years before, and skirted Maspeth and Winfield, both new villages founded the year before (1852).
On Tuesday, May 10, 1853, the first ground was turned over at Cedar Point, the upland on the Corona side of the Flushing meadows. Mr. Hoadley, the contractor, had several teams of men and horses grading through Elmhurst and Corona, and a deadline of October 1 was set for completion of grading. Orders were placed for fifty-six pound rail. In June and July a line of piles ',vas driven from the Flushing Creek across the low, swampy meadowland to the Corona upland. The present level of the Flushing meadows is comparatively modern, filling having been commenced in 1916 and continued until fifteen to twenty feet of ashes and rubble have obliterated the former extensive swampland. The wide, reedy Flushing Creek bridged by the engineers of 1853 was a far broader and deeper stream than the sluggish brook that remains today.
In September commissioners appointed by the courts condemned the last parcels needed for the road and awarded damages to the few stubborn holdouts who had tried to extort fortunes for their lands. At the same time the rails arrived and were being distributed all along the right of way. On October 1, 1853 the piling was completed on schedule and word arrived that the two locomotives and six cars would be ready for delivery on November 1.
In mid-October the editor of the Flushing Journal undertook to walk the whole right-of-way as a public service and noted that the superstructure on the pilework was all ready for track laying; as far as the eye could see, cross ties and iron dotted the route. Carts and gangs of men were busy making cuts and using the dirt to bring low spots up to grade. From Greenpoint Avenue in Long Island City another line of pilework began and continued for half a mile westward into Hunter's Point.
In order to give those of its patrons who might want to go to Brooklyn access to that place, the company secured permission from the Legislature to buyout the old Ravenswood, Hallett's Cove & Williamsburgh Turnpike & Bridge Co., which owned the Manhattan Avenue Bridge over Newtown Creek into Brooklyn, and Franklin Street on the Brooklyn side, down to Bushwick Creek, the border of Williamsburgh. The Brooklyn City R.R. was at that time (1853) extending its crosstown horse car line north up Kent Avenue to Bushwick Creek. The Flushing R.R. planned to lay track across Newtown Creek and down Franklin Street to the Bushwick Creek Bridge, where its passengers could change cars for all the Brooklyn ferries.
During the course of construction another dispute arose as to the exact location of the Flushing terminal. When the railroad scheme was first envisaged, two possible sites for a depot were considered, the first just below the bridge at Northern Boulevard and the second, the Prince Nursery grounds, extending from about Fortieth Road to Forty-first Road and from Main Street west to the creek. Advocates of the bridge site urged purchase of the existing bridge so as to save the expense of constructing a new one; also that the depot would be in the heart of the business district. (In 1850 Roosevelt Avenue was the southern limit of the built-up area in Flushing). The nursery site involved damages to the Prince family who owned the nursery and meant that the depot would be on the southern fringe of the village.
In February 1853 the directors settled on a depot site on the east side of Main Street midway between Northern Boulevard and Thirty-seventh Avenue. The selection of this site raised a storm of objection among Flushingites, particularly because trains would have to cross Lawrence, Hamilton, and Prince Streets, all three thickly populated and lined with houses, in order to reach the depot. When the directors saw the storm they had raised, they rescinded their resolution and voted to adopt the Prince nursery site.
To the great surprise and pleasure of the directors, a large strip of land and considerable frontage on Main Street was freely donated to the company for use as a depot site by William Redwood, owner of a mansion fronting Main Street on what is now Fortieth Road. After prolonged haggling with so many landowners for much less valuable sites along the right of way, it was a pleasure for the directors to meet with such a rare instance of generosity and public spirit! On October 4, 1853 contracts were advertised for the construction of a depot building, engine house, and car shop, returnable within ten days. Sylvester Roe, a Flushing builder, won the contract and commenced collecting materials on the site during November.
The gift of the Redwood property did not solve the depot problem completely; it merely provided land for a station and buildings. Mr. Prince instituted legal action to compel the company to change the angle of approach through his nursery grounds. He insisted that if the company were to place a curve on the meadows on the Corona side and then run the road in a straight line along a projected extension of Forty-first Avenue up to Main Street, damage to his nursery grounds would be at a minimum. He charged that the sole reason for the company's line of route was to secure the earth on several knolls on the Redwood property, and that this was a trivial reason for the location of a permanent installation like a railroad. The Prince claim received scant sympathy in the newspapers because of the delay it caused, and there were those who hinted darkly that Mr. Prince merely sought higher damages by this devious method.
Mr. Cross, the company surveyor, publicly testified that Mr. Prince's route had been checked, but that it would require 4300 feet of piling as against 3800; also that a curve would have to be located on the pile work, which was undesirable from an engineering point of view, and, finally, that the creek would have to be crossed diagonally, requiring a 500-foot bridge as against a 250-foot bridge. In view of the safety and cost factors the present route was preferred. To settle the dispute, the court appointed commissioners to check on the value of the 1.94 acres in dispute. Prince fulminated once more against the company, charging the engineer with imbecility and the directors with vanity, but his ruffled feathers were soothed on December 26th with a handsome settlement of $3200, of which $1200 was for trees. The large size of the award, double that of any other, was no doubt in deference to the Prince family, one of the oldest and most prominent in Flushing.
In the last days of 1853 the depot building in Flushing was rapidly being built, the drawbridge over Flushing Creek installed, the turntable dug out and laid with track, and the frame engine house and car shed completed. Some embarrassment was caused the company by stock delinquents, who were holding back the payment of their assessments. In spite of all the handicaps and delays and even abuse experienced, the company in its New Year's Day message expressed satisfaction in the progress of the work and tentatively suggested April 1-15, 1854 as the date when the "snort of the iron horse might be heard in our streets."
In February 1854, the company made provisions to overcome another difficulty, this one occasioned by the location of the terminus at Hunter's Point. At that early period no ferry existed at Borden or Jackson Avenue for the good reason that neither of these streets existed as yet, and that no one lived in Hunter's Point. To get its passengers to New York, therefore, the railroad had to acquire and operate its own ferry boats. In March 1854 the company succeeded in getting possession of two small steam ferry boats, the Enoch Dean and the Island City, two being acquired instead of one because ferry boats were liable to frequent repairs and very often a substitute proved unavailable at any price at the exact time wanted.
The Enoch Dean was purchased outright and the Island City chartered at $5 a day. One boat was to act as a ferry between Hunter's Point and Fulton Market Wharf, while the other, when not needed as a substitute, would ply between Flushing and New York at hours other than the railroad trains. In May the newly renovated Island City accidentally caught fire, and had it not been for the great exertions of the deck hands, would have burnt to the water line. Fortunately for the company, the boat was spared for future service and the insurance paid for all the damage.
The spring days of 1854 were devoted largely to putting the finishing touches to the railroad. By this time the company had secured full title to every foot of the right-of-way and had sufficient funds on hand to payoff the contractors. A deep cut near Penny Bridge was the last remaining obstacle on the road. In May the contractor announced that thirty clear working days would serve to finish the road; meanwhile the two locomotives ordered arrived in the week of May 6-13.
It happened that the last four days of June 1854 were scheduled by the New York Racing Ass'n. as racing days and the directors of the Flushing R.R. resolved to profit from the event by operating the road, even though it had not been formally turned over by the contractors. The National Course, formerly the Fashion Course, was located just east of Junction Avenue and north of Elmhurst Avenue in Corona, and attracted a large turnout of "sports" and "swells" as the racing devotees of that day were known. Access to the race course had previously been only by stagecoach from Astoria or Flushing; now it became possible for the first time to carry large crowds by rail. The Flushing Journal exulted in the prospect and paid honor to those who had piloted the railroad project through the many pitfalls of the last two seasons. On the eve of opening the road, the directors made two appointments: W. W. Kingsley as baggage master, and E. T. Dudley, late of the Harlem R.R., as superintendent. The first experimental trip was made over the road on June 23, 1854 in the late afternoon. As the locomotive steamed into Flushing at 4 P.M., it made a great impression and rejoiced the hearts of those who had believed in the project from the beginning.
The great day--June 26th--came and went without mishap and for the next four days the little engines and cars shuttled back and forth between the National Course and the East River with their loads of humanity. From the New York press, which covered the races and the results of each day, we learn that the event drew large crowds of men and fashionably dressed women, while many of the blooded horses of the day, some even brought up from the deep South for the event, ran daily heats. Mr. Dudley, the superintendent, ran ads in the dailies, offering "special" trains every half hour, running direct to the National Course; the running time is given as 30 minutes, and the fare 25¢. It was expected that there would be some kind of public celebration to mark the opening of the new road, but there is no record that any such occurred. After the last racing day (July 1st) the directors cut down the service to three trains only per day to give the contractors a chance to put the finishing touches to the road; then on July 17, 1854 the first timetable went into effect.
CHAPTER II: The Flushing R. R.'s Early Years
The Flushing R.R., as received from the contractors in July 1854, consisted of a road 7.47 miles long with second track of 0.4 miles, totaling eight miles in all. The rail was fifty-six pounds to the yard and rested on wooden ties which in turn were supported on wrought iron chairs 586 to the mile, weighing seven pounds each. The road was, of course, single track its entire length. From Flushing depot it was but a short distance to the creek, which was spanned by a swinging draw with a clear opening of 250 feet. Westward from this point the railroad was supported on piling for seven-tenths of a mile across the swampy meadows until one came to the Corona uplands. From here to Newtown the land elevation was at its highest, and there were several cuts of moderate length. Over National Avenue, Corona, was the sole stone bridge on the whole route. Between Newtown and Calvary Cemetery the road traversed a generally flat and featureless country, but at Laurel Hill Boulevard, a second long stretch of piling began, which continued almost to Vernon Avenue. At that time the southern margin of Calvary Cemetery had not yet been filled in and commercial establishments along the bank of the creek were very few and small in size. Two final pile bridges, each with small openings, carried the road over Dutch Kills and Jack's Creek. The motive power consisted of two small 4-4-0 type locomotives, named, appropriately, the New York and the Flushing. Both were constructed by Rogers in Patterson, N. J. in November and December of 1853 and delivered in May 1854.
The passenger equipment consisted of two smaller eight-wheel coaches, and four larger eight-wheel cars constructed by the Gilbert Car Works in Troy, N. Y. In addition the road boasted two baggage cars, three closed freight cars and three flat cars. All of this equipment was housed at the Flushing depot, where were located a large frame engine house, and two large frame car sheds.
The first timetable seems to have set the pattern for the first few years of operation; there were three morning trains departing at 6, 8, and 10 A.M. respectively, and three afternoon trains at 1,4 and 6:30 P.M. Trains left from both the Flushing and the Hunter's Point terminals at these hours and passed each other at Winfield. The average running time was thirty-five minutes. To test the track and the capabilities of the new road, the superintendent on July 18 made a non-stop speed run from Flushing to Hunter's Point dock in eleven minutes; four and one-half minutes were spent by the passengers in transferring to the boat, and twelve minutes on the run to Fulton Ferry, making twenty-seven and one-half minutes in all, a record that would be hard to beat today!
When the road first began operations, a non-stop run between Flushing and New York might very well be commonplace because of the extremely thin settlement along the line. What we know today as the Corona area had been a farm until May 1853 when a group of speculators incorporated the West Flushing Land Co., bought out five farms, and staked out building lots and graded streets. In the first few years there were only a handful of inhabitants and therefore few commuters. On weekends· special excursion trains carried prospective home-owners, lured by the promotional literature of the speculators.
The National Course stop at the present National Avenue originated heavy traffic on racing days, but next to nothing at other times of the year. Moving westward, the next stop was at Broadway, Newtown (Elmhurst). This was a very old and prosperous village of consequence and the railroad depended on it for way passengers. Half a mile farther was the Winfield depot at Sixty-ninth Street. This too was a developers' project started in 1853 and incapable of furnishing any regular traffic for many years to come. The developers, Andrews & Kendall, built the station building in July 1854 to accommodate the excursions which were run here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
The final way station was located at Penny Bridge, where Laurel Hill Boulevard crossed Newtown Creek and became Meeker Avenue. At that date Laurel Hill Boulevard was one of the high roads leading into Queens and carried a fairly heavy traffic. In addition, the Roman Catholic Church had opened in 1848 the large new Calvary Cemetery on the slope to the west and large numbers of funerals and mourners constantly passed this way. Flushing Railroad patrons, preferring to be ticketed through to Brooklyn rather than New York, changed here at Penny Bridge station to the Calvary line of omnibuses, which carried them down Meeker Avenue and Grand Street to the Grand Street Ferry in Williamsburgh. The through fare for this route came to only 18¾¢ (counting the ⅛¢ Civil War Federal Travel Tax).
The final stop, Hunter's Point, was simply a transfer station from rail to boat. The company had built an embankment at the water's edge out into deeper water, where piling commenced and supported a wharf extending out into the river. The depot, according to a disgruntled correspondent, was "a cheap, comfortless, painted shanty, entirely open at each side and end," and chilling in cold weather. The correspondent goes on to say that "only a few minutes are allowed for the mutual transfer of passengers, no warning bell is rung, and not a few passengers are sometimes left behind." From this wharf either the Island City or the Enoch Dean ferried the patrons to the Fulton Street slip on the Manhattan side.
At the time of the opening of the road there were only three station buildings; the open one at Hunter's Point, one at Winfield, and the most substantial one at Flushing. In September 1854 the West Flushing Land Co. erected a "Gothic" station at 108th Street for the use of their villagers. The result of this move was to create two stations in the Corona area only three blocks apart, one for the National Race Course and one for the villagers. This situation continued for as long as the race course remained active.
On January 15, 1855 the Flushing R.R. announced the opening of a new stop at Maspeth at what is now Fifth-eighth Street & Fifty-fourth Drive. Maspeth Village, about a half mile to the south, was developed in 1852-53, again by speculators who bought out the former farms and laid out building lots. Although the population was extremely small at first, the railroad did not wish to neglect any opportunity for possible revenues.
The next depot building to go up, of which we have record, was that at National Course in March 1855. The lack of ticket selling facilities and shelter was an inconvenience to the race crowds and the depot was built to overcome this handicap.
The operations of the Flushing Railroad during its early years seem to have been largely uneventful. The road was, after all, only a short country affair, operating in a quiet, rural area, and was not likely to attract much attention to itself. Timetables were revised two or three times a year, but with so few trains scheduled, there could not be much variation. In January 1855 the 1 P.M. train was replaced by a through ferry run to Flushing, reducing rail service to five trips a day, but this caused universal dissatisfaction.
One of the curiosities of the Flushing Railroad was its strict observance of the Sabbath. Subscriptions to the stock had been made on the express condition that "no cars or car should be allowed to run upon said road on the Sabbath, or at least no passengers or freight shall be carried over or upon the road on that day." For the first five years this pledge was solemnly kept and not a wheel turned on the road on Sunday. On one occasion the workmen took out an engine on Sunday to touch up the pile work near Penny Bridge anti suddenly came upon a group of children swinging and playing on the trestlework. On seeing them, the engineer reversed his engine but almost ran down two children, who saved themselves by dropping into the water. The newspapers, characteristically, censured not the children who were playing in a dangerous place, but the railroad management who had condoned this violation of the Sabbath. The editor primly concluded his account with the acid comment that "those who elect to go to the devil should not be allowed to distract pious people."
There was much discussion during these early years as to what fare should be charged to earn a fair return on the investment. The through fare was set at 20¢ from Flushing to New York. Passengers from West Flushing and Newtown paid 15¢, Winfield 12½¢, Maspeth and Penny Bridge 10¢. Several of the stockholders strongly objected to permitting the way passengers to pay a lower fare than the through passengers. They reasoned that though the distance was less, the accommodation furnished was the same; also that stopping entailed a loss of time and an inconvenience to the through patrons and caused additional wear and tear on the engine, besides raising the fuel consumption, and that since the road was so short and cheap to ride on, making a sliding scale of fares was unwise and uneconomical. Others protested against the grant of free passes to directors, stockholders, editors and ministers. In this case the motion was carried and all the free passes were cancelled as of January 1, 1855. The extreme view on the fare question was that of a stockholder who urged the sale of annual passes to all for 25¢ each, entitling the bearer to ride all year to and from all points! Needless to say, this drastic simplification of rate schedules met with no favor from anyone.
The freight tariffs of these early years are no longer available to us, but the rates apparently evoked some protest, for a correspondent complained in a letter to the papers that the rates were "oppressive and unprecedented." The railroad did most of its freight hauling during the midday layover between morning and evening passenger trains. Occasionally the lack of sufficient sidings delayed freight movements into the evening hours and passenger trains were sidetracked contrary to standard operating procedure. A bitter letter of May 1856 heaped abuse on the railroad management for freight delays over a week's time that lengthened the thirty-five minute run to Flushing to fifty and even eighty minutes. Passengers grumbled in the motionless cars while flats loaded with lumber were unloaded and waybilled at the several way stations.
The biggest challenge to the fledgling railroad came in the winters of 1856 and 1857. Warnings of what could happen in winter weather first came in February 1855 when the disaster that the company thought it had guarded itself against occurred nevertheless, namely, the disabling of both ferry boats at the same time. The Island City broke her shaft in the drift ice at the very time that the Enoch Dean was under repairs. This cut off all communication with New York at one blow, and it took the company three days to find an emergency boat to press into service. A reporter who observed the trouble remarked dryly that "the casualty opened up rich veins of temper and judgment in both old and young America, which kicks and makes no allowance for anything contrary to their comfort."
A week later on February 8 the Island City froze to the slip at the foot of East Tenth Street so solidly that it took the crew five hours to free her from the ice. Since the same disaster happened to another ferryboat of another company on the same day, the railroad managers felt that no particular blame attached to them.
These troubles of the road were as nothing compared with the winter of 1856. On Saturday, January 5 of that year a howling snow storm struck New York City. By evening the storm had drifted over the road and filled the cuts, especially the section between Newtown and West Flushing stations. When the storm subsided on Sunday the superintendent fired up the locomotives, hired every able-bodied man he could find and attacked the drifts. On Monday morning over 100 men with shovels and the two engines fitted with nose plows returned to the battle and at sundown reached Newtown. In the meantime a force of men from Hunter's Point started to work and on Tuesday the locomotives were able to steam into the river terminus.
Even this herculean effort was only partly useful because the Island City found itself unable to navigate through the immense fields of ice. Hasty arrangements were made with the Brooklyn City R.R. to convey passengers from the Brooklyn side of Newtown Creek down to the various Brooklyn ferries. In practice, this arrangement pleased no one, for the Brooklyn City R.R. sleighs (running from Newtown Creek to the Bushwick Creek railhead) charged 10¢ extra, even though the tickets of the Flushing R.R. specified through passage to New York. The connection was not always prompt even with the extra fare and bitter letters were penned about the ladies and young children perishing of cold in some snow banks at Hunter's Point. At this early period there were no private houses and no commercial establishments in Long Island City, and the open shanty at the depot provided the sole shelter against the elements.
As for the 10¢ extra fare, there was no doubt that the Flushing R.R. management was to blame. When the Brooklyn City rails had reached Bushwick Creek in the fall of 1854, negotiations were begun to exchange passengers between the two roads, since the Flushing R.R. owned the turnpike down to Bushwick Creek (Franklin Street). The stumbling block in the talks had proved to be the amount at which the Brooklyn City R.R. would take Flushing R.R. tickets. Unable to reach an agreement. on what proportion of ticket revenue would go to each, the negotiations had fallen through. The unexpected advent of the storm highlighted this unsettled traffic interchange arrangement.
The local newspaper, in printing the just complaints of the riders, stoutly defended the road in doing all in its power and at great expense to keep the track open with armies of men and plows, but censured the company for letting the situation at Hunter's Point deteriorate to the point where passengers were abandoned at the water's edge, or else forced to pay an overcharge.
The following January (1857), the moment the ice blocked navigation in the East River, the Flushing R.R. put on a line of omnibuses between Hunter's Point and Peck Slip Ferry at the foot of Broadway, Brooklyn, to convey passengers from their trains. The experiences of 1856 had taught the company an expensive lesson. The winter of 1856, severe as it had been, proved hardly more than a prelude to the storms of January 1857. The winter of this year has passed into history as being, if not the most severe of the nineteenth century on Long Island, then at least in second or third place. On Sunday, January 18 the thermometer plunged to the zero mark and not long after, the snow began to fall, the flakes whipped and driven by gale-force winds. One by one, the streets of the city were choked with snow and the great steam roads leading out of the metropolis stiffened to a halt. On the eastern end of Long Island, Great South Bay froze over solid, and from the beaches great chunks of ice extended seaward as far as the eye could peer. Village life in Queens came to a complete halt and the L.I.R.R. stopped running for a week. Again the Flushing R.R. disappeared under mountainous drifts of snow, and again the superintendent gathered an army of 100 snow shovelers who dug their way west from Flushing. The trackman, with a force of seventy-five men of his own, began operations at Hunter's Point and at 9 A.M. on Wednesday, the twenty-first, effected a junction. That day the 4 P.M. train made the scheduled trip and found several passengers huddled in one of the coaches at Hunter's Point who had spent the night in the car. Once again the ferry boats were out of service; the East River, for the first time in many years, had frozen over solid from shore to shore and venturesome persons were crossing on the ice. When the train attempted to return to Flushing, it became wedged in a drift at West Flushing and had to be dug out by a rescue train. Service remained disorganized on Thursday and Friday and did not return to normal till the following week, yet the road had nothing to be ashamed of. Much larger, richer and better equipped roads had been wholly overwhelmed and made far less effort to resume service.
Although these winter troubles taxed the resources of the road and often gave it a bad press, operation at more favorable times of the year was reliable and rather well patronized. Regular statistics for passenger operation for this early period are long since lost, but from chance remarks scattered in the newspapers, we can glean a few interesting figures. In the summer of 1855 patronage was as follows:
In the second week of July 1854 when the road first opened, the average daily receipts were $35.34; the same week in 1855 netted $151.26 per diem, quite an increase in travel in one year. In 1856 the July total of passengers was 26,535, or roughly 1000 persons a day; the 1856 season, as a whole, reflected, we are told, an increase of 12½% over that of 1855. Only once are we given a breakdown of the monthly figures, but these are revealing:
From these fragmentary statistics, it seems obvious that by far the largest proportion of the company's income came from single trip riders, who patronized the road largely during the summer months. We lack figures on winter riding, unfortunately, but the small proportion of income from commutation holders leads us to suspect that the number of regular daily riders was small. Even the income from freight appears negligible.
Under these financial circumstances, it comes as no surprise to learn that the Flushing Railroad defaulted on the interest payment on its first mortgage bonds on September 1, 1856. The road was certainly not over-capitalized, and every effort had been made to run it efficiently, but nothing could compensate for the handicaps under which it operated. We have pointed out before that the road traversed a very thinly populated area, and served only one large village, Flushing. On top of this, the company had been saddled with the cost of operating two steamboats in order to deliver its passengers to New York. Thus for the price of one fare, the company had been operating two transportation lines, one rail and one water. The company had endeavoured to get out of this expensive predicament by selling off the Enoch Dean to College Point interests in September 1855, but the rental of the Island City climbed from five dollars in 1855 to ten dollars a day in 1856 in compensation, and there was the further cost of crew, insurance, repairs, etc. The crowning blow had been the heavy expense incident to the storms of 1856 and 1857; the company had spent hundreds of dollars for extra hands to dig out the road, and more to charter omnibuses to deliver its passengers. The Island City, immobilized in the winter ice, earned no revenue, but was a heavy fixed expense. Under the weight of all these burdens it was understandable that the company drifted deeper and deeper into debt.
On September 25, 1856 the bondholders met in New York to hear the treasurer read a statement of the affairs of the road and to appoint a committee to ascertain the owners of the bonds. No publicity was given to the affairs of the road. In February 1857 the management made its first economy moves by discharging many employees; the superintendent, faced with the responsibility of running the road with minimal help, resigned in protest. At the same time the company petitioned the Legislature to be allowed to issue preferred stock in payment of the bonds issued and of the floating debt. On March 5, 1857 notice of foreclosure was served upon the company and the appointment of a receiver and notice of sale of the road was to follow. It was hoped that the road could be sold at a figure that would reduce the interest more than half and so insure future stability.
On April 6, 1857 the court appointed as receiver William M. Smith, superintendent of the road for 1856-57; he had served for many years as village clerk of Flushing and then coroner, and had proved his ability in the winter crises of 1856-57. He immediately took the enfeebled railroad into his strong hands, and as his first act, rehired many of the experienced hands discharged two months before. The judgment creditors had attempted to seize the rolling stock of the road, but the receiver faced them down and refused to interrupt the service. He personally inspected the engines and cars and walked the length of the road, assigning experienced employees to make repairs wherever needed. He also restored the original timetable of 1854 with its popular 1 P.M. train, which had been sorely missed of late.
During the summer months of 1857 several hearings were held by the court on claims, counter-claims and proposals of all sorts advanced by various bondholders and stockholders. Finally, in January 1858, the Supreme Court issued an order for the sale of the road on April 6, 1858. The prospect of better days for the railroad had a settling effect on real estate sales, and everyone hoped that the new owners would be persons of sufficient means and resources to carry the road.
The sale was held as scheduled in the Hunter's Point depot and resulted in the real estate being knocked down to a syndicate headed by Peter Cooper of New York, Conklin Brush, president of the Mechanics' Bank in Williamsburgh, and Walter Bowne of Flushing, acting as a committee of the bondholders, for $75,000. The rolling stock was sold separately and passed to Abraham S. Hewitt, the business partner of Peter Cooper, for $10,000. The sales were for cash, payable on April 21, and title passed to the new owners as of May 1, 1858.
Mr. Smith, as receiver of the property, made his accounting to the court, and to everyone's surprise, turned in over $7,000 in net profits, after paying all expenses. In May the stockholders and bondholders again met and prepared to organize a new company. Over the summer and fall conflicting rumors arose as to the disposition of the Flushing R.R., for it was well known that Peter Cooper was financially interested in the Long Island R.R. and that there was strong likelihood that the Flushing R.R. would be assigned to that company. The rumor of L.I.R.R. ownership grew stronger over the winter months, until a public announcement of February 26, 1859 cleared up all doubts as to the disposition of the road. Abraham S. Hewitt took over financial management of the road for Messrs. Cooper, Brush and Bowne, and arranged for the appointment of Oliver Charlick as president of the road. Charlick was manager of the Eighth Avenue R.R. Co. in New York (a horse car line) and a man of wealth and formidable business acumen. It is possible that Hewitt may have offered some financial inducement to Charlick to run the Flushing R.R. On March 22, 1859 Hewitt reincorporated the old road under the new name of New York & Flushing R.R. Co. and two days later transferred to the new organization all the properties of the older road.
The management of the Flushing R.R. had now passed entirely out of Flushing hands; the directors of the new road were a glittering galaxy of great wealth, social position, and commercial or political success in New York City. The list included William F. Havemeyer, mayor of New York in 1845-6 and 18489, and part owner of the Long Island R.R.; Walter Bowne, mayor of New York, 1829-33, millionaire merchant and grandee of Bayside, L. I.; Daniel F. Tieman, politician, and at that time mayor of New York, 1858-60; and Edward Cooper, later to be mayor of New York from 1879-80, son of Peter Cooper, and brother-in-law of his father's partner, Abraham S. Hewitt.
Oliver Charlick, the new guiding spirit on the New York & Flushing R.R., is a figure of such importance in both the history of the Flushing road and in the later Long Island R.R. as a whole, that no understanding of subsequent events is possible without an understanding of the man himself. Charlick was born in Hempstead in 1810 and as a young man entered his father's liquor business in South Street near Coenties Slip. He made the acquaintance of the politicians through business connections and in 1843 was elected Assistant Alderman from the First Ward; in 1845 he was elected Alderman and was chosen President of the Board. Charlick met William F. Havemeyer, who was then serving his first term as mayor, and a friendship grew up between the two men which lasted until death. Failing to secure a recommendation to the Board, Charlick became closely associated in business ventures with George Law, then ferry boat "king" of New York City. When gold was discovered in California in 1848, Charlick undertook the management of California steamships for Law, and made him a fortune. In 1855 Law entered the horse car business by starting the 8th Avenue R.R. Co. and a little later, the 9th Avenue R.R. Co. Again Charlick took over the business management of the two lines and made them into highly successful ventures. It was only natural, therefore, that when an experienced and successful administrator was needed for the rehabilitation of the ailing Flushing R.R., Oliver Charlick should be chosen for the post.
Although no one questioned Oliver Charlick's business ability, sagacity and resourcefulness, there was another side to the man that was far less attractive. Charlick was one of those rare individuals who had the uncanny ability of antagonizing almost everyone with whom he came in contact. When he once formed an opinion and resolved on a course of action, nothing could deter him from pursuing his inflexible course. He cared nothing for the opinions of others, treated those who disagreed with him with scorn and contempt, and made no allowance whatever for the feelings and sensibilities of his business and social contacts. By refusing ever to conciliate anyone or compromise, he soon became almost universally disliked and possessed almost no friends. It must be said in his favor that his private life was blameless, and his reputation for honesty and integrity unquestioned. He believed in the rightness of his own actions and could not understand when others failed to share his views or applaud his actions. He lived up to the absolute letter of his agreements and then refused to budge an inch beyond them, even when charity or simple common sense suggested such a course.
It was this peculiar individual that entered upon the management of the reorganized Flushing road in March 1859. Charlick's very first action--the revision of the spring timetable--inconvenienced many of his riders; then within a month he raised the rates on commutation tickets, and limited commuters to particular trains. This high-handed action shut out the laborers from their usual rush-hour trains, and made it difficult for the stage coaches from Roslyn and Manhasset that connected at Flushing.
Charlick saw at once that the chief weakness of the Flushing R.R. lay in its Hunter's Point connections and began improvements. The Island City, the rent of which had become prohibitive, and its service unreliable because of the poor cooperation of its owners, was dropped altogether, and a new and larger boat, the Mattano hired for ferry service. Between May and December Charlick also undertook the modernization of the inadequate and poorly designed depot at Hunter's Point. He built a whole new pier, some 700 feet in length, and erected a covered depot and ferry terminal upon it, and in September opened service to James Slip. Further improvements in ferry service occurred on April 20, 1859 when a private operator, A. W. Winans, inaugurated the first ferry service to East Thirty-fourth Street.
Whatever favorable sentiment these improvements may have attracted was completely dissipated when Charlick flew in the face of all community sentiment and outraged public opinion by running Sunday train service beginning June 18, 1859. Charlick was actuated purely by motives of profit, but the Flushingites saw in his action an opening of the floodgates to every vice and abuse. Not only would the serenity and repose of the Flushing Sabbath be destroyed, but hordes of youthful rowdies would be conveyed into town, filling the taverns with drunken brawling, and exposing the far-famed gardens and orchards of the village to acts of vandalism.
Charlick's offenses against the village had been borne up to now with subdued resentment and forebearance, but when he ventured upon this flagrant blow at the town's most cherished traditions and feelings, the townspeople broke out in open revolt and determined upon swift retaliation. Flushing's peculiar situation upon the water freed it from the humiliating necessity of depending wholly upon Charlick's railroad for getting to and from New York. For 200 years Flushingites had reached Manhattan by water and could do so again if need be.
As early as the first days of May a grass roots movement had started to establish a fast line of steamboats between Flushing, College Point and New York. Now the whole village seized on the idea with enthusiasm, and the newspapers rallied public opinion to the cause. A capital of $50,000 was set as a goal, a company was quickly organized, and 830 shares of stock at $10 a share were sold at the first meeting. With his usual generosity Conrad Poppenhusen, the founder of College Point, and its wealthiest citizen, contributed $20,000 to the cause. In the succeeding days the money flowed in and it became almost an act of patriotism to support the cause. At a mass meeting on June 18 the full goal of $50,000 was reached. With remarkable speed a board of directors and officers were elected, and the Enoch Dean was purchased for immediate service. Title was taken as of July 1 and service opened in August.
Public opinion against the railroad was now at its height. A whispering campaign, alleging dangerous conditions on the road, circulated about, centering on the supposed rotten piling along the meadows and the imminent collapse of the drawbridge. The editor of the Flushing Journal, out of a sense of fair play, personally investigated the charges and proved them false; however, he advocated a boycott of the railroad and urged his readers not to patronize any merchants who remained open on Sunday to accommodate Charlick's irreligious customers.
Stung by the vehemence of the opposition, Charlick withdrew his advertising from the Flushing paper, but the editor had the satisfaction of noting that Charlick's own superintendent, William M. Smith, ex-receiver, and conductor Thomas Corning, found Charlick's autocratic rule intolerable, and resigned their posts on the road. Flushingites also had the satisfaction of seeing Charlick's Sunday service prove a financial failure. There were too many other resorts elsewhere where accommodations were cheaper and the patrons more welcome than in Flushing. The spectacle of numerous uniformed sheriff's deputies at the depot and along Main Street, ready to pounce on violators of the Sunday liquor laws, was not calculated to stimulate Sunday excursions to Flushing.
The hostile newspapers also publicized incidents on the railroad damaging to Charlick. When the ticket-sellers were slow to issue tickets and forced the patrons to pay full fare on the cars, or when the conductors arrogantly abused their authority and ejected passengers, the incident received full coverage in the press. When a passenger who stepped out on the platform of a way station for a moment was adjudged to have broken his trip and liable for an additional ticket, the papers dryly suggested that the conductor was merely aping the manners of his master. In September Charlick again revised his timetable and again without consulting the interests of the riding public. By the end of the year, however, the steam ferry competition of the Enoch Dean was obviously causing some concern and there were rumors that Charlick was about to start a counter-campaign by buying new engines and cars and offering hourly service at a reduced fare.
Before any such change could be undertaken, the owners of the New York & Flushing R.R. decided on the removal of Oliver Charlick from the management of the road. Although he had made physical improvements at Hunter's Point, in twelve short months he had brought the road to the lowest point in its history, more lightly patronized than ever before, and actively disliked by the very community on which it depended for support. In February 1860 Oliver Charlick left the road and was succeeded by Electus B. Litchfield, like Charlick a wealthy man and knowledgeable in railroad matters, but of utterly different temperament.
CHAPTER III: The Flushing R. R. Goes Down Hill
The Litchfield Regime was destined to be a brief one--only ten months in all--but it was a time of improvement. One of Litchfield's first acts was a reduction in the commutation rates, a change that immediately endeared him to the traveling public. He also made renewed efforts to give the railroad a Brooklyn outlet and better ferry accommodations. In the fall of 1859 the Brooklyn Common Council had granted to the railroad the privilege of laying tracks along Maspeth Avenue, North Second Street and Grand Street, and on Meeker and Kingsland Avenues, but the mayor had vetoed the resolution. In February 1860 the Council again brought the matter to a vote and overrode the mayor's veto. Litchfield must have changed his mind about the value of these two Williamsburgh routes for he made no effort to avail himself of them. Instead, we find him penning a letter on October 15, 1860 to the Common Council, asking for permission to lay double tracks down Union Avenue, Brooklyn, to Greenpoint Avenue, west along Greenpoint Avenue to Franklin Street and south down Franklin Street and Kent Avenue to the Broadway Ferry. Steam operation would end at Newtown Creek and the cars would be pulled through Brooklyn by horses. There is no record that the Common Council acceded to this request. This, so far as is known, represents the final effort of the Flushing R.R. to penetrate Brooklyn.
Viewed in retrospect, the project of constructing along horse car line through Brooklyn would have been of very small value, and from a financial point of view, suicidal. The grant was limited to ten years only and the expense of construction enormous. It was one thing to lay track in the open country, but quite another to install rail in Belgian block paving; in addition, the project would have involved the purchase of many new horse cars and the maintenance of a large stable of horses. Worse still, part of the route had already been occupied by the tracks of the Brooklyn City R.R. and the Grand Street & Newtown R.R. and payments would have been necessary for operating over their rails. Finally, the rapidly expanding population of Williamsburgh in the 1860's was making street travel increasingly crowded and slow. The traveler, after a long slow horse car journey from Hunter's Point through the streets of Williamsburgh, would still be faced with the prospect of a ferry ride to reach Manhattan. It was fortunate that the Flushing R.R.'s poverty prevented it from entering on a project that could only have proved disastrous.
Mr. Litchfield, unlike his predecessor Oliver Charlick, bent backward to ingratiate the Flushing road with the public. On a foggy day in late February, for example, when the boats from New York were running late and uncertainly at best, groups of Flushing-bound commuters straggled at odd times into Hunter's Point station. When the number became substantial, Mr. Litchfield authorized a special train to be made up, which bore the belated passengers to Flushing in time for their suppers, and extolling the benevolent management of the railroad.
The summer schedule of 1860 was expanded for the first time to seven trains a day each way, two via the new Thirty-fourth Street ferry and five via the Fulton Market Slip. The ferryboat Mattano, placed on the route in 1859, continued to serve the Fulton Ferry route. The superintendent, Mr. J. S. Bottorff, was also given free rein to repair all the locomotives, paint the cars and overhaul the road's physical structure. The largest repair work was earmarked for the Flushing Creek draw, which project was brought to completion in the following November.
The sole "improvement" which distressed the Flushingites was the resumption of the four Sunday excursion trains in May. Mr. Litchfield had been so gentlemanly and gracious in his dealings with the villagers that the ministers and the prominent men of the town felt some sense of delicacy as to the manner of voicing their disapproval; finally, a private committee circulated a petition, bearing the names of no less than seventy of the most influential men of Flushing Village, and on receipt of this impressive document, Mr. Litchfield, with his usual grace, withdrew the Sunday trains as of August 1.
To everyone's surprise and intense disappointment, Mr. Litchfield withdrew from the management of the Flushing road as of December 31, 1860. Although no reason for the resignation of Mr. Litchfield was given, it is likely that one of his other railroad interests was at that time requiring his close attention, namely, the organization of the Brooklyn Central & Jamaica R.R., newly organized to take over the operation of the Atlantic Branch of the Long Island R.R., which the Long Island was about to abandon as of September 1861. Management of the Flushing road was now entrusted to two Flushing residents, Simon R. Bowne and Spencer H. Smith.
With the year 1861, important developments were taking place at Hunter's Point that would profoundly affect the Flushing R.R. The Long Island R.R., which had been operating into Brooklyn since 1836, had been, for more than a decade, the target of mounting criticism from home owners and store keepers for running steam locomotives along Atlantic Avenue. In 1859 the property owners had finally gotten a bill through the Legislature outlawing the use of steam within the city limits. The railroad, cut off from its old terminus, looked about and finally fixed on a substitute deep water terminus at Hunter's Point.
In 1859 work on the new road from Jamaica to Hunter's Point was begun, and in 1860 large new construction was undertaken at Hunter's Point. All the land on the south side of Borden Avenue was purchased; piles were driven out to the bulkhead line and scows laden with rock fill dumped their loads to create ten acres of new land in all. The effect of all this effort was to produce a new railroad yard and depot area north of, and immediately adjacent to, the Flushing Railroad's right of way and Long Dock. By August of 1860 the new Long Island R.R. depot was completed; it was 800 feet long and built of heavy timber with a substantial slate roof. In May 1861 railroad service was begun over the new road into the large new terminal.
The opening of the Long Island R.R. depot, with its ample accommodations and considerable size, threw into the shade the Flushing R.R.'s facilities, despite the great improvements that Oliver Charlick had made in the summer of 1859. The managers of the Flushing road, Messrs. Bowne and Smith, suggested to their directorate that the new facilities could easily accommodate the Flushing trains as well as the Long Island trains and that maintenance of duplicate facilities was costly and wasteful. The Flushing R.R. owners, largely Cooper, Hewitt & Co., had just purchased $56,000 worth of L.I.R.R. bonds which had been sold to raise money to finance the Hunter's Point branch, and they therefore had no difficulty in persuading the Long Island's directors to allow the use of the new depot and terminal by Flushing R.R. trains.
As of April 1, 1862 operation of Flushing trains onto the Long Dock at the mouth of Newtown Creek was discontinued, and all trains ran in and out of the L.I.R.R. depot. At the same time the Flushing R.R. got rid of its ferry operation into Fulton Market Slip and the lease of the ferryboat Mattano, and passengers now used either the James Slip Ferry or the Thirty-fourth Street Ferry.
It is interesting to note at this point that the Flushing R.R.'s former manager, Oliver Charlick, was, in his usual astute and alert way, quietly profiting by the great real estate boom at Hunter's Point set off by the location of the railroad there and consolidating his hold on everything that could be bought or leased. To secure a voice in the operations of the Long Island R.R., he bought $45,000 worth of the bonds of the road at the same time as Cooper, Hewitt & Co. He also bought up the franchise of the new James Slip Ferry and opened this service on June 13, 1860. So well planned and operated was the Charlick ferry that Mr. A. W. Winans owner of the 34th Street Ferry Co., who had started his boats on April 20, of the preceding year, united with him and ran both routes jointly. Early in 1861 Charlick also purchased from the New York & Flushing R.R. ownership of the Ravenswood, Hallett's Cove and Williamsburgh Turnpike & Bridge Company (presently Vernon Avenue in Queens and Franklin Street in Brooklyn) and then secured from the Trustees of the Village of Astoria an exclusive franchise to build and operate a horse car line along the turnpike connecting Hunter's Point and the little village of Astoria. When it came to business and the chance to make a profitable investment, no shrewder man existed than Oliver Charlick. Finally, he bought up choice parcels in the vicinity of the new station and erected rows of brick buildings including a hotel and boarding houses.
Messrs. Bowne and Smith, like their predecessor Litchfield, tried to make the service attractive. In July 1861 they added another trip, departing at 5:30 P.M. for persons wishing to return home early to Flushing. In the summer season of 1862 ten trips a day were run each way, and in addition, charter service was made available at a minimum fee of $6 including ferriage. In the 1862 season the managers astounded the public with the announcement that on and after May 5 all commutation would be abolished altogether; that a flat rate of 10¢ a trip would be charged from Flushing, West Flushing, Newtown and Winfield stations to Hunter's Point; that packages of tickets of eleven for $1 would be available, and that a reduction of 50% would be made in the freight rates. The editor of the Flushing Journal amusingly eulogized the disappearance of the commuters as a class. He wrote: "There is to be no commutation at all; passengers will be upon an equality, and as democratic as democracy can make them. The commuters who are thus placed hors de combat were a most interesting class and will be missed. Their pleasantries, their growlings, their exclusive privileges of finding fault with everything that ran counter to their feelings for the time being--and all their agreeable and disagreeable peculiarities have been swept away at a jerk by the broom of reform."
In the 1863 season the low rates continued and we see the revival of an excursion service; on Thanksgiving Day of that year trips were run hourly from 6 A.M. to 9 P.M. In the spring of 1864 the Sunday service was again restored, this time for good. Many influential persons still strongly disapproved of the idea on moral grounds, but there was now the excuse of the war, and an increase in the number of riders. The strict Sabbatarianism of an earlier day was less in harmony now with the quickened national life, and proximity to the polyglot metropolis of New York tempered and softened the stricter moral climate of the suburbs. On May 1, 1864 five Sunday trains began running each way between Flushing and Hunter's Point with the fare set at 15¢.
It is during the years of the Civil War and its aftermath that we can first observe the gradual decline in the level of maintenance of the Flushing R.R. and in the service provided. The first inkling that all was not well appeared in December of 1861, at a time when the excitement over Fort Sumter and Bull Run was still new and fresh in the public mind. A regular rider indicted the road for old, dirty and unsafe cars, insufficient passenger cars, no smoking cars, bulky packages permitted in the trains, and want of attention to the needs of the people. Just two years later the first item was re-echoed, "dusty, musty, rickety old cars." The fault here was apparently simply a want of regular washing for the cars were only nine years old.
In the face of the gathering storm Messrs. Bowne and Smith retired from the management of the Flushing road in September 1864, and turned over the depreciated property to their successor, Mr. William Ebbitt, who had served for a decade as superintendent of the Sixth Avenue R.R. Co. in New York. It was Ebbitt's misfortune to arrive on the scene when the public outcry against the road reached a crescendo of sharpness; we can only speculate on the reasons why the Flushing R.R. was allowed to degenerate for so long a period and to such a low point. Probably one of the chief reasons for the situation was absentee ownership. Certainly the owners of the road in New York, all politicians and business men, knew nothing about the running of a railroad and believed that by entrusting the property to men with horse car experience like Charlick and Ebbitt, that all would be well. It is just possible that these men might have succeeded had it not been for the inadequate budget on which they were expected to run the road. The earnings of the property were milked for dividends and enough was allocated for minimal daily upkeep, but nothing for capital replacements or improvements. As a result, the road was producing a profit only at the price of an ever-increasing backlog of deferred maintenance. As the Civil War wore on, labor became scarcer and more costly than in the years before the war, but this scarcely explained the failure to clean the windows of the cars and wash out the floors, particularly in an age when spitting and expectorating of tobacco juice were commonplaces of American life.
The complaints against the condition of the cars became increasingly bitter in 1864. The following protests are typical:..."filth and squalor of the disgusting, worn-out, overcrowded cars"..."I call the attention of the owners to the absolutely filthy condition of their cars. The evil has been disgustingly obvious for a year past, but they are now so shamefully dirty that ladies in New York assign this as their only reason preventing them from visiting their friends in Flushing"..."Why are the cars permitted to run day after day with windows broken, ventilators destroyed, with bell cord unhung, with brakes out of order, with floors unswept, with glass unwashed, and everything about them shabby and cheap?" asks a devastatingly specific letter of December 1864.
Other complaints mention the poor class of employee, most of whom were overworked, underpaid, and gruff and surly to passengers. The service was beginning to reflect the poor condition of the road as well. From time to time the pile work would break down, causing long delays or abbreviated runs. When the Hunter's Point piling weakened, patrons were forced to change to the L.I.R.R. cars at Winfield, or to the Meeker Avenue horse cars at Penny Bridge. Since the company made no announcement of these failures, patrons paid the price of a through ride and received no rebate. When the Flushing Meadows piling broke down, patrons were evicted from the cars at Corona and had to continue on foot to Flushing.
As if the situation were not already bad enough, a series of misfortunes further weakened the road during 1863 and 1864. The wooden bridge over National Avenue caught fire on October 2, 1863 and was with difficulty repaired when the structure again took fire. On October 27, 1864, after midnight, some forty feet of the Flushing Meadows trestle on the Newtown side caught fire, probably from hot coals, and charred the trestle work sufficiently to halt all service for two days. On the quiet Sunday morning of October 30, 1864 the Flushing citizens were aroused from their beds by cries of fire from the Flushing depot. In minutes the whole structure was in flames, and tongues of fire soon communicated to the train sheds, which contained six passenger and three freight cars. The road was short of rolling stock as it was. As a result of this disaster, only three passenger coaches were left on the road. The locomotives were in another building and, by a miracle, were not harmed. By a curious coincidence four passenger cars being built for the Flushing road at Jersey City were also destroyed by fire the same week.
This series of blows was, by all means, the worst the road had suffered to date; the company had $1,500 insurance on the depot but nothing on the rolling stock. When it seemed that the road would be compelled to halt operations altogether, the Long Island R.R. came forward and loaned several passenger coaches to tide the company over the emergency.
Three weeks later the road suffered another serious setback. On Tuesday, November 29, as the five o'clock train from Flushing approached the Jack's Creek draw, the engineer failed to notice that the bridge was open to permit the passage of a sloop. A white light on the boat attracted his eye, and believing this was the all-clear signal, he allowed his engine to roll on. A moment later he caught sight of the fixed red light on the draw, but before he could stop his engine, the locomotive and tender plunged into the creek. The engine went to the bottom and the tender came to rest on top of it, while the smoking car hung half way over the edge. No one was injured, but when one considers that the road owned only four engines at this time, the loss of even one was a serious disaster.
In the winter of 1864-65 the rails, ties and superstructure of the road had reached such an obvious and dangerous state of deterioration that even the most benighted passenger could not fail to notice that something was seriously amiss. Operating the trains became so hazardous that speeds were reduced to ten miles an hour. A traveler during Christmas of 1864 reported that the 5 P.M. train from Hunter's Point reached Flushing at 7:30, and that the following day the 2 P.M. train limped into Flushing at 5 P.M.
Feeling that the condition of the Flushing railroad was now a menace to the public safety, Flushingites appointed a committee to call upon President Ebbitt and Superintendent J. O. Stearns of the road. The officials received the committee courteously and frankly discussed the road's shortcomings and what they were doing about them. As to the roadbed, they conceded its wretched state, but insisted that no trouble or expense was being spared to put the track in repair. In the matter of locomotives, two had been out of service, out of a total of four, and this explained the recent delays. Cars, too, were in short supply because of military requisitions, and the officials assured the committee the present ones in use were the only cars that could be procured in the United States at any price; also that a car cleaner had at last been engaged. After the interview the committee reported back to Flushing and were instructed to hire an engineer to make an impartial inspection of the right of way.
The engineer chosen, Mr. R. T. Bailey, commenced his inspection on February 28, 1865 and turned in his report a week later. When the report was shown by the committee to the editor of the Flushing Journal, he at first hesitated to publish it, and then did so only with the approval of the committee. The revelations of the report not only confirmed the Flushingites' worst suspicions, but drew a picture of the road that would alarm the hardiest traveler. The engineer found that although the road contained a large amount of pile and trestle work in its short length, yet "no part of these important and perishable structures had within eleven years been rebuilt or properly renewed. These remarks have special application to the timber work over Flushing Creek Meadow. The trestle work and bridging near Penny Bridge...are in somewhat better condition but much of the timber work is in a state of rapid decay." As to the Flushing Creek draw, Mr. Bailey observed: "I consider it providential that no serious accident has heretofore occurred on this part of the road."
The rails and fastenings were pronounced "insecure." "The rails are very defective from wear and tear, which renders the passage of trains over them dangerous...the appearance of the track in many places clearly shows that no renewal of materials has been made since the road was built. The consequence is that on many parts of the line, the ties and the chairs and spikes afford but little security to the rail...from Flushing to West Flushing station and for a considerable distance in the vicinity of Winfield, the road is in a dangerous condition and requires immediate renewal in all its parts." Engineer Bailey concluded his report with an earnest recommendation to commence repairs at once, and to operate, if at all, at much reduced speeds.
It is to the credit of President Ebbitt of the Flushing road that he sought neither to deny nor to minimize the devastating picture of the road. Instead he and his newly chosen superintendent, Mr. Josiah O. Stearns, former superintendent of the Central R.R. of New Jersey, undertook to make a start on the huge labor of restoration. Within a month he had contracted for 100 tons of iron for the road and 7000 new ties.
It was curious that despite the bad reports about the road, riding continued to increase. The calendar year 1864 was reported to yield $74,800 in gross receipts, with July 4 trains "crammed and jammed with record loads." On a typical Saturday, March 25, 1865, the passengers carried totaled 1700.
One of the most serious obstacles to the revitalizing of the New York & Flushing R.R. was the worn condition of its engines. The road was seriously underpowered from the beginning, with the New York and the Flushing the sole locomotives on the road from 1854 to 1864. On March 25, 1864 a third engine arrived from Danforth, Cooke & Co., which was named the Manhasset. The original two engines had suffered not only from eleven years of normal wear and tear, but from numerous accidents on the road:
- May 12, 1855--Cowcatcher strikes cow and becomes entangled, almost derailing engine.
- June 21, 1856--Locomotive runs onto turntable through misplaced switch and off it onto the dirt beyond.
- October 8, 1859--Open switch derails locomotive and tender at Hunter's Point.
- May 16, 1862--Flushing R.R. passenger train and L.I.R.R. freight train crash at Winfield Junction. Both engines badly damaged and Flushing R.R. engineer killed.
- January 27, 1863--Engine and tender run through open switch into the pit of the Flushing turntable. Passenger coach damaged and fireman killed.
- November 29, 1864--Engine and tender plunge into Jack's Creek.
- February 14, 1865--Broken rail derails whole train; one car rolls down embankment.
- July 8, 1865--Engine derails at Penny Bridge; passengers walk to Long Island City.
- December 26, 1865--Night freight train loses one car, which is left on road in darkness. Next passenger train strikes it at full speed, smashing it and damaging the engine.
When one reflects that the locomotives suffered major damage not only in these publicized accidents but minor damage in numerous smaller mishaps, of which we have no record, plus the exceptionally hard wear inflicted by snow storms such as those of 1856 and 1857, it is no wonder that the engines were largely worn out.
In the press of 1865 and 1866 accounts appear at irregular intervals of engines that simply broke down and died somewhere along the line, leaving the passengers to shift for themselves. One of the engineers of the road was quizzed about the frequency of these failures and he gave it as his opinion that the road's locomotives were "worn out and past all redemption." When it became apparent that the road might have to shut down altogether, President Ebbitt and his superintendent managed to secured a third-hand locomotive called the Uncle Tom in April 1866.
Even in the face of monumental handicaps, some progress was made on the road during these trying days. In May 1865 the road renewed the lease of the Fulton Market Slip for another five years, as had been done since 1855. At the same time one new boat appeared in service at the ferries, making possible half-hourly communication with New York. The fare was 4¢. The East River Ferry Co. was building a new and enlarged ferry house at the foot of East Thirty-fourth Street with two boat slips and the luxury of ladies' saloons. It also bought a Civil War suplus gunboat from the government for $18,500 and had it extensively rebuilt by the firm's engineer, after which it went into service as the ferryboat Huntington.
In Flushing village the railroad lost no time in putting up a replacement depot in January and February 1865. In mid-March 1865 the whole road was shut down altogether for a week in order to overhaul the roadbed drastically and make major repairs to the trestlework. It was felt that this could best be done if all service on the road ceased, and for the first time in eleven years, no trains ran. In November 1865 a similar shutdown was imposed on all freight shipments, but by the end of the month the road appointed a freight agent and organized a separate freight agency to handle goods.
In July 1865 the road received its first favorable press notices in three or four years when it graciously donated free transportation to the returning heroes of Flushing's Civil War battalion, commanded by Colonel Roemer.
The advent of the year 1866 brought with it visible evidence of the Flushing R.R.'s struggle to improve itself. Flushing villagers hesitatingly congratulated themselves upon the greatly improved regularity of the trains. Even more incredible was the arrival in July 1866 of several new and handsome passenger cars, the first wholly new equipment seen on the road in twelve years. These were longer and somewhat wider than the older cars.
In the midst of these improvements the New York & Flushing R.R. changed hands, the owners having probably concluded that nothing further could be taken out of it without the prior investment of an unpleasantly large sum for rehabilitation. The road was sold in the summer of 1866 for $200,000 to the superintendent, Mr. J. O. Stearns and a party of his friends, who had acquired an underlying mortgage of $125,000 on the property.
Mr. Stearns and his fellow investors continued valiantly to rehabilitate their ailing investment. In May 1867, after intermittent requests over the years, Mr. Stearns saw fit to gratify the requests of the people of Flushing for restoring the commutation system. On June 1, 1867 depots along the line again sold commutation tickets for the first time since 1862. A chance letter from a commuter in 1866 gives us a brief glimpse of conditions at both termini at this period. After the last train on the L.I.R.R. came in at Hunter's Point, the gas lights on the platforms were extinguished, and the Flushing passengers for the two subsequent trains had to grope their way in absolute, unrelieved darkness to the ferry, because the strict economy practiced on the road made the officials reluctant to defray any portion of the expense of lighting the depot. At the Flushing terminus only one solitary lamp was lighted at the extreme end of the depot, hardly sufficient to disperse the surrounding darkness.
Nine months passed quietly, and fortunately, uneventfully, when the people of Flushing were startled in June 1867 with the news that Mr. Stearns, their able and hard-working railroad president, was dead, and that just before his death, he had sold his interest in the road to Oliver Charlick for $300,000. Rumors as to the sale were put to rest on July 13 when Charlick took formal possession of the road. As might be expected, there were considerable misgivings at the news. Flushingites had had a taste of Oliver Charlick's management once before, and feared a return of his high-handed, autocratic rule. When Charlick left the Flushing road in 1860, he was still a private individual of large means. Within months he had bought many of the outstanding bonds of the railroad, and by February 1863 was reported to have secured stock control. In April 1863 he reached new heights of power and influence by being the man selected by the Long Island R.R.'s board of directors to take over the presidency of the road. By his purchase of the New York & Flushing R.R. Charlick was now undisputed owner and monopolist of all the railroads on the island.
CHAPTER IV: The North Shore R. R.
When the building of the Flushing R.R. was first being discussed about 1850, a wave of enthusiasm spread through all the North Shore villages on the island from Flushing eastward to Huntington. The developers of the original Long Island R.R. had seen fit in the 1830's and 40's to locate the pioneer line through the center of the island, ignoring the old and populous villages on the north and south shore. With the Long Island R.R. opened through to Greenport in 1844, there seemed little likelihood of the railroad giving service to these wayside communities, especially on the North Shore, where the steep grades and the location of the villages in valleys at the head of deep inlets from the Sound presented serious engineering problems.
When the Flushing R.R. project came up, therefore, about 1850, the North Shore villages saw in it the possibility of realizing their dream of railroad connection with the outside world. It is difficult for us today to realize the deep isolation of these rural communities before the coming of the railroad. Life in these hamlets was static and contact with the outside world limited to stage coach accommodation once or twice a week. The railroad was not merely a tremendous prestige symbol in the nineteenth century, but a very real lifeline to the great world outside, for it annihilated the old obstacle of distance, and reduced the travel of days to hours and minutes.
As soon as the construction of the Flushing R.R. became a certainty in 1852, the villages to the east, particularly Huntington, showed strong interest in the project by booming the idea of an extension in the local newspapers and holding rallies of the townspeople. The directors of the Flushing R.R. were themselves open to suggestions of continuing the road eastward, and were not necessarily committed to a Flushing terminus. On August 30, 1853, a corps of engineers and surveyors commenced a survey beginning at Kissena Boulevard in Flushing and striking across country, passing south of Flushing Cemetery and north of Alley Pond. By the end of this preliminary survey, twenty-two miles had been covered with three or four possible lines laid out. By the end of 1853 it had become apparent that the Flushing R.R. company had means to build to Flushing only, and talk of an extension eastward died away.
Three years later in 1856 another attempt to arouse public interest was made, this time at Manhasset, but again nothing happened. Three years more passed and in 1859 certain prominent and wealthy estate owners in Bayside, Great Neck and Manhasset began to discuss seriously the feasibility of organizing a road to Glen Cove. In the preceding year the Flushing R.R. had gone into bankruptcy, and there was some hesitation about any new railroad projects pending the court's disposition of the Flushing road.
In the year 1863 the obscurity that had hitherto cloaked the activities of the North Shore backers was dispelled. On June 29 at a meeting at Little Neck a company was formally organized; it was resolved to build eastward to Manhasset, and to place on the market 8,000 shares of stock at $25 each. At this first meeting 4,700 shares of stock at $117,500 were subscribed. The initial meeting of the Board of Directors was held on July 16, and at a subsequent meeting held August 29, 1863, a committee was appointed with power to obtain a new survey of the route with maps of the same, and estimates of the cost of the proposed road. The legal organization of the company was perfected on September 23, 1863. The road was to be known as the "North Shore R. R. Company" and its backers included many of the most prominent names in North Hempstead Town, such as Messenger, Mitchell, Willets, Bell, Mott and Udall.
During August and September 1863 all the remaining stock was subscribed and the company had two or three possible routes surveyed. As soon as the surveyors appeared with their chains, a lively excitement ensued, every property owner urging that the road be located on his neighbor's property and not on his own. This was especially true in Flushing. It soon developed that there were two main routes under consideration: the direct one which continued the Flushing R.R. track eastward in a straight line, and the meadow route, which dropped south from the Flushing R.R. track at the Flushing Creek drawbridge and skirted the south end of the village. When it became obvious to the directors that every possible route would expose them to abuse from some quarter, they resolved to adopt the direct route through the center of Flushing Village.
The direct route had much to recommend it; it passed through the center of population and avoided the necessity of building a station in the meadows far out of town; it was also the shortest route and the straightest, and the one favored by the press and many of the villagers.
The first month of the new year 1864 saw the acquisition of the right-of-way from Little Neck to Manhasset, and the opening of this stretch to bidders. The Flushing Village right-of-way remained in doubt. On February 2, 1864 the thirty or more bids for grading and bridging were opened and the contract for the whole road awarded to a contractor named N. H. Decker. To expedite construction on the west end at Flushing, it was necessary to resolve the thorny question of route. Those property owners who were opposed to the direct route applied to the Supreme Court for a commission, and three men were appointed with authority to decide on the route and to assess damages. Many in Flushing deplored this appeal to law and felt that the property owners should have bowed to the opinion of a majority of the villagers. The Flushing press had come out unanimously for the direct route, and so did the Trustees, as being the one that would be least injurious to private interests, and the only one, the location of which would not be prejudicial to the growth and prosperity of the village.
A complication in the controversy was the uncertainty over the grade at the Bowne Street and Union Street crossings. Many who were in favor of the direct route disliked the idea of the railroad making a deep chasm through Flushing east of Main Street where the land was more elevated. It was suggested that nearly everyone would be satisfied if the North Shore road were to run in a cut with properly walled sides, and with Bowne Street and Union Street carried over the cut on bridges. By covering up the cut altogether on the east side of Main Street where the cut began, it would be possible to blot out from view altogether any unsightly railroad operation. It so happened at this time and for many years thereafter that the land between Main and Union Streets alongside the right-of-way was the site of the Flushing Institute, whose stately Greek revival edifice would be injured by railroad operation.
This compromise drew an immediately favorable public reaction, and the commissioners were grateful to be able to give the plan their formal authorization on March 2, 1864. The North Shore R.R. officials were not altogether pleased at the prospect of being saddled with the expense of making an extensive railroad cut through Flushing and erecting bridges besides, but realized that it would be wise to accept the solution that pleased almost everyone and promised an end to expensive lawsuits.
As finally determined, the grade from Main Street and 1,100 feet eastward to Union Street provided for a rise of 67 feet to the mile; from thence 600 feet to Bowne Street, of 68 feet to the mile; and for the next 1,000 feet of 95 feet to the mile. Approximately, 43,000 cubic feet of earth had to be removed, and the total damages for bridges, land and retaining walls came to almost $30,000. This dismal prospect was somewhat surprisingly and pleasantly relieved by the generous donation of the whole of the right-of-way through the Flushing Institute grounds by Elias Fairchild, its principal, one of the property owners who had originally opposed the railroad in the courts.
With the troublesome question of the right-of-way disposed of, Mr. Decker, the contractor, could begin active construction of the road. Work was begun on February 25, 1864 on the land of Mr. Daniel T. Smith, who conveyed to the North Shore company at the very low price of $1,391.20 nine acres of land at Great Neck for the depot ground and terminus. With the approach of good working weather in the spring of 1864 the contractor broke ground at four or five more locations. Meanwhile, another commission of three men was appointed by the court to assess damages along the right-of-way through Bayside and Little Neck. The awards made by these commissioners are full of historic interest and seem fantastic when contrasted with the high value of Queens County land today:
- Robert M. Bell, $2,960, Francis Lewis Boulevard to Bell Boulevard.
- Thomas W. Willets, $2,600, Auburndale Lane to Francis Lewis Boulevard.
- John Bowne (3 acres), $3,500, both sides of Northern Boulevard crossing.
- Edward A. Lawrence, $4,800, Bell Boulevard to Little Neck Meadows (12 acres).
- C. H. Hunt, $2,100, corner of Main Street and Forty-first Avenue, Flushing.
- Joseph H. King, $6,000, 157th Street to 160th Street, Murray Hill, (1¾ acres through nursery grounds).
- Mrs. Murray, $2,500, 155th Street to 157th Street, Murray Hill.
The high King award represented not only damages for land but indemnification for the destruction of a large quantity of nursery stock. In order to recoup part of this outlay, the railroad ran ads in the papers offering a large variety of trees, shrubs, vines, etc. "for sale cheap." By the end of the year all the right-of-way from Flushing through to Little Neck Creek had been acquired at a cost of approximately $50,000. By the end of the 1864 working season over two miles of the right-of-way had been graded from Bell Boulevard to Auburndale Lane. Fifty men were at work on the line. The track was laid at intervals and in three places work trains were in operation. Even more might have been accomplished had not one of the sub-contractors absconded with the funds, leaving his men unpaid. The aggrieved workers quit in a body and the local justices had their hands full instituting suits for the recovery of claims.
In March of 1865 the ground had sufficiently thawed to renew building operations. The main efforts during this season were devoted to the digging of the cut through Flushing and its accompanying masonry embankments, and the building of the trestle across the Little Neck meadows. This latter task proved much more difficult and expensive than the engineers or the directors had originally thought. Four times as much piling was required than had been originally calculated, and it seemed that the meadows themselves were insatiable in the amount of fill they required. Day after day for weeks on end upwards of 700 loads of dirt and rubble daily were emptied onto the right-of-way and this huge mass sank out of sight within hours into the soft muck of the creek bottom, leaving no trace. It became necessary to buy fill, for the cuts along the line could not furnish a sufficient amount to meet the need; in this way the roadbed inched forward laboriously at about three to five feet a day at the most.
By the end of June the Lawrence cut at Bayside where the road descends to the meadows was completed and all efforts were concentrated at the Flushing end. In July the finishing touches were put to the tunnel and tunnel portal just east of Main Street on the Flushing Institute grounds. The track through the tunnel and across Main Street giving a physical connection with the New York & Flushing R.R. was completed in August. During September the deep cut between Union and Bowne Streets was under way and masonry embankments of red freestone were installed.
By the close of the year 1865 the track was laid and graded from Bowne Street to the meadows. East of the meadows the right-of-way was graded and ballasted and part of the iron laid from Douglaston through to the Great Neck terminal. In November all work came to a halt for want of funds. The North Shore officers estimated at the time that an additional $20,000 would put the road in running order, and urged the property owners and wealthy residents of the Necks who would be convenienced by the road to subscribe and not leave the burden of financing the road to a few.
As soon as some additional money had been raised from stock levies and new subscriptions, the work, now so close to completion, was resumed. On January 22, 1866 laborers began work on the Union Street bridge in Flushing. Because of financial stringency the North Shore officials attempted to substitute a thirty foot bridge in place of one that would span the full width of the street. An outcry on the part of the proper y owners, encouraged by the local newspapers, arose, and the Trustees of the village remonstrated with the railroad people and prevailed upon them to restore the wide bridge that had been originally planned. A similar dispute over the size of the bridge at Bowne Street was amicably settled in the same manner.
While the Flushing cut was being brought to completion, finishing touches were being applied to the remaining line to the eastward; things went so well that an opening date of July 15 was set by the directors. On Friday, August 31, 1866, the first trial trip was made through from Flushing to Great Neck without mishap. As yet no depot buildings had been put up and the turntable at Great Neck had not yet been installed.
Almost two months passed quietly in leveling up the track and ballasting the rails, and then on Saturday, October 27, 1866, the directors threw open the road to public travel. At the beginning only one train ran per day in each direction, leaving Great Neck at 7 :30 A.M. and Hunter's Point at 4 P.M. The maiden trip was made so quietly that the conductor had to dismount from the cars in the vicinity of 207th Street, Bayside, and let down the bars in the fence separating the Thomas C. Bell and Robert M. Bell farms, an action which moved the local paper to comment embarrassedly: "To get out and let down the bars must not be considered a characteristic of railroading on Long Island. As soon as the trains run regularly, the bars will be kept down."
During the season of 1867 the North Shore R.R. completed its road, erecting a few station buildings and finishing the Union and Bowne Streets bridges. In addition the service was increased to two trips a day each way, the new train leaving Hunter's Point at 9 :30 A.M. and departing from Great Neck at 12 :30 P.M. The North Shore R.R. from the first made no attempt to operate as an independent road; at the time of incorporation a contract had been concluded with the New York & Flushing R.R. to operate the six-mile line as an eastern extension of the Flushing railroad. The contract called for payment to the New York & Flushing of one-half the gross receipts of the North Shore R.R., and this agreement was signed on September 26, 1863.
The cost of the road had been far above any of the original estimates. In Flushing the various property owners had resisted each and every line proposed and it had become necessary to resort to the expensive process of appointing commissioners. Many residents along the line had made fair promises to the directors, who were led to the belief that these parties would willingly convey the small strip needed through their lands for a trifling consideration or for a fair compensation at most. In the end human nature asserted itself and these same persons were often the most extortionate and unreasonable in their demands. Only five landowners donated land or transferred it at small cost, and the total value of such property came to only $3,000, not including the Daniel Smith gift of the Great Neck station area. In all other cases the North Shore company was forced to meet claims that clearly showed a disposition to realize as much as possible, and to mulct the company to the full extent of the law.
The most costly segment on the whole line was the Flushing cut required by a decision of the Commission of 1864. While the line of the road was unquestionably improved by the lowering of the grade, it entailed an extra expense upon the company of not less than $30,000, and the final cost of the one mile road from Main Street to Murray Street came to $87,000, a very large sum for that day.
With the North Shore road completed and in actual operation, many persons living to the eastward, especially in Huntington, began to encourage the directors to extend the road along the north shore as far east as Northport. In 1867 the Long Island R.R.'s North Shore Branch ended at Syosset, and the present Oyster Bay Branch at Glen Cove; the desire of these eastern communities for railroad contact with the outside world is therefore understandable.
In April 1866 a mass meeting had been held at Huntington and President Stearns of the New York & Flushing addressed the residents, giving them facts and figures on the proposed road. Stearns, it would appear, spoke favorably about the project with the officers of the Central Railroad of New Jersey, where his opinions as ex-superintendent of that road carried some weight. The result was that the Jersey railroad people offered to absorb one-half the stock of the proposed road if the Huntington people would subscribe for the other half. Over the summer of 1866 the stock was placed on sale and sold well. By November there was enough money on hand to employ surveyors to layout the road. In December the subscribers were levied on for 5% to meet the minimum legal requirement necessary to formally incorporate a road. By March 1867 the requisite money had been subscribed, and the new company organized under the name of The North Side Railroad Company of Long Island. By the fall of 1867 the new road was ready to be let out to contract.
When it became virtually certain that the extension to Huntington would become a reality, Oliver Charlick, president of the Long Island R.R., shrewdly judged the time propitious for a move of his own. The proposed new road posed a dangerous threat to his Glen Cove branch, and would seriously lower the revenues at Syosset. He, therefore, with dramatic suddenness began building an extension of his own northeast from Syosset through the hills to Woodbury and on to Huntington and Northport. The new branch opened in April 1868. With the completion of the Long Island R.R. route support for the continuation of the North Shore R.R. fell off, and all hopes of future penetration eastward effectively ended. When, years later, the North Shore Branch was extended, such construction was not eastward as the promoters of the 1860's fondly dreamed, but northeast to a terminus at Port Washington.
CHAPTER V: A Rival Road Takes Shape
The Civil War Years, as we have set forth in an earlier chapter, saw the gradual deterioration of the New York & Flushing R.R. An absentee ownership, unfamiliar with railroad management and wholly indifferent to the welfare of the traveling public, sent a succession of managers to run the road on a minimal budget, and the inevitable result over the years was a deterioration in the physical plant and a lamentable falling off in the quality of service.
The people of Flushing were not ones to take this indifference to their legitimate interests lightly. Sympathetic and patient at first to the lapses of the road, they gradually realized that the true owners were interested solely in pocketing the earnings of the railroad and getting their dividends regularly. How the trains ran, or indeed, if they ran at all, were of little or no concern to the owners. Once before the people of Flushing had rebelled against conditions on their railroad in the days of Oliver Charlick in 1859-60. When the physical condition of the cars and engines worsened again and schedules became increasingly undependable during the war years, Flushingites again took the initiative. While the number of daily commuters was small--estimates vary between 80 and 200--there were enough men of means to consider the establishment of a rival road, to be owned and operated by Flushingites, that would break the New York & Flushing R.R.'s monopoly.
As early as February 1863 there was talk of building new roads that would branch off from the Long Island R.R. One scheme called for a road that would branch off at Newtown, parallel Jackson Avenue to Flushing, and go from there to College Point and Whitestone. In March bills were introduced into the Legislature incorporating this route. Another scheme called for a road that would branch off at Woodside and then parallel Jackson Avenue to Flushing. This route was examined by engineers and the probable cost ascertained. In June the survey of the road was completed and there were shrewd guesses that Oliver Charlick was behind it. Four weeks passed and there were reports that the map of the new road had been filed, stock sold, and materials ordered. By December the hand of Oliver Charlick was clearly discernible and many believed that with such a backer, the road would become a reality.
With the new year of 1864, the fog that had enshrouded the activities of the new railroad suddenly lifted with the public announcement of the formal organization of the road. On February 24, 1864 the articles of association of the Woodside & Flushing Railroad were filed with the Secretary of State, and the slate of officers and directors published. The names included some of the most solid and wealthy men of Flushing; although the name of Oliver Charlick did not appear in print, it was obvious that he was a partner in the project, since the Woodside & Flushing would join his own Long Island R.R. at Woodside, and be run as a branch of the larger road.
The books of the company were immediately opened to subscription and the stock sold surprisingly well all during the spring months. As early as March 1, all but $20,000 of the capital stock was subscribed, and by the end of May, all the Flushing and Newtown proportions were fully subscribed. Provision was made even at this early stage for depot sites, for in May the officers leased a store on the southwest corner of Northern Boulevard and Prince Street for a station with the privilege of purchasing within a year. From Williamsburgh influential propertied men came in the hope of inducing the officers to build to the vicinity of North Twelfth Street, Brooklyn, an empty open area on the East River suitable for a deep water terminus.
Measures were taken early to insure the most important piece of construction on the road: the trestle and drawbridge over Flushing Creek. It was necessary to secure permission from the Legislature to cross a navigable waterway, and when the hearings opened, certain unidentified interests hiding behind the names of other persons and corporate bodies campaigned against the project. Covert opposition to the measure continued even after the bill passed both houses, but it was finally signed by the governor in April.
In June 1864 the officers and directors of the new road met with their opposite numbers on the Long Island R.R. and reached complete agreement on the terms of the proposed lease and the details of operation. This time Oliver Charlick and some of the principal directors of the Long Island R.R. were elected to the board of the Woodside & Flushing road.
The summer of 1864 was wholly devoted to acquisition of the right-of-way through what is now Jackson Heights and Corona. The engineer of the road, Mr. Towle, undertook three different surveys and presented them to the board of directors who, in a meeting on August 1, selected what became known as the "Leverich route," because it crossed the Leverich estate north of Elmhurst Avenue and west of Junction Avenue. As various owners of land were approached by the road's agents for a right-of-way, they generally yielded their holdings without bickering or agreed to submit honest differences of opinion to a board of arbitrators. The directors could not help marveling at their good fortune and attributed the general spirit of cooperation to a keen desire to put an end to intolerable conditions on the New York & Flushing road.
In the late fall of 1864 the first physical work was begun on the new railroad. The contract to grade the first portion westward from the meadows was awarded to the Flushing contractor, Mr. John Higgins, who set to work on September 19. During the late fall days a second gang began work on an embankment across the meadows. On December 1, 1864 Mr. Zachariah Roe, the leading Flushing bridge and dock contractor, received the contract to build the draw across Flushing Creek.
Winter forced a halt in the proceedings but not for long. In March 1865 gangs of workmen were distributed along the right-of-way through Woodside and Winfield. The contractor was handicapped by a scarcity in the supply of labor, but the work went on so well that by the end of May the section through Woodside and Winfield was all graded. The months of July, August and September 1865 were a period of exceptional activity and accomplishment. Additional workmen were placed on the job and rapid progress was made all along the line. By September fifty to seventy men were at work and the western end of the road was ready for the track. There was a brief strike of the work force in September but this was speedily adjusted.
During the same season Zachariah Roe began work in earnest on the Flushing Creek drawbridge. Timbers were unloaded in April and in May the bridge was well under way. By the end of May the piles were all driven and the caps placed, while the draw itself was well advanced. Five more weeks of labor saw the virtual completion of the drawbridge.
Just as things were going fairly smoothly, the board of directors made a fatal error. Up to this point notices of location of the route had been served on all the landowners, and none applied to change such location, and the time within which they could apply was suffered to lapse. Then, on July 1, 1865, the directors at a full meeting voted with but one dissenting voice to change a portion of the location of the route in the vicinity of Junction Avenue, believing that the route could be improved thereby. On August 17 a new map was filed. By this proceeding the question of location was opened again, and the company was required to secure a location in the same manner as if such new route had been adopted in the first instance. The landowners this time did not let the matter pass by default, but within fifteen days after notice of location had been served upon them, applied to a judge of the Supreme Court who appointed a commission to examine the route with power to alter the same.
After holding several public hearings the commissioners determined to alter the route and filed their report about October 25, locating the road through the Fashion Course. The manner of conducting these proceedings was such as to raise grave doubts as to their regularity, so the company petitioned the courts for a ruling, and the Fashion Course route was upheld, but this decision did not come until June of 1866, causing months of delay and uncertainty.
It was said at the time that part of the pressure on the Woodside & Flushing R.R. to adopt the Fashion Race Course route came from the desire of many of the influential citizens and officials to get rid of the race track. Many people in Newtown felt that it was a blot on the neighborhood, attracting an unsavory element from New York, and the routing of the railroad through the grounds seemed an ideal opportunity to get rid of the course.
As a result of all the legal uncertainty, little tangible work was done on the road during the 1866 season. Workmen put the finishing touches to the western end of the route, and the route east of the disputed Fashion Course in February and March. Meantime, the rails and wheels for the cars, ordered in May of 1864, arrived on the scene, and were stocked at a dump near the present Willett's Point Boulevard on the meadows edge.
With the spring of 1867 the directors of the Woodside & Flushing R.R. energetically renewed the struggle to get the road completed and opened. On February 11, at a directors' meeting, it was resolved to adopt the Fashion Race Course route as confirmed by the courts. This meant that commissioners would have to be appointed to appraise the land taken from the Leveriches whose estate was located immediately west of the Fashion Course.
In the hope that all the legal roadblocks were about to be cleared away, the directors issued a call on March 5 for immediate payment of 70% of the stock subscribed to make possible immediate resumption of work, and to pay for work already done. As of April 1, $50,000 had been already spent on the road and $20,000 more was needed to pay for the right-of-way. In the first two weeks of April 1867, laborers were again set to work on the uncompleted eastern end of the route, and more than a mile of right-of-way through the Leverich estate and Fashion Course secured. Work went on busily all through May and June, including minor alterations to the Flushing Creek drawbridge.
Just when it seemed that no further foreseeable obstacles could arise to prevent an early completion of the road, the public and the directors of the Woodside & Flushing were alike astounded by the announcement in mid-July that Oliver Charlick of the Long Island R.R. had successfully bought out the New York & Flushing R.R. at a reputed price of $300,000. What had begun as a rumor was confirmed when on Saturday, July 13, 1867, Oliver Charlick took formal possession of the road.
The implications of this maneuver were far-reaching. The South Side R.R., which had been dickering with the old New York & Flushing to lease or purchase terminal space at Long Island City, was effectively shut out of an East River terminus. Worse still, it was immediately obvious to everyone in Flushing that Charlick, having once gotten the New York & Flushing into his possession, would not stand by and permit a competing road to be built that might spoil his investment. As was expected, Charlick immediately notified the directors of the Flushing & Woodside R.R. that their road was no longer necessary and would receive no further support from him, because, under his management, the old New York & Flushing would now be revitalized and operated in a manner to give the service and satisfaction that the new road had been intended to secure.
The reaction of the directors and investors of the Woodside & Flushing R.R. varied from bewilderment to fury. The people of Flushing were in general disappointed, for they had been led to believe that two competing roads into the village would keep down fares and stimulate good service in a bid for patronage. Others were alarmed at having fallen into the clutches of Oliver Charlick, reputed to be a shrewd manipulator, and who, for the moment at least, enjoyed a monopoly of rail travel on Long Island. It is possible that Charlick's motives in engineering this coup were of the best; he doubtless saw in it the double advantage of ridding himself of two potential rivals, the New York & Flushing and the South Side R.R., and may sincerely have intended to give Flushing the quality service it sought. However, the investors who had subscribed to stock in the Woodside & Flushing R.R. failed to see any motives of benevolence in Charlick's act, and viewed his apparent interest in their road simply as a trick by which he frightened the management of the New York & Flushing into selling their road to himself.
Their indignation might have spent itself in impotence had not the times and circumstances offered a means of redress. North of Flushing lay the two new and growing communities of College Point and Whitestone. College Point owed its existence virtually to one man, Conrad Poppenhusen. Born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1818, he came to America in 1843, and immediately opened a factory on Kent Avenue, Williamsburgh, manufacturing combs, brushes, buttons, etc. from whalebone. When hard rubber became practical in the 1850'S, Poppenhusen adopted that product, and in 1854 moved his factory to the farm and woodland area of College Point. Within a few years he built not only a great brick India Rubber factory, but also company houses, stores, streets and a host of other improvements, so that it could be truly said that College Point was Poppenhusen's single-handed creation. The factory prospered enormously and enriched its owner. New settlers, attracted by the prosperity of the village, flocked to College Point, and by 1875 it boasted a population of 2,723.
In the adjacent village of Whitestone a somewhat similar situation obtained. John J. Locke had begun his tinware manufactory in Brooklyn in November 1827, and seeking room for expansion, moved to the unsettled spaces of Whitestone in 1854. The Locke tinware manufactory gradually grew to be the largest by the late 60'S, and Locke, like his neighbor Poppenhusen, devoted himself to public improvements. The village grew rapidly and by 1875 had a population of 2,500.
When the directors and investors behind the Woodside & Flushing R.R. recovered from the blow dealt them by Charlick, they sought out Conrad Poppenhusen and John Locke, both well-known capitalists and both with a reputation for being actively interested in civic improvement. Both men gave serious consideration to the railroad project, and after some thought decided not only to lend their backing to completion of the railroad, but to extend it to their own communities. Both College Point and Whitestone were large villages by the standards of that day and up to this time were wholly dependent on antiquated stage coaches for connection with Flushing and the outside world. Bringing the railroad to both villages would not only give them the prestige of rail facilities that meant so much at that date, but would vastly increase the value of the extensive tracts of real estate which both owned by making the area accessible. Another possible consideration was the prospect of ready shipment of the output of both Poppenhusen's and Locke's factories to market by rail instead of by water or wagon teams.
In February 1868 the stockholders of the Woodside & Flushing R.R. convened and elected as president Orange Judd, and as secretary Elizur B. Hinsdale. Both men were dynamic Flushingites, and energetically dedicated themselves to the completion of the projected road. Orange Judd was born upstate in 1822, went to college in Connecticut, and in 1853 removed to New York where he became editor of the American Agriculturalist. From 1854 to 1863 he was also agricultural editor of the New York Times. In 1866 he was in a position to buyout the American Agriculturalist, and by his untiring efforts, saw its circulation rise to 100,000. It was at this point in his career that he began to interest himself in railroad affairs, and probably owing to his civic prominence at the time, was elected president by the board of directors.
Elizur B. Hinsdale was born upstate in 1831 and studied law at college. In 1862 he came to New York from Buffalo to practice law. Hinsdale lived in a house on the north side of Northern Boulevard east of Parsons Avenue; with his law background and his youth he doubtless made a good secretary for the new organization. Neither Poppenhusen nor Locke were represented on the board of directors, but were the main backers of the project nevertheless.
One of the first acts of the newly reorganized Woodside & Flushing R.R. was to change the name of the corporation. On April 3, 1868, the road was re-incorporated as The Flushing & North Side Railroad Company and its charter authorized a line of road from Hunter's Point to Roslyn and from Flushing to Whitestone. The Legislature also authorized a new drawbridge over Flushing Creek to replace the creaky old New York & Flushing bridge. The company also petitioned to absorb all the rights and privileges of the original Woodside & Flushing R.R. This latter petition was not passed by the State Senate until February 1869.
Sometime in May 1868 Orange Judd bought some valuable dock property on the East River for a future depot. Early in June land was bought on Lawrence Street for a right-of-way; negotiations were on foot for the future site of Bridge Street depot on the north side of Northern Boulevard. By mid-June the contractor to build the road had been selected: Gaynor, Lord and Carroll, who built the Morris & Essex R.R. in New Jersey and others. The completion date for construction of the road from Hunter's Point through Woodside to Flushing was set at October 15 and the contractor agreed to a forfeit of $100 a day for failure to meet the agreed-upon date for completion.
By the end of June, 100 laborers were already at work in the vicinity of Sunnyside, and 200 to 300 more were to be put on the following week. In July the contract to build the pile work on the Newtown side of the Flushing meadows was awarded to Zachariah Roe, a well-known Flushing contractor. On July 15 an enthusiastic public meeting was held at College Point and liberal subscriptions were made toward the road. Ten acres of the colonial Lawrence estate were purchased by Conrad Poppenhusen for a track yard and depot.
The one and only recorded instance of an injunction being issued against construction work occurred in July when a stockholder obtained a temporary stay against driving piles on the Flushing meadows. This did not prevent the work from going on along the right-of-way from Hunter's Point to College Point where gangs of men toiled at numerous points. In the last week of July ties were being unloaded at Flushing Creek and the first installment of rails due the following week. Finally, in the second week of August the first two locomotives were completed and delivered; they were named, predictably, the College Point and the Whitestone.
At this point in the construction work another surprise was sprung on the public. When Oliver Charlick took over the old New York & Flushing in July 1867, he naturally assumed that his acquisition of the road effectively ended the ambitions of the Woodside & Flushing people. When he discovered that the road was not a dead-letter after all, but actively under contract, and with the backing of powerful capitalists besides, he realized that his New York & Flushing R.R. would prove to be a liability. To rehabilitate it would cost a great deal of money and even then it could not compete with a rival boasting new engines, new cars, a new roadbed and a youthful management. After a few months of soul-searching Charlick made overtures to the rival road, suggesting that the New York & Flushing might be purchased very reasonably. Within a year the tables had turned completely.
The motives of the Flushing & North Side R.R. people, in agreeing to Charlick's proposition, were not difficult to guess. Possession of a completed, operating railroad would mean that only three miles of their own road would need to be built, namely, from a point on the Flushing meadows to Whitestone. At the Hunter's Point end there was already a terminal, although the New York & Flushing was presently using the Long Island R.R.'s depot under a lease.
On Tuesday, August 11, 1868 the Woodside & Flushing people entered into formal possession of the old New York & Flushing property, the rumored price being $500,000. Many people in Hunter's Point, Woodside and West Flushing were alarmed at the purchase, realizing that the original right-of-way, now largely graded, would not be built on after all, and their newly acquired real estate become valueless overnight. The company issued a statement stating that the purchase would in no way interfere with the completion of the original right-of-way, which was all paid for and graded. Significantly, however, the workmen were withdrawn from the right-of-way between Hunter's Point and Flushing meadows, and concentrated all along the College Point-Whitestone section. Months and years were to pass before the original roadbed would be completed and used.
At a meeting of the railroad directors it was decided to build the Whitestone-College Point line as soon as possible, and connect it to the newly acquired New York & Flushing line at a point on the meadows to be known as Whitestone Junction; secondly, that the New York & Flushing track to Winfield should be used, and that from this point an entirely new line to Hunter's Point should be constructed, just north of and exactly paralleling the Long Island R.R. track from Winfield through Woodside to Hunter's Point. Thirdly, that the section of the old New York & Flushing R.R. from Winfield to Hunter's Point via Maspeth should be abandoned and returned to the New York & Flushing stockholders to dispose of as they saw fit, together with the old New York & Flushing dock property at Hunter's Point. This was an extensive and belated change of plans, quite different from the plan laid down in April when the Flushing & North Side R.R. organized.
The motives behind this change of plans are not entirely clear from the distance of 100 years; grading and constructing four miles of new line from Hunter's Point to Winfield could not have been cheap, and there was the further expenditure of half a million for the New York & Flushing road. On the other hand the management gained possession of the road from Flushing to Great Neck, and the elimination of a competing line.
Work was now redoubled on the roadbed to finish it as soon as possible; the management meanwhile undertook the operation of trains on the old New York & Flushing route until the road could be integrated into its own new system. On September 15, 1868 the Flushing & North Side placed its first locomotive, the College Point into service, carrying ties and rails for the construction gangs. In November, just as everything was going smoothly, the road sustained another setback. On November 18, the contractors, Gaynor, Lord & Carroll received their allotment of $6,000 as usual to meet the weekly payroll and in some unknown manner, one of the superintendents stole the money and decamped for parts unknown. As a result the laborers and other creditors were left unpaid and the contractors were compelled to forfeit the contract. The event caused quite some excitement locally, for numerous boarding houses and saloons depended on the weekly payroll quite as much as the laborers. The board of directors hastily renegotiated the contract with a very reliable local man, John Higgins.
Beginning with the new year 1869, the company purchased 150 tons of new iron for the road into Long Island City, began work on building a way depot at Woodside, and put into service several handsome new passenger coaches. Meanwhile, the train schedule on the old New York & Flushing route was tightened up and additional trains added for rush hour and late night travel. In February work began on a terminal building at Long Island City on the site of an oil factory that had burnt down the previous fall.
With the return of fine spring weather in 1869 intensive work resumed all along the road. Conrad Poppenhusen himself stepped in as president in April to personally supervise the work, and Orange Judd did the same in the post of vice-president. On April 26 contractor Roe began driving piles on the meadow from the new Whitestone Junction to the Woodside & Flushing R.R. drawbridge over the creek. On May 16 one of the small "jobbing" locomotives, the Uncle Tom while being transported from one section of track to another, toppled into Flushing Creek, inconveniencing the track gangs and draining manpower from the road for salvage operations. A week later the eight-ton engine was hoisted from the mud and the $300 worth of damages repaired.
By mid-June 1869 the roadbed for the new track between Long Island City and Winfield, which immediately adjoined the Long Island R.R. track, had been largely graded and the west end nearly ready for rails. In July there were two minor setbacks: a new passenger coach consigned to the road became detached while crossing the Harlem River on a car ferry and fell into the water. More serious was a shortage of timber which should have been delivered in June but which arrived only the third week of July. In the last days of July the rails were laid to College Point.
Whatever minor difficulties may have occurred were quickly forgotten on the occasion of the running of the first train on Monday, August 2, from Flushing through to College Point. Some of the railroad officials and a few invited guests were in the train and were delighted at the smooth track. The inspecting party looked over the half completed College Point depot and the fully finished machine and car repair shops near the depot. On Saturday, August 14, regular service opened between Flushing and College Point with two trips only in each direction, one train in the morning and another in the afternoon. The event was celebrated in College Point with great pomp and ceremony. At 3 P.M. President Poppenhusen and his family, together with the various musical societies and fire companies, moved in procession to the depot to await the arrival of the train from Flushing. As it came along, exactly on time, loud cheers went up, followed with singing by the musical societies and selections by the College Point band. Speeches were then made by Mr. Thomas Daley, Mr. Poppenhusen, and Mr. Franklin, a director. The party on the train then toured the Empire Rubber Works of Mr. Poppenhusen and the newly completed Poppenhusen Institute.
All efforts were now directed towards completion of the remaining mile to Whitestone. For some strange reason three or more weeks went by without any effort being made to lay tracks or build a depot, and a rumor began to spread that nothing further would be done. Finally, on September 16, workmen reappeared on the roadbed and at the turntable. A completion date of November 1 was set, and work began on a temporary depot at Whitestone, to be replaced later by a brick edifice. By October 30, nearly the whole mile extension was ballasted and the rails were about to go down.
On November 27, the road was opened at last. Although the day was dark and quite stormy, a special train, loaded with invited guests, of which about twenty-five were newspapermen, arrived at the Bridge Street depot at noon, where they were joined by the Village Trustees, officers of the road and other guests. A stop of an hour was made at Flushing to permit the city guests to tour Flushing in carriages. Then the train left for College Point and another hour's layover was arranged so that the guests could look over the factories and imposing mansions of the village. When the cars reached Whitestone, the people bearing banners, evergreens, and mottoes turned out en masse despite torrents of rain, amid the ringing of bells and the salute of a brass band. The guests were received at the flag-draped depot and addressed by the grand marshal of the ceremonies, and Mr. Poppenhusen replied in kind. Carriages then escorted the guests to the Whitestone Hotel. The procession passed all through the village, while the people along the route waved flags and banners and enjoyed the floats that had been gotten up to entertain the visitors. One float represented an entire carpenter's shop with the mechanics busily at work; the Whitestone Boat Club riding in a boat, and a baseball club with the members in shirtsleeves and wearing their hats. Two hundred persons sat down at the tables of the Whitestone Hotel and were served a special dinner. Toast after toast was proposed by Mr. Locke, Mr. Judd, Conrad and Adolph Poppenhusen and many others. At the end a special train conveyed all back to the city.
The first train through to Whitestone marked the public celebration also of the opening of the new roadbed to Hunter's Point, quietly put into use twelve days before. In September plans for the new depot and terminus at Hunter's Point had been completed and by the end of the month the work was put under contract. Construction was begun October 29. On October 8 the roadbed between the new Hunter's Point depot and Winfield was completed, and with this important work accomplished, the directors of the Flushing & North Side R.R. felt free to abandon the old New York & Flushing roadbed from Winfield Junction through Maspeth to Hunter's Point. Within a few days this segment was purchased by the new South Side R.R. of L.I. in order to get a deep-water outlet on the East River.
By the end of November 1869 the new Hunter's Point depot at Front and Third Streets was sufficiently completed to be used. The building itself was large and commodious and a covered passage-way led from the depot direct to the ferries. A turntable adjoined the depot. There was every need for haste in completing arrangements. The old lease, which Oliver Charlick of the Long Island R.R. had granted in July 1867 to the Flushing & North Side R.R. to use the Hunter's Point terminal, was due to expire on November 17, and Charlick was hardly likely to permit a rival road to use his depot facilities one hour beyond the expiration of the lease. Already for more than a year Charlick had been compelled to permit Flushing & North Side trains to share his facilities.
On November 17 the changeover of depots at Hunter's Point and inauguration of the new route to that point was scheduled, but things went so well that the trains began using both the route and depot on November 15 simultaneously with the appearance of the November timetable. This date--November 15--therefore, marks the beginning of service to two new stations, Woodside and Hunter's Point, and the abandonment of one old one, Penny Bridge (Calvary Cemetery) station at Laurel Hill Boulevard.
With the completion of the through road from Hunter's Point to Whitestone, the ambitions of the Flushing & North Side R.R. and the many Flushing people behind them, were at last realized. The road was largely new construction, and the rolling stock almost entirely new, and the management of the road was in the hands of local people who themselves lived in the villages served and who were responsive to local needs and desires. It is appropriate at this time to look at the Flushing & North Side R.R. in as much detail as the lapse of a century will permit, and assess what sort of road it was.
CHAPTER VI: Operations on the Flushing And North Side R. R., 1868-1872
When Messrs. Poppenhusen and Locke and the Flushing members of the board of directors incorporated the Flushing & North Side R.R., it was laid down as a policy from the very beginning that only the finest materials and the very best workmanship would go into the new railroad. Although none of the men connected with the road possessed any railroad experience, all were successful business men, and some, like Locke, had an industrial background that enabled them to judge materials and men. When the Flushing & North Side R.R., therefore, was let out to contract in 1868, responsible contractors were hired and the finest construction materials sought. At the end of the Civil War the iron and steel industry in the United States, although greatly stimulated by the war, was still well behind the great Ruhr steel complex in Germany operated by Prussian magnates. Poppenhusen, being a German himself, and accustomed to making almost annual business visits to Germany, knew and appreciated the quality of Prussian steel, and awarded the contract for the steel rails of the Flushing road to the firm of Funke & Elbers in Prussia.
There was an additional local reason for this move; a branch of the Funke family had settled in College Point and had established a large silk mill there. The Poppenhusens and the Funkes mixed socially, and in fact represented the cream of local society in the village, so that the contract award was a foregone conclusion. The thousands of ties used on the road seem to have been contracted for indiscriminately, both from Long Island and from New York dealers.
It was not the custom in those days of light engines and still lighter coaches to lay down all steel rails; indeed, even the largest trunk line roads in the country used iron rails, and this was certainly sufficient for engines that weighed thirty tons at most. The Flushing & North Side R.R. settled on iron rails that were steel-topped, giving a tough running surface and weighing fifty-seven pounds to the yard. The rails were connected in what was then called "fishbone style." As the traffic on the road became increasingly heavy during 1870 and 1871, it was decided in 1872 to use heavier rail. Instead of the "vertically tired" rails, the company began using Prussian steel rails of four and one-half inch section and weighing sixty-four pounds to the lineal yard.
The completed railroad was all single track from Hunter's Point through to Whitestone. At Winfield depot was located the sole passing siding. There was considerable yard trackage at Hunter's Point and College Point, and side tracks at Whitestone depot. As traffic increased in 1870-71, it was decided to double track the line. This was scheduled to be done in two stages; first, a second track would be laid from Hunter's Point through to Woodside, and second, the unused but graded route of the old Woodside & Flushing R.R. would carry the second track on through to Flushing. Plans were laid as early as January 1871 to accomplish the project during the coming summer. In the first week of August construction got under way from Hunter's Point, the new track being laid on the north side of the older one. By November 15, 1871, the new track had nearly reached Woodside. By this time it was so late in the season that further trackwork had to be suspended until spring. Not until March 29 was the double track opened to Winfield, but this immediately eliminated the old passing siding at that point and speeded up the schedule. The old graded route from Woodside to Flushing was not yet ready to receive rails, for, in March, 1872, the directors had to conclude a contract with Mr. John Higgins of Flushing to smooth out the grade and to remove as much as 30,000 or more yards of earth. The work proceeded very slowly; not till 1873 was the grading accomplished, and not till 1874 were the tracks laid. Finally, on April 27, 1874, service was opened on the line which was officially labeled The Woodside Branch of the Flushing R.R.
Another minor attempt to round out the roadbed was made in 1871-72 by construction efforts towards Whitestone Landing. In August 1870 the public dock at Whitestone was purchased in the interests of the Flushing & North Side R.R. for $1,300 with a view to extending the track to that point. The extension was to be only a half-mile in length and would have the advantage of serving the steamers which docked regularly at that point with excursionists.
In the fall of 1870 work began with the construction of a new pretentious depot at Whitestone to replace the wooden temporary structure in service. In September the foundations for a two-story iron and brick building were laid. On January 30, 1871, the new building opened for use. Rather than build the Whitestone extension as simply another part of the Flushing & North Side R.R., the directors deemed it expedient to incorporate a separate company and to carry out construction under that name. Accordingly, on November 14, 1871, the Whitestone & Westchester R.R. was incorporated and a map filed. John J. Locke was named as president with Herman C. Poppenhusen, Conrad's son, as vice-president, and Elizur Hinsdale as secretary.
In August 1871 the extension was put under contract to Messrs. Smith & Ripley and a steam excavator was to be used to cut through the heavy grades near the shore. In January 1872, in the depth of winter, a large force was at work grading through the valley toward the bulkhead. In May two steam shovels, great novelties in that day, were at work cutting a very deep cut through the high land northeast of Whitestone station, and had reached 152nd Street by the end of June; two months later, in July, the steam-shovels were still chewing their way towards the dock.
Because the new right-of-way cut off five or six heavily-used Whitestone streets, the company contracted in December 1872 for the building of wooden bridges to carry each street over the railroad cut. Then, suddenly, in the midst of all this progress, all work came to a complete halt. What had happened? Weeks passed and then the story came out. It developed that in the month of July 1872 John D. Locke had made an agreement with Conrad Poppenhusen and Elizur Hinsdale for Mr. Locke to take the bonds of the Whitestone & Westchester R.R. Co. and furnish the cash for building the road. Relying on this agreement, Poppenhusen and Hinsdale turned over the management of the job to Locke. In September, when the contracts for the bridges were about to be let, the directors called on Locke to guarantee the cash for the contractors and he refused. Pressed by the village of Whitestone to open the main avenue, Poppenhusen and Hinsdale and the other directors put up the money and five bridges were installed. The breach with Locke, however, was not repaired. Whatever his motives, Locke withdrew from the company and over the summer of 1873 disposed of all his monied interests in Whitestone and removed to Flushing. The whole Whitestone & Westchester scheme collapsed, and for years thereafter the right-of-way lay unused and weed-grown until the Long Island R.R. completed the work thirteen years later, in August 1886.
Two additional major improvements along the main line in 1870 were the construction of steel bridges at Flushing Creek and over National Avenue, Corona. The old New York & Flushing bridge over the creek, inherited by the Flushing & North Side R.R. was in wretched condition. In November 1868 the company immediately razed the unsafe structure and built long pile approaches on each side and heavy timbers for a temporary draw. In the spring of 1870 plans were prepared for a new iron bridge. In the first week of June work was begun on both the creek and National Avenue sites under the supervision of the contractor Zachariah Roe of Flushing, who gathered a large force to complete the job in the stipulated two weeks. (July 519). By the first of July the timbers were already ort the ground and in the second week the iron bridges themselves had been delivered. Sloop navigation at the creek had to be suspended for two weeks. By mid-August the two fifty-four-ton iron bridges were in position. On August 20, both jobs were completed. The new Flushing Creek span was a drawbridge eighty-eight feet long, sixteen feet wide and with sides eight and one-half feet high. The National Avenue span at Corona depot was similar.
The Flushing railroad's only other bridge, the original Woodside & Flushing structure over Flushing Creek, was new (1866) and built to the road's own specifications. All the road's bridges were of wrought iron, constructed by the Watson Mfg. Co. of Paterson, N. J. The crossing of the meadows in this day was entirely on pile work which began at about the present 108th Street, and continued to the creek. It is important to remember that the present level of Flushing Meadow Park is ten to twelve feet above the old level, because of the intensive filling operations that began in 1916 and continued to the first World's Fair in 1939.
In these early days of steam operation, turning of the trains at the terminals had to be accomplished by means of turntables and the Flushing & North Side R.R. operated such installations at Hunter's Point station, College Point, Whitestone, Great Neck, and, of course, Flushing.
The main shops for servicing and repairing the rolling stock on the road were located at College Point station at what is now Eighteenth Avenue and 127th Street. The car houses and engine house extended up to Fourteenth Avenue, and over to 128th Street, occupying in all one small block. Skilled German workmen serviced the cars and built several of the road's elegant passenger coaches in the shops. It is regrettable that no contemporary description of the place has come down to us.
The rolling stock of the Flushing & North Side R.R. was in the early Seventies perhaps the finest in the nation. Poppenhusen was determined to have only the finest of everything, and with his unlimited capital, and the abundance of skilled German artisans in the New York area of that day, he succeeded in getting what he wanted. The first locomotives, the College Point and the Whitestone, were delivered to the road in August, 1868, and did yeoman work with the construction crews. The Woodside arrived in August, 1869, the Bayside in January, 1870, the Newtown in May, 1871, and the Winfield in September, 1871. Each of these names honored one of the communities served by the line, a pleasant custom in these early days of railroading. All these engines were of the familiar 4-4-0 American pattern; they were comparatively light, weighing twenty-six to twenty-eight tons each.
We are fortunate in possessing an account of the maiden trip of the Winfield. The new engine, No. 7, had been received at the College Point shops in early September 1871 and had been readied for service. The officers of the road had informed the villagers of Winfield that the engine was to be named in their honor. The local citizenry responded by organizing a ceremony and forwarded to President Poppenhusen an invitation to a formal "baptism." At 9 A.M. on the morning of October 4 the gleaming new engine, its bells ringing and its whistle shrieking, steamed into the siding at the station under the admiring gaze of the townspeople. The general ticket agent of the road, Mr. Waldron, and the chief road master. accompanied the engine as representatives of Mr. Poppenhusen, who was unavoidably absent. The whole population of Winfield and Locust Grove had turned out to greet them. The little twelve-year-old daughter of the local doctor stepped up to the engine and smashed a bottle of champagne across the cow catcher, saying at the same time, "I christen thee Winfield!" The local dignitaries then stepped forward and in an appropriate speech presented the engineer with a set of handsome colors on behalf of the village.
The passenger coaches were the pride of the line. In a lyrical description of 1872 we read that "the cars are clean, large and handsome, and have many novel improvements. The seats are either velvet-cushioned or cane-bottomed. Steam heating apparatus is supplied to each car. The old hand brakes are being replaced by steam brakes, which are controlled by the engineer. The platforms of the cars are level with the depot platforms, and the method of coupling is such as to make telescoping impossible." From the very few pictures which have survived we observe that the cars had fifteen or sixteen windows to a side, narrow open platforms, and roofs that were either flat with vents for five oil lamps, or deck-roofed with gas lamps. The trucks were wood and the wheels were wood with steel tires. Gas lighting was introduced in the spring of 1870. Several of the cars must have been unusually elegant, for they are referred to as "splendid palace cars" and "sumptuous smoking cars." All were built either at the Taunton Car Works in Taunton, Mass. or at the College Point shops of the company.
It would appear that the older passenger coaches inherited from the New York & Flushing R.R. were all disposed of as rapidly as possible during 1869-70. These are probably the cars referred to in the road's annual reports as "second class and emigrant cars."
The service and scheduling on the Flushing & North Side R.R. received exaggerated attention and special care, largely because the poor service of the old New York & Flushing was such a recent and disagreeable memory. In 1868 and 1869 before the road was opened to College Point and Whitestone only nine trains were operated each way daily, four through to Great Neck and five to Flushing. A train making all stops took forty-five minutes from Hunter's Point to Flushing and one hour to Great Neck. After the College Point and Whitestone Branch was opened, fourteen trips were made each way daily, ten trips through to Whitestone and only five through to Great Neck. In 1870 twenty trips were scheduled daily, fifteen to Whitestone and only five to Great Neck. In 1872 twenty-two trips were made daily, again with only five of these going through to Great Neck. It was obvious, therefore, that under the Poppenhusens, the Whitestone Branch had become the main line and the road to Greak Neck a branch operation; also that all the preference in scheduling was being given to College Point and Whitestone. The old North Shore road gained only one train in five years and received about the same service as under the old management. The village of Flushing with its two stations stood to benefit under any arrangement, but there began to be murmurs of dissatisfaction, complaining that uptown Flushing (Main Street) was being discriminated against in favor of downtown Flushing (Bridge Street). Real estate operators in eastern and southern Flushing experienced difficulty in retailing property because of the few trains available in that part of the village.
May, June and July seem to have been the peak months of riding. We read that in April, 1870, 75,000 people rode the trains, in May, 88,000. On a typical Sunday, June 26, 1870, 4,500 used the cars. On this day a twelve-car train drawn by two locomotives took 1,000 German excursionists home from College Point. The following year, on June 25, 1871, again a warm Sunday, 1,600 people rode the railroad. On the Fourth of July, 1871, sixty-seven trains ran on the Flushing road, starting from each terminus every half hour throughout the day; 20,000 passengers were carried without a single accident and the road took in over $5,000 in that one day. A year later in June, 1872, ten-car trains were the custom on warm summer Sundays.
Train speeds on the Flushing road were the same as on most roads of that day; the company reported twenty-five miles per hour for passenger trains, thirty for express trains and eighteen for freight runs. The first recorded speed run occurred on December 29, 1869, when the president of the road was summoned to New York by telegraph to attend a railroad meeting. He commandeered a spare engine at Main Street depot and riding over the old bumpy roadbed of the New York & Flushing, reached Hunter's Point in thirteen minutes, making a speed of 35.7 miles per hour. He had to wait four minutes for a boat and then made the passage to James Slip in fourteen minutes, making the whole run from Flushing only thirty-one minutes, far better than is possible today! A traveler writing to the editor of the Flushing Journal in November, 1869, remarks pleasurably on the new express service running non-stop from Hunter's Point to Flushing in sixteen minutes over the new roadbed via Woodside and on a rainy day. One train in the evening rush hour offered this fast service in the advertised time of eighteen minutes.
The fare structure on the Flushing & North Side R.R. reflected the liberal views of the management. For the period 1868-1873 they were as follows:
From New York to:
|West Flushing||21¢||College Point||31¢|
Passengers usually bought their tickets from the station agents where possible, but sometimes collection of the fare was done on the trains by the conductors who wielded absolute power in their rolling domains. A conductor who disputed a passenger on fares might not always be satisfied simply with exacting the sum demanded; he might feel aggrieved, loftily reject the proferred money, and eject the passenger at some lonesome point along the tracks, as happened more than once. The conductor's hand was further strengthened in July 1870 when Governor Hoffman of New York State signed a warrant commissioning the railroad conductors on the Flushing & North Side R.R. as state constables, authorized to quell any disturbance, or make arrests for misdemeanors and crimes committed on the railroad line. The company also succeeded in inducing the governor to sign a bill authorizing the road to charge additional fare when tickets were not procured at the station.
The Flushing road made considerable effort in the direction of safety. The need for gongs and crossing signals to warn passengers of approaching trains became apparent almost during the first week of operations in Flushing when trains, rushing across Northern Bouleverd at full speed and without any warning to pedestrians and carriages, drew sharp newspaper comment. Northern Boulevard, then Bridge Street, was one of the most dangerous grade crossings on the line and had neither gates nor flagmen. In November 1870 the railroad began installing at all dangerous crossings an electric, battery-operated signal which was actuated at a distance of a half-mile by the train wheels, and which set to swinging a metal "Danger" sign. These were set up at Vernon Avenue, Hunter's Point; Queens Boulevard; Broadway, Elmhurst; and Northern Boulevard, Flushing.
As a further protection the road in March 1870 placed on one of their locomotives a continuous ringing gong as an experiment, which clanged without stopping, the idea being to relieve the fireman of ringing the bell at crossings and to make it difficult for contestants suing for damages to claim that notice of an oncoming train had not been given.
To avoid the possibility of a wreck due to an open switch, all switch bars were fitted with wires leading to a battery on one end and to a large gong placed in the nearest station. The moment a switch was turned from the main track, the gong in the depot commenced to ring, thus alerting everyone to the open switch. It was hoped this would eliminate accidents caused not only by oversight but by malice as well. Similar gongs were set up at important grade crossings to supplement the danger signals installed earlier in the year. In August 1871 the road installed at Whitestone Junction a "patent switch" which is not described, but was guaranteed to keep passing trains from jumping the track.
The Flushing & North Side R.R. was one of the first roads in the country to equip its cars with steam brakes instead of relying on the old inadequate hand brakes. One of the company's own machinists working in the College Point foundry and car shops, Mr. S. R. Stinnard, invented a steam brake which operated very similarly to the later air brake. The invention was patented and officially adopted for use on all the Flushing & North Side trains. On September 5, 1871 the new Stinnard brake was given a spectacular public demonstration for the benefit of newspapermen. At Hunter's Point a train was made up of eight of the largest and finest passenger coaches on the road, drawn by the engine Newtown. The brake was first applied near West Flushing (Corona) on a descending grade running at a speed of nearly 30 MPH and the train stopped dead in thirty seconds within a distance of 600 feet. Again between College Point and Whitestone a second trial was made; here the passengers left the cars to observe the application of the brakes themselves. The train backed up about a mile and then rushed past the spectators at 30 MPH. Again the whole train was stopped within its own length of 600 feet. The trials were several times repeated on the return trip with pronounced success, the longest time for response being thirty seconds and with no jar or jerk being perceptible. After this exhaustive test all the trains on the road were fitted with the steam brake, and it was advertised as one of the features of the road.
Thanks to all the safety features on the road, the list of accidents on the Flushing & North Side R.R. is remarkably small. In July 1869 the road sustained its first casualty, a woman passenger who, while walking on the platform of one of the coaches, lost her footing when the wheels lurched and was killed under the wheels. In September 1872 a train pulling into Long Island City collided with a number of passenger cars but no one was hurt.
The road's biggest and most spectacular mishap occurred on a winter evening in December 1870. The night of the thirteenth was dark, thick and disagreeable. The 6 P.M. train for Great Neck, consisting of the engine Whitestone, two passenger coaches and a smoking car, pulled out as usual from Hunter's Point. At 6:12 it passed the down train on the siding at Winfield. As the train left Whitestone Junction on the meadows, it slowed down to 20 MPH on the pilework leading to the draw which lay about 700 feet ahead. As the engine came to within fifty feet of the bridge, and the beam of the headlight illuminated the timbers, the engineer was horrified to see that the draw was wide open. Recovering fron his fright, he blew "down brakes," one short sharp blast. It was too late. In moments the speed of the engine carried it over the water and into the opposite abutment. As it oveturned into the waters of the creek, it dragged down with it the tender, which landed almost upright in the water, and in turn half dragged behind it the smoking car which came to rest against the center pier.
Remarkably enough, neither the fireman nor the engineer was killed. The front part of the smoking car was badly crushed and broken, and the forward truck fell into the water, yet no one within suffered anything more than scratches and bruises. Within minutes the news reached Flushing and College Point. An engine was dispatched from College Point and took the passengers in the two undamaged coaches to Bridge Street depot, and from there carriages were hired to deliver the passengers individually to their homes. Wrecking crews worked all that night to lift the smoking car and repair the track, but in vain. The morning light revealed that the draw had been knocked seven feet off center, the castings of the swing so badly broken as to need replacement, and the main center bearing three inches out of line. The locomotive was altogether out of sight and the tender half buried. Not till six days later, on the nineteenth of December, could trains again move over the patched drawbridge.
The inquiry produced some interesting details. The bridge was in charge of a tender named McKenna who had been on the job twelve years and whose character up to now had been unassailable. For some reason he had gone drinking that afternoon, off and on, and admitted that by 6 P.M. he no longer had full control of his faculties. McKenna had opened the draw just before 6 P.M. to let a sloop pass; it had taken ten minutes to get the boat through, and twenty minutes later the fatal train approached. The rules called for placing red flags by day and red lamps by night on the track whenever the draw was to be opened. This McKenna didn't bother to do, thinking that he could close the draw before the Hunter's Point train arrived.
If the track on the draw was clear, the rules called for a green flag or green lamp signifying caution, and a green and white signal for all-clear. McKenna obviously set no signal at all and forgot to close the draw. On the fourteenth McKenna was arrested but eventually freed with only the loss of his job as a penalty. The Coast Wrecking Co. under Capt. I. J. Merritt, founder of the present big Merritt-Chapman firm, and at that time an alderman in Whitestone, undertook to lift the engine which was not fished out until March 18, 1871, and not restored to service until July 4.
The ferry facilities of the Flushing & North Side R.R. were shared with the Long Island R.R. Both roads terminated at the foot of Borden Avenue, Long Island City, and were served by the East River Ferry Co., which operated boats between Borden Avenue and James Slip. The lease of this ferry was bought at auction in May 1868 by President Oliver Charlick of the Long Island R.R. Patronage from the combined roads must have been appreciable, for a year later, in June 1869, the ferry company put on the first large double deck boat on the river, the Southampton. Two years later, in January 1871, the East River Ferry Co. greatly enlarged and improved the James Slip ferry terminal on South Street in New York. A large section of the ferry house was allotted to each of the two railroads with waiting rooms, ticket, express, freight and telegraph offices. Finally, in the spring of 1872, the East River Ferry Co. built an entirely new slip at Borden Avenue to accommodate the increasing travel on the Flushing & North Side R.R. The usual crossing time on the ferry from James Slip to Hunter's Point was thirty minutes and 6¢ was charged for the ride; from the foot of East Thirty-fourth Street to Hunter's Point the crossing time was only fifteen minutes and the fare the same.
A railroad post office was established on the Flushing & North Side R.R. in July 1870 with the appointment on the sixth of Mr. Samuel E. Aymar of Jamaica as Mail Route Messenger. He rode the trains and received the mails at each station on the road, sorted on the cars and delivered the mails from the city on the return trip. By this arrangement each village on the line received two mails daily. Mail from New York was received at Hunter's Point by both the Long Island R.R. and the Flushing railroad messengers, who exchanged postal matter with each other there or at Winfield station.
Telegraph service was brought in by the Western Union Co. in May 1868. Poles and wire were put in alongside the track of the New York & Flushing R.R. and the terminal office was in the Main Street depot at Flushing. In the first week of June 1868 the service was opened to the public. It was hoped to extend the service to Great Neck by winter. In July 1870 the telegraph was extended to College Point and opened to the public. At almost the same time a local firm called "The Long Island Telegraph Co." had completed and opened a wire between Flushing and Jamaica; the poles had gone up in April and the company proposed to build as far as their stock sales permitted. With the completion of these two wires, Queens County achieved telegraphic communication with the outside world for the first time.
The rather desultory and inadequate freight service of the old New York & Flushing R.R. was taken over by the Poppenhusen-Judd management and greatly improved. In September 1871 the road chartered the steamer Port Royal to leave New York for Hunter's Point at 4:30 P.M. daily with freight for stations all along the road. The freight was loaded onto a special train at Hunter's Point the same evening. All freight picked up from depots along the road was henceforth delivered in New York at 8 A.M. the next morning. The freight business of the railroad was reported to have increased very rapidly, largely because new business was attracted by the unusual speed of the service.
The period just before and after 1870 was the golden age in New York City of the steam dummy, that curious compromise between the horse-drawn car and the locomotive. The South Side R.R. had pioneered its use in Brooklyn, and the ever-forward looking Flushing & North Side management decided to conduct its own experiments. The Whitestone Branch of the railroad had from the first become the road's main line, thanks to Poppenhusen's and Locke's partiality to their own villages and the location of the shops at College Point. The management, therefore, decided to use steam dummies on the Flushing-Great Neck Branch for all Sunday service (three trips) and to supplement the five daily trips with three dummy runs. The dummy was referred to as the Langdon Steam Car, after the company manufacturing it, and entered service December 1, 1870. At Christmas time the newspapers remarked that "the Langdon steam car's daily supplementary trips scarcely suffice to accommodate the fast-increasing travel. The additional Sunday trips prove a great convenience to the churchgoers." For some reason unknown to us, the Langdon steam car was withdrawn from service before the end of the winter, for it does not appear on the May 1872 timetable. No reason appears in the annual reports of the company, and the newspapers are silent, so we must assume that the operation proved inefficient. The last reference to the car appeared a year later in December 1871, when it was being used to haul ties and rails in the construction of the Central Railroad of Long Island.
It is fitting to make some brief mention of the personalities on the road whose names have come down to us. We have spoken earlier of Conrad Poppenhusen, John Locke and Orange Judd. The latter surprised everyone in April 1870 by selling his entire interest in the Flushing & North Side R.R., amounting to about $30,000, and taking real estate in Flushing village in exchange for his stock. From this time forward he invested heavily in building houses along Bowne, Parsons, Sanford and Forty-first Avenues, Flushing, and in outer sections of the village.
In these first five years 1868-1872 the Flushing & North Side R.R. had three superintendents: H. C. Moore, who was appointed in January 1869; H. A. Hurlbut, who was appointed in October 1870, and R. D. Tucker, who entered upon his duties in April 1871. Mr. Tucker had formerly been superintendent on the Boston & Providence R.R. The chief engineer on the road, Mark Brear, is often mentioned favorably in the press of the day. He was with the road from the beginning in 1868, and left it in February 1872 to become an agent for a firm producing new mechanical devices on locomotives. The staff of the road tendered him a farewell dinner and a gold watch on the occasion.
In October 1870, in obedience to a new state law, the Flushing & North Side R.R. adopted uniforms for its employees. The principal operating trainmen got a blue uniform; the others, gray. Both were provided by Brooks Bros. of New York.
In closing our survey of operations on the Flushing & North Side R.R. it is interesting to note briefly the ambitious extensions entertained by the railroad in its palmy days but never built for one reason or another. The most persistent rumor of extension concerned Huntington, and for the best of reasons. Huntington was a large village and originated enough revenue to pay for a station. The villagers disliked Oliver Charlick, president of the Long Island R.R., and regularly sought to escape his monopoly. When the North Shore R.R. Co. built eastward from Flushing to Great Neck in 1866, all the North Shore villages eagerly hoped that the road would reach them. In April 1866 three representatives of the Flushing & North Side R.R. visited Huntington and conferred with a delegation from the village. It was agreed that if the village would raise $150,000 in stock subscriptions, the directors would recommend extending the road from the proposed Roslyn terminus to Huntington. The New York Tribune reported in June that articles of agreement had actually been signed by which it was agreed to extend the North Shore R.R. through Glen Cove, Oyster Bay and Cold Spring to Huntington. The death blow to all such hopes came in July 1867 when Oliver Charlick bought out the Flushing road and its leased line, the North Shore R.R. It was certain that Charlick would never permit any road under his control to break his monopoly of the North Shore villages from Roslyn eastward. When Charlick sold his interests to the Flushing & North Side a year later, in 1868, rumors again began to circulate in Huntington. It was known that Poppenhusen, Judd and others favored such an extension. Again a year passed and in August 1869 it was reported that the North Shore R.R. was calculating the cost of crossing the Manhasset Valley. Two years later, in 1871, it was reported that the railroad was ready to build if the people of Glen Cove and eastward would pay the expenses of a huge fill across the valley. It is not hard to guess that the deep Manhasset Valley killed the whole project. The expense of a colossal fill across the ravine or an equally long and very high bridge was more than either the company or the villages could undertake. In the long run it was cheaper to pay Charlick's passenger and freight rates on the Long Island R.R. than to impoverish themselves in an undertaking estimated to cost well over $100,000.
CHAPTER VII: The Central Railroad of Long Island
While the Flushing & North Side R.R. was still in the building stage, events were taking place afar that would profoundly affect the history of the road. In New York City there had appeared on the commercial scene in the 1850's and 60's a merchant prince whose success and wealth had far outstripped his nearest rivals and whose business acumen was observed with awe and envy by all the mercantile magnates of his day. Alexander Turney Stewart was born near Belfast, Ireland, on December 12, 1803. His family was English Protestant stock that had emigrated to North Ireland generations before. When Alexander was but three days old, his father, a landowner of modest means, died, and a grandfather undertook his education, which was of the best, including Trinity College, Dublin. Just after the boy's sixteenth birthday his grandfather died, and he decided to come to America. For several years he lived an easy, scholarly life, reading for the most par and living on the income from his patrimony.
When Stewart turned twenty-one, he decided to return to Ireland to claim his inheritance and was advised by a commercial friend that he might double the amount by investing it in dress trim which had a ready market in New York. On his arrival in Ireland, he discovered that his patrimony had declined to $5,000, and he decided to invest this sum as his friend had advised. When he returned to New York, he went into business with his friend's help and he soon prospered in selling gloves, fans, trimmings, and, especially, laces.
In 1848 Stewart moved into a large store at Chambers Street and Broadway, and here he became well-known as a merchant prince. Fourteen years later, in 1862, he moved into the famous iron store at Broadway and Tenth Street. Stewart's store was the first large building to have an internal supporting structure of iron girders. The Stewart store in its heyday in the 1860's was the largest in the world; it had eight stories, six above ground, and two below ground, and employed 2,000 persons. Stewart's volume from his wholesale and retail business ran to $33 million per annum. In 1833 Stewart was already worth one and a half million; in 1860, twenty million.
In his personal life Stewart was pleasant and sociable. He patronized art and built a mansion at Fifth Avenue and Thirty-fourth Street to display it. Despite all his wealth and success, Stewart suffered one great deprivation--both his children had died in infancy and there was no one to inherit his fortune or to carryon his career. After he passed sixty, he began to look about for some worthwhile way of using his vast fortune. In 1869 that means at last presented itself.
Out on Long Island to the north and east of the old colonial village of Hempstead lay a vast tract, loosely referred to as the Hempstead Plains. Few roads crossed the area and only a handful of farmhouses interrupted the vast level treeless plain that extended mile on mile as far as Wantagh. The Town of Hempstead which had owned this vast virgin tract since the Revolution was approached in the spring of 1869 by a resident of Tarrytown with an offer to buy the entire area outright at $42 an acre. Stewart heard of the project, and there gradually formed in his mind a grandiose scheme. This was no less than to build on the plains a model city, carefully laid out according to a preconceived plan, and carefully supervised so as to insure the ultimate in beautiful environment, fine homes and desirable inhabitants. The city would be a modern form of feudal domain, wholly owned and operated by the lord of the manor, an idea suggested to Stewart by the great feudal estates of Northern Ireland familiar to him in his youth.
Once the idea was fixed in his mind, Stewart acted swiftly. A Town referendum on the sale of the plains was scheduled for July 17, 1869. Stewart sent in a bid to the astonished Town board of $55 an acre, with the promise of the investment of additional millions in roads, parks, houses, etc., all of which would give employment to armies of local residents for years to come. Agents were dispatched to Hempstead to do a little electioneering, but it was hardly necessary; the residents voted overwhelmingly to accept Stewart's bid. The decisive vote pleased everyone. The Town of Hempstead received the then unheard-of sum of $394,350 for land generally considered worthless, and this was invested to pay the school and welfare expenses of the Town for decades to come. Stewart obtained 7,170 acres and proceeded to buy another 1,500 from private individuals to round out the tract.
With his characteristic energy Stewart undertook immediately the development of this colossal tract, which extended from the New Hyde Park Road on the west to the borders of the Village of Farmingdale on the east; and from the Old Country Road on the north to the Hempstead village border on the south, measuring roughly ten miles in length by two miles in width. Stewart immediately contracted for 500 miles of wagon roads and appointed an engineer, John Kellum, to superintend the armies of workmen, who were grading roads, laying out parks and planting miles of shade trees. The new city was to be a residence for people in "moderate circumstances" and of "refined and cultivated tastes," and Stewart insured that his clientele would be limited to this group by erecting homes ranging in value from $5,000 to $15,000 on plots of at least an acre. In the summer of 1870 the first houses went up, while thirty carpenters put up fifteen miles of fences around blocks 600 x 1200 feet. By the end of the year Stewart had laid out 120 acres and had spent $4,000 a day for grading and fencing.
Not the least of Stewart's spectacular plans for his City of the Plains was the construction of a private railroad which would provide luxurious express service to New York for the residents of the city. Within two or three months of Stewart's purchase, preparations were made to build the so-called Stewart road. There was no problem in building a railroad along the plains since Stewart owned all the land. The big problem was how to provide his road with an outlook to the East River and the New York ferries. Building an entire new route to the water when there were already three operating systems on Long Island seemed wasteful to Stewart's shrewd business instincts, so he decided to sound out the Long Island R.R. and the Flushing & North Side R.R. as to their attitude toward a leasing or operating agreement.
By December 1869 the route of the Stewart road through the plains had been laid out by Mr. Kellum, and with the plans in his pocket, Stewart went to call on Oliver Charlick on December 6th. A stenographic record of the interview between these two great figures would make interesting reading today. Charlick, in his business dealings, was notoriously obdurate, and he lacked the flexibility to be able to appreciate and evaluate aft opinion other than his own. No publicity was given to the interview, and neither one made any comment on the results, but the lack of any further contact soon gave strong reason to believe that Charlick had refused Stewart's offer to assume operation of the Stewart road. Speculation in the newspapers in January of a falling out with Charlick induced Stewart to issue a press statement denying difficulties with Charlick or any other railroad figure. In late January 1870 Mr. Stewart engaged surveyor Ezra Conklin of Jamaica to layout three different routes for his road west of New Hyde Park Road, one of which he would select. On the east the terminus was to be Farmingdale village. Conklin reported back in March with one line into Flushing, a second into Jamaica, and a third south of Jamaica. The latter fired the residents of Woodhaven and East New York into public meetings urging Stewart to build through their villages. When a delegation from East New York called upon Stewart early in April, he showed signs of favoring the Flushing route above the other two. This probably resulted from a meeting in the first week of April with Conrad Poppenhusen and Elizur Hinsdale of the Flushing & North Side R.R., who had reportedly offered to sell out to Stewart the old New York & Flushing route between Main Street and Woodside. The Hempstead papers in May confirmed the Flushing rumor. During the summer of 1870 Mr. Stewart kept his own counsel as to his choice of route to the annoyance of the speculators, and contented himself with surveying the road on his plains domain. In October, Stewart set men to work on an extension of the New York & Hempstead Plains R.R. northward through his property to Mineola. This road, which had its terminus in Hempstead, was then being operated by the South Side R.R. and had opened service September 28, 1870, just three weeks earlier.
On December 3, 1870, a contract was awarded to Mr. Patrick Shields of Jamaica for building the new railroad between Farmingdale and the New Hyde Park Road. The contract called for a double track and was to be completed by April 1871. In the last days of December the news that everyone had been waiting to hear was released to the press: the Stewart road would adopt the Flushing route after all, connecting with the Flushing & North Side R.R. in or near Flushing village. Construction was to begin at once.
Reading between the lines of this announcement suggested that a still more important agreement had been concluded, namely, an understanding with Poppenhusen and Locke relative to trackage rights on the Flushing & North Side R.R. into Long Island City. When the text of the agreement was published in the press in January 1871, it was discovered to be more far-reaching than had been suspected. The Stewart road would be formally named the Central Railroad of Long Island and would be built to the same quality standards as the Flushing & North Side. A. T. Stewart agreed to finance a steel double track road within the boundaries of his purchase from Hyde Part to Farmingdale and would use the finest materials available. The date for completion was to be July 4, 1872. The Poppenhusens, for their part, agreed to build a steel double track road from Flushing to Hyde Park, and to double track their existing line to Hunter's Point. The contract also bound them to issue to every newcomer who intended to make his home in Garden City or Hempstead a free ticket over the road for one year. More important, the entire operation of the Central R.R. and its maintenance would be undertaken by the Flushing & North Side management under stipulated conditions, and at least fifteen trains would be run each way daily, with certain expresses scheduled to make the Hempstead run in thirty minutes.
This agreement of the thirty-first of December, 1870, was the most important and fateful moment in the history of the Flushing road; with the stroke of a pen, the Flushing & North Side suddenly became no longer a local road, but rather the base of a larger new railroad system big enough to challenge the old and established Long Island R.R. itself.
Both parties to the agreement set to work immediately to let contracts for building. John Kellum, Stewart's engineer, sent an order to the Prussian steel factories in Westphalia for 3,000 tons of steel rails, and gave to Mr. John C. Wright of Freeport the contract to grade the railroad right-of-way through the plains from Hyde Park to Farmingdale. The first ground was turned over in the Meadowbrook area east of Hempstead. A second group began work in the Hempstead Town cemetery grounds east of Franklin Avenue and along the present right-of-way in Garden City.
It now became necessary to determine the exact right-of-way between Hyde Park and Flushing; in February 1871 the Poppenhusens made overtures to the North Shore R.R. directors to branch off from their road somewhere near Broadway station, but this fell through. After a short time the final plans were drawn up and filed in the County Clerk's office on March 4, 1871. The new line diverged from the Flushing & North Side at the eastern end of the Main Street drawbridge and crossed south of Flushing village, through Kissena Park, and then southeast across country to Floral Park and New Hyde Park.
On March 7, 1871, Mr. John Higgins of Flushing, who did much of the work for the Flushing & North Side road, began work at Lawrence Street, Flushing, on the tunnel that would carry the tracks beneath that street. The tunnel was to be 160 feet long and 17 feet high, to be built of Greenwich stone in irregular rectangular bond work with neat facades and parapet walls at each end. In April all the contracts for the Central R.R. were let. Messrs. Smith and Ripley won the contract for grading the first half of the first section from Central Junction to Lawrence Street, and for a small section at Black Stump Road (Seventh-third Avenue); Messrs. Dunne and Lowther continued the work from Lawrence Street to 197th Street with eighty men and thirty-five horses; Messrs. Smith and Ripley from 197th Street through Rocky Hill to Winchester Boulevard, and Brian and Kingsley from Winchester Boulevard (old Alley Road) to the border of the Stewart property. They operated twenty carts. Messrs. Smith and Ripley originally had the contract for the entire road but decided to concentrate on the third section because of the large amount of grading and blasting necessary to break through the backbone of the island at Rocky Hill north of Hillside Avenue. Dunne and Lowther began work on April 17 on the Kissena Meadows and by mid-May their gang of 100 men had penetrated to Kissena Lake.
In May 1871 work was commenced in earnest at Rocky Hill (presently where Springfield Boulevard crosses Grand Central Parkway). The land at this point rises from forty to fifty feet above sea level to a mean elevation of 140 to 160 feet, much of it gravel of glacial origin. With the primitive earth-moving equipment of 1870 this ridge loomed as a formidable barrier to the railroad builders of that day. In June the contractors brought to the attack the most formidable artillery that had yet been seen on Long Island up to that date: two steam shovels, the first of their kind on Long Island, sixty dump cars, two locomotives and a portable track. It was planned to work at the Rocky Hill cut both day and night. The estimated time was three to four months. In July the first steam shovel went to work and the second followed in August.
The operations at Rocky Hill were so spectacular that people came from miles around just to watch. One hundred men were constantly at work and locomotives with trains of cars moved up and down on each side of the summit. Two miles of trestle work were built, one mile on each side, to create a grade of precisely fifty feet to the mile. The cost of the machinery on the Rocky Hill section alone was $50,000 and the expense of furnishing the water needed for men and locomotives ran to $30 a day.
While the heavy work of excavation was progressing at Rocky Hill, materials for track laying, etc., were beginning to arrive. In the third week of April, railroad ties by the schooner load began arriving at Hunter's Point. In June, the steamboat Artisan began unloading both ties and rails, the latter wrought iron with steel facing. By the end of June thousands of ties and thousands of steel rails lay stacked on the piers with more cargo constantly arriving. Immense quantities of stone were also being landed on Carll's dock in Flushing and on Sanger's dock on Alley Creek near the head of Little Neck Bay. In July arrangements were perfected between the South Side R.R. and the Central R.R. by which the iron and ties for New Hyde Park and Garden City through to Farmingdale should be transported over South Side rails. About August 1 a switch was laid between the Long Island R.R. and the Flushing & North Side at Winfield to transship rails and other material consigned to the Central R.R. without loading and unloading.
The building standards on the Central R.R. of L.I. were so high as to attract the attention of the public and railroad men alike. The most unusual feature was the almost entire elimination of grade crossings all along the line, and this on a road which traversed rural country almost exclusively. In Queens and Nassau Counties there were sixteen important roads crossed by the Central R.R., and all but three were planned to be crossed above or below grade. This added greatly to the cost of construction but added to the safety of the travelling public. The contracts for the stone work in all this bridging and tunneling amounted to $110,000, a sum which only a man like A. T. Stewart could pay without sober reflection. The crossings, to the extent that they are known, were planned as follows:
- Lawrence Street, Flushing--Tunnel under road, actually built.
- Fresh Meadow Road, Flushing--Tunnel under road, actually built.
- Lawrence Lane (now Fiftieth Avenue) at 187th Street--A tunnel planned but never built.
- Former North Hempstead Turnpike (at about Francis Lewis Boulevard)--Bridge planned but never built.
- Hollis Court Boulevard (old Queens Avenue)--The old road formerly inside Cunningham Park has now been destroyed by the Clearview Expressway. Bridge planned over road but never built.
- Seventy-third Avenue (old Black Stump Road)--Bridge planned but never built.
- Old Granger Avenue--(Never fully laid out or opened; crossing about at present Bell Boulevard). Tunnel planned but never built.
- Springfield Boulevard--Bridge over the railroad was built.
- Jericho Turnpike--Iron bridge over the road was actually built.
- Long Island R.R. crossing--Iron bridge over road actually built with heavy stone embankments.
- In what has since become Nassau County, the other crossings were as follows:
- Plainfield Avenue--Bridge over road planned, but never built.
- Tanner's Pond Road--An iron bridge actually built.
- Cherry Valley Road--Iron bridge actually built.
- Road entering the Meadow Brook Club from the north (no longer existing)--Iron bridge built.
Two iron bridges were erected over Ireland Mill Creek, which drained Kissena Lake, and twenty small culverts at various points along the line.
In the last week of July 1871 the Long Island R.R. began shipping the steel rails from Hunter's Point docks over the road to Mineola and then down the Branch to the Central's right-of-way at Garden City. All during August the ties were being laid and the rails distributed. The first rail on the plains section of the Central R.R. was laid Monday, October 30, near the L.I.R.R. Branch crossing and at two other points further eastward; the work was pushed hard in order to meet the contract deadline of December 1 for the plains section or incur a penalty of $250 a day. By December 23 three miles of the nine had been laid; the Langdon steam car, used in Flushing the year before, puffed up and down the right-of-way carrying ties and iron.
The hard work at Rocky Hill continued to the end of working weather in the late fall of 1871. By the end of August the two steam shovels had bitten deeply into the hill, and the locomotives were carrying off the dirt in trains of ten loaded cars at a time. When winter cut off all further work, the cut remained uncompleted. The last item of importance to be completed in the season of 1871 was the Lawrence Street tunnel in Flushing, finished on December 12th. The Rocky Hill cut then remained as the last remaining obstruction on the road.
It is of some historical interest to mention in passing that the season of 1871 also saw the founding and building of Stewart's great brick yards at Bethpage north of Farmingdale. By mid-September the first two of the great brick-making machines were in active operation, each capable of turning out 20,000 bricks daily. Two more were soon to be added, increasing the daily yield to 80,000 bricks. All these were scheduled for use in the erection of blocks of houses at Garden City. In November a very large brick stable and wagon house went up, and a shed for sheltering brick 462 x 60 also completed. An eighty-five horsepower steam engine powered the works, giving employment to thirty laborers.
During the winter of 1871-72 A. T. Stewart and Conrad Poppenhusen decided to enlarge the Central R.R. of L.I. beyond its original function of serving the Stewart purchase only; it was decided to extend southeast from Farmingdale to Babylon and the then fashionable watering place of Fire Island. A subsidiary, the Central Extension Railroad Company, was formally organized in 1871 to build the proposed road. There was a great deal of guessing on the part of the speculators as to the exact route of the line of road. A few miles to the southeast lay the booming village of Breslau, then being intensively advertised and developed. The leader of the development, Thomas Wellwood, had earlier approached engineer John Kellum to align the Babylon extension through Breslau, and had gotten some sort of oral commitment from him. As chief engineer, Kellum had established the exact right-of-way of the Central R.R. through the Stewart purchase, and he would again have the deciding voice in the routing of the Central Extension. Unfortunately for Wellwood and the whole Central R.R. project, John Kellum died suddenly on July 24, 1871, and with him went Wellwood's dream of a Breslau R.R.
In January 1872 all speculation was ended with the filing of the map of the Babylon Extension. The road, most of which is still operated today by the L.I.R.R., was laid out south of Farmingdale, crossing the pine barrens in a straight line to West Babylon, where it crossed the South Side R.R. tracks, and was to terminate at the Babylon Town dock, whence the boats left for Fire Island. The contract for building the road was awarded to Thomas Wellwood & Co. (in his capacity as a contractor) at $20,000 per mile; seventy-pound rail was to be laid on ties spaced two feet apart, and the grading to be completed by August 1, 1872. The residence of Jonathan Sammis on the east side of Fire Island Avenue and just north of the S-curve in that road, was purchased for the depot site.
With the return of good working weather in 1872 the Babylon extension project was temporarily shoved into the background and all efforts were concentrated on opening the graded road from Flushing at least through to Garden City and Hempstead. In March all the grading on the road was pushed through to completion, and on the twenty-second the long and expensive cut at Rocky Hill was completed by the meeting of the two steam shovels. The bridges were now ready to be installed across Queens County, and the steep sides of the Rocky Hill cut smoothed off. Iron for the spans was unloaded from freighters at Hunter's Point on March 29.
In the fine spring weather of April and May 1872 the track laying went on rapidly, the gangs sometimes making half a mile a day. By the last week of May only five miles remained to be done. In mid-June twenty small track-walkers' houses, each 17 x 24 feet and 2½ miles apart, were set up all along the line of the Central R.R. A round house was also being built at Central Junction station where the Central R.R. branched off from the Flushing & North Side.
On Monday, June 24, 1872, a construction train made the first through trip from Flushing to Garden City, testing the rails and bridges. All the communities along the line and indeed over the island eagerly looked forward to the opening of the new road with its superb roadbed, brand new equipment and shining promise. On Saturday, July 13, 1872, the crossing of the L.I.R.R. was made at Garden City without unpleasant incident, and the construction train was able to make the maiden trip the next day over the Central as far as Farmingdale. There had been rumors that Oliver Charlick would at the last moment resort to some strategem to delay the Stewart road, but this did not happen. An agreement had been made that the crossing should be done in a certain manner, and at such a time as not to interfere with travel. The lone engine on the L.I. Branch was called over to Mineola on business after the regular trains were in on Saturday night, and this gave rise to the rumor that they were watching the Stewart men. The crossing was laid late on Saturday night and a Central train passed over it to complete the legal formality of taking possession.
The spring of 1872 witnessed the construction and completion of the line into Hempstead. The right-of-way into Hempstead was projected through the farm of Daniel Sealey at the Garden City line, then through that of Sutton Lawrence, and then south to the depot site on Fulton Street. The depot was to be built adjoining the west property line of the Presbyterian Church, a site that would place it in the business center of the village.
During July the last parcels were acquired which were necessary to piece out the right-of-way into Hempstead. A Board of three Commissioners confirmed the condemnation awards, but in almost every case the railroad was able to conclude amicable agreements with the property owners, because of the general desire to see the road in operation. Sufficient property was purchased near Fulton Street to allow room for a turntable and engine house. During August the whole Branch was surveyed by Mr. D. Denton, assisted by Engineers Ebenezer Kellum Jr. and Samuel B. Mersereau Jr. The grading was done under the supervision of Mr. Lewis H. Cowles and the track work under Mr. G. W. Breas. Because of the shortness of the Branch, the laying of the track took very little time. One month later, on September 10, 1872, the track layers finished the line into Hempstead.
It is worth noting at this point that the right-of-way of 1872 in the vicinity of the present Garden City wye is not precisely the alignment of today. In Stewart's day the Branch left the through line at a point just east of the present wye and described a wide curve to the southeast to a point midway between the present Magnolia Street and Washington Avenue, Garden City. The track then curved back, crossing the present intersection of Garden and Magnolia Streets and joined the present right-of-way at Meadow Street. This old roadbed remained in use till 1893-4 when the building of the present West Hempstead Branch caused the realignment of the whole wye.
So confident was the Central R.R. management of immediate operation that the first timetable was issued in mid-August, announcing trains as of September 1. The day came and went and the date was then moved up to September 16. The initial timetable called for eight trains daily each way with through runs between Hempstead and Hunter's Point. The running time was et to vary from forty-two minutes to fifty-eight minutes, a shorter running time than that on the Long Island or South Side roads. The rate of fare for transient passengers was pegged at the same level as the two competing roads.
When September 16 arrived and still no trains were in evidence, people began to wonder aloud; a press release from A. T. Stewart himself explained that some defects had been observed in the construction of the bridges, and that he was withholding permission to open the road until everything was in order. Exasperating as these delays may have been, the time was not wholly wasted for work was moving slowly forward again on the Babylon extension. Since March 1872 the contractors for grading the line had been at work. Over the summer Mr. Wellwood of the Breslau project and Mr. Stewart had discussed three different routes to Babylon and Fire Island, and not until November were surveyors set to marking out the finally determined route.
Another point of progress during the long wait was the assembling and preparation of rolling stock. Three new engines, the Farmingdale, the Babylon and the Garden City, arrived during 1872 and sixteen new and elegant passenger coaches were delivered for service. Similarly, work on the stations made progress. In June the Hinsdale and Creedmoor stations went up; in October the engine house at Hempstead was finished and work on the brick depot began.
The fall months went by with no further announcements from the Central R.R. management; presumably, every last detail including the bridges was being checked before making any further statements. Then, very quietly at 10 P.M. on the evening of Tuesday, January 7, 1873, an hour when nearly all Hempstead had retired, a locomotive startled the village with the loud and unearthly screeching of its whistle and the glare of its headlight. The engine was seen to draw a string of dark cars through the frosty night into the unlit sepulchral precincts of Hempstead depot. Then all was again silent. At 6:30 the next morning, Wednesday, January 8, 1873, while it was still dark, and without any festive ceremony whatever, the engine Farmingdale pulled out with one car and two passengers, marking the first regular passenger trip on the Central Railroad of Long Island. As it grew light and word spread through the sleeping village, more persons drifted through the snow down to the Central depot, and took their first ride on the new Stewart road. The second trip at 7:45 A.M. carried thirteen passengers, and as the day wore on, better and better patronage developed.
Nine trains a day ran a through service between Hempstead and Hunter's Point. The stations on the first timetable in January were very few: Central Junction in Flushing, Creedmoor, Hinsdale, Garden City and Hempstead. During the first month of operation the cars were very well patronized, notwithstanding disagreeable winter weather. The handsome coaches elicited universal praise in every quarter.
Efforts were now made to finish the Bethpage Branch from the main line at Farmingdale to the brick works in the Bethpage Hills. In May 1872 the Bethpage Branch was surveyed to cross the L.I.R.R. main line a mile west of Farmingdale village. By July the brickworks had advanced so far as to deliver bricks to Stewart's main line in the vicinity of Jerusalem. These were hauled by team from the works, loaded onto freight cars, and carted to Garden City for the buildings going up on the plains there.
In December, the exact point of crossing of the Bethpage Branch with the L.I.R.R. was negotiated with Oliver Charlick, president of the L.I.R.R., and his directors. The Central Railroad's proposed line crossed the L.I.R.R. just west of Merritt Road, Farmingdale, and cut through a bank twenty-three feet high. The directors of the L.I.R.R. opposed the crossing on the ground that it would be dangerous to travel as the point selected was a curve located in a deep cut and with no visibility whatsoever. To settle the matter, the Supreme Court of Queens County appointed three commissioners to make a decision. In the meantime the Central R.R. installed two heavy culverts and two large bridges to expedite the work. In the first week of February 1873 the commissioners ordered the crossing point to be moved twenty feet to the east of Stewart's survey. On March 1 a brief strike interrupted the work on the branch; the contractors wanted the men to work for twelve hours a day at $2, but peace was restored with an offer of ten hours for $1.75. By mid-March, so anxious was the management to get the Bethpage Branch open, a night gang was put on the road in the expectation of finishing up in two weeks. The bricks were piling up in the yards in the millions and to ship these out was the reason for the haste. On March 28 the grading was finished and the contractors began laying the ties and rails. On Sunday morning, April 6, 1873, the installation of the frogs for crossing the Long Island R.R. about half a mile west of Farmingdale was successfully performed, after which one train of cars went over the road. President Oliver Charlick's men rushed to the spot in a great hurry to supervise the performance but were just ten minutes too late. During May the rails were laid to within half a mile of the yards and were to be finished as soon as the bolts for the joints were forwarded. Finally, in June, the Bethpage Branch was at last completed and the bricks began moving out to Garden City the next day.
Within three weeks the Central R.R. management had the satisfaction of opening the main line eastward as far as Bethpage Junction on May 26, 1873. This gave the inhabitants of Farmingdal seven trains a day, which contrasted noticeably with the two on the Long Island R.R. The people naturally patronized Stewart's road in preference to Charlick's, because of the fine appointments of the cars and the fact that Stewart charged only 65¢ compared with Charlick's 80¢. Even the village benefited, for, with railroad accommodation assured, every available house in Farmingdale was rented for the summer.
Once the Central R.R. of L.I. reached Babylon, all construction work on the road would be finished and the railroad would be complete as planned. To that end the directors now bent all their eports. In the last days of March 1873 Conrad Poppenhusen, in company with other railroad and real estate men, visited Babylon for the purpose of locating a depot there and settling other matters connected with the Babylon extension. The meadows along the east creek between the upper and lower docks were all bought up at $125 an acre for railroad purposes. In late April, twenty acres of land were purchased at the junction of Main Street (Merrick Road) and East Neck Road for depot purposes.
Grading all along the route was the first task facing the directors and the contract for this job was given to a Mr. Ryan in the first week of May 1873. The contract called for progress of at least one mile per week, and 200 men were to be put to work. By mid-July all the grading was complete and the iron laid to within two miles of Babylon. In the last week of July the grading gang was in sight of the terminus, and the iron had reached Mintern's Brook. On July 26 the track layers reached the South Side R.R., ready to install the crossing frogs.
The great day came on Friday August 1, when the firsttrain passed over the new track between 9 and 10 o'clock. In the afternoon service was initiated through from Hunter's Point to the Merrick Road with seven trains each way daily. A temporary depot was put into use at the southeast corner of the Merrick Road and East Neck Road on property purchased from William R. Foster. At this point the traveller boarded a "stage" for downtown Babylon, or for the steamer to Fire Island. Dropping passengers off at the Merrick Road was not the planned intention of the Central R.R. but merely a temporary expedient, so as not to lose the benefit of the remaining two months' excursion business in 1873. During September the company continued work on its remaining right-of-way and depot site in Babylon. On September 6 the land commissioners awarded $2,000 to William R. Foster for his land taken by the road. Meanwhile, the work of erecting a turntable, water tank and station building was pushed on. In mid-September the piling for the trestle over Carll's Creek was installed.
The depot site, located on the west side of Fire Island Avenue and extending through to Carll Avenue, occupied the present site of the houses numbered 158 and 164. The east face of the depot building looked out on the Watson house and grounds, a huge summer boarding house that had opened the previous season in May 1872. Both the depot and the right-of-way occupied a strip varying from sixty-six to 100 feet in width and running back 1,000 feet, all of which had been bought from Elbert Carll for $4,250. The station building itself was a wooden frame structure, 38 x 60, "thrown entirely over the tracks, with convenient waiting rooms, ticket and telegraph offices and a baggage room on the north side." Inside were comfortable benches trimmed in black walnut and ash. On the Fire Island and Carll Avenues fronts the legend "Babylon & Fire Island" was prominently emblazoned in blue and gold letters. High overhead a large red flag bearing the letters "Central R.R." waved in the breeze. Alongside the station stood a small engine house.
On October 18, 1873, the completed depot was opened to traffic. The road ran a gala excursion, wined and dined its guests across the street at the Watson House and then returned them to the city in the same decorated cars. Fire Island Avenue at that time was the most fashionable street in Babylon and lined with expensive homes and hotels. The sole horse car line in Suffolk County operated along this street between the South Side R.R. depot and the Town Dock, whence two steam launches made regular trips to Fire Island and its beach hotels. The Central, in June, 1874, connected its depot tracks with the horse car tracks in Fire Island Avenue so that the horse railroad baggage car could run alongside the Central baggage cars, and transfer baggage directly. At the same time the station platform was extended 100 feet, making 400 feet of platform in all. A large freight house, 23x32, with a platform 100 feet long and 10 feet wide, was also installed.
With these fine new facilities completed and in use, the Central R.R. could now boast of a well-located terminal in an old and established village, and its directors understandably looked forward to a prosperous and profitable future.
CHAPTER VIII: The Heyday of the Poppenhusens
With the completion of the Central R.R.'s line into Babylon, the era of expansion on the Popenhusen railroad system reached its apogee. The network now stretched from the East River thirty-five miles east to Babylon, with seven miles additional of the old main line to Great Neck. There were in addition two branches: the four mile spur to Whitestone and a shorter one of one and one quarter miles to Hempstead. The Flushing Creek area was the throat of the system with two main junction points: Whitestone Junction on the west side, where the Whitestone Branch began, and Central Junction on the east bank, where the Central trains turned off for Babylon. When the Woodside Branch opened in April 1874, four more miles of single track were added, plus an additional trestle bridge and connecting spur from Central Junction to the Flushing Bay dock.
The vast expansion of the road eastward and southward had the effect of making the former legal title inappropriate, and in the directors' meeting for 1874, it was further suggested that all the subsidiary roads should be merged at the same time that the new title be adopted. This plan met with the approval of the stockholders, and in July of that year 13,000 of the 16,000 shares were voted as in favor of consolidating the subsidiary roads into one and under a new name. As a result, the Flushing & North Side R.R. (Poppenhusen's), the North Shore R.R. (Flushing to Great Neck), the Central R.R. Extension Co. (Babylon extension), the Central Railroad of Long Island (Flushing to Garden City and Hempstead), the Whitestone & Westchester R.R. (unbuilt), the North Shore & Port Washington R.R. (unbuilt) and the Roslyn & Huntington R.R. (unbuilt) were all consolidated into the Flushing, North Shore and Central R.R. as of July 20, 1874. Mr. Stewart's Central R.R. was obtained by purchase, Stewart accepting about $700,000 of the bonds of the new company in payment.
In the fall of 1873 the South Side R.R. of L.I., one of the three big systems on the island, the main line of which tapped all the southern villages, began to experience financial difficulties. In November 1873 the railroad went into receivership and in September 1874 was put up at auction. A property of this size and importance proved an irresistible temptation to Conrad Poppenhusen and his compliant board of directors, and at the sale, Elizur B. Hinsdale, the treasurer, bought in the South Side road for $200,000. It was an easy purchase; no one else appeared anxious to buy a road that had slipped into a tangle of financial difficulties. Oliver Charlick of the Long Island R.R., the only other railroad tycoon likely to rise to such tempting bait, lay ailing and sickly in his Flushing home, with death but a few short months away, his old time aggressiveness and uncanny skill at manipulation blasted by sickness.
On September 25, 1874, the South Side R.R. of L.I. formally became a Poppenhusen subsidiary and was reorganized as The Southern Railroad Co. of Long Island. Within days the telegraph wires of the North Side and Southern systems were connected and two track connections were made: one in Long Island City through Van Alst Avenue, and the more important one at a point west of Babylon, now called Belmont Junction. The reason for the unusual haste in carrying out this latter change was to enable the managers to make use of the Southern R.R. rolling stock on the day of the International Rifle Match at Creedmoor on September 26; as it turned out, this proved a wise precaution for 8,000 persons used the road to attend the meet.
The joining of the two systems at Belmont Junction created another change of importance. On November 1, 1874, with the change of timetables, the Southern R.R. tracks from Babylon east to Patchogue were detached from the control of the Southern R.R. and added to the Central's main line, and all Central trains were henceforth routed from Long Island City to Patchogue. This meant that the former Babylon station of the Central R.R. on Fire Island Avenue ceased to be a terminus only eleven months after its completion. It is probable that the station was not immediately abandoned; there is some reason to believe that the Central R.R. continued to operate at least some service into this depot in the summer of 1875 for the Fire Island traffic and to service the Watson House across the street. In any case, the change effectively ended all schemes of moving the Central depot down to the Steamboat Dock, seriously considered only four months before. To bring the railroad between Babylon and Patchogue up to Central R.R. standards, much of the line was rebuilt with fresh ballasting and new rails.
The change of terminus from Babylon to Patchogue was no doubt motivated partly by optimism and partly by vanity. The directors hoped to court the east end trade by giving high-speed, limited-stop service to New York, something that the South Side and Long Island R.R. could not do; there was also an element of vanity in still further extending the range of the road and flaunting its superior rolling stock and roadbed in an era unaccustomed to such splendors. Poppenhusen followed up his purchase of the South Side R.R. with purchase of the controlling interest in the subsidiary Hempstead & Rockaway railroad in June 1875.
The urge to extend and enlarge the Poppenhusen system was by no means sated with the absorption of the South Side network in 1874. The officers and directors of the company were tirelessly seeking to extend the North Side system still further eastward to tap the remaining areas still monopolized by the Long Island R.R. It will be remembered that when the railroad was first projected in 1868, Poppenhusen and Locke expressly stated in the incorporation papers their intention of reaching Roslyn. The scheme lay fallow for awhile, partly because construction of the main line absorbed all the energy and money of the company. In the summer of 1871 the directors were stirred into action by the appearance on the scene of a potential rival, the North Side R.R. of L.I., which published grandiose plans for building from Richmond Hill to Orient Point all along the North Shore.
With the arrival of good spring weather in 1872 surveyors were sent out for the first time to sound out the territory to the eastward. In March a team surveyed from Farmingdale to Huntington with the idea of extending the Bethpage brickyard spur north through the hills to the shore. A second team surveyed south from Flushing through Jamaica to Rockaway. A month later in May a route was traced out from Floral Park northeast to Glen Cove. It was reported that the property owners along the line were willing to donate the land, that the route avoided the hills, and would sweep in a broad arc at Sea Cliff Grove. We hear of one further spur in the 1872 season: a two-mile branch to (Old) Westbury from the Stewart road to the south, this latter advocated by the farmers of the area.
In the spring of 1873 extension fever was again in the air. A survey to Northport, the most distant point yet, was made for the Stewart road. It was also rumored that the citizens of Cold Spring were offering to take $100,000 in stock should the road be run to the center of their village regardless of whether or not it continued on to Huntington. With the year 1874 the strongest effort of all was made to push on eastward. In April the directors sent Superintendent Barton to address a large meeting of the farmers and dairymen of Westbury. Mr. Barton stated on behalf of the company that they were willing to construct a branch road to Westbury from East Meadow and that it would cost about $25,000. Of this sum $18,000 was subscribed upon the spot and a committee of seven was appointed to solicit subscriptions for the balance. The spur was reported ready to build at once.
On June 19, 1874, the North Side directors took the step of organizing two new companies for the express purpose of building eastward: the North Shore & Port Washington R.R. and the Roslyn and Huntington R.R. The route of the former was published in the newspapers. Starting from Great Neck it would run east to Manhasset, thence northeast across to the Middle Neck Road where would be located Port Washington station, then on a trestle along Bar Beach and over Hempstead Harbor and then along the level beach through Sea Cliff to Glen Cove.
In July 1874 Mr. I. D. Barton addressed the citizens of Huntington at their invitation and told them that if the people east of Roslyn would extend a reasonable amount of aid to the enterprise in respect of right-of-way and stock subscription, that his company would build the road that summer. He intimated that the Town of Huntington would be expected to furnish about two and one-half miles of right-of-way and take about $25,000 worth of stock. If this seems presumptuous to us today, it is well to remember that the Towns of Brookhaven and Southampton did as much for the South Side and Long Island R.R. only five years before.
To reinforce Mr. Barton's campaign, the directors sent out Elizur Hinsdale to Cold Spring, Huntington and Northport and even Herman Poppenhusen toured the district. Within a few days $17,000 had been subscribed toward the stock of the Roslyn & Huntington R.R.; the goal was set at $25,000. By mid-August all the stock had been subscribed and $6,000 had also been contributed as a fund for which to negotiate for the right-of-way between Cold Spring and Huntington. In August there was another mass meeting in Norwich of residents living between Floral Park and Huntington. So enthusiastic were the citizenry and so pressing were the claims of the rival villages that the entire sixteen miles of right-of-way were offered free to the North Shore R.R. on condition of immediate construction. The road was to run from Floral Park east to Westbury and then northeast, skirting Wheatley and Norwich to Cold Spring and thence to Huntington. On July 30, 1874, the board of directors at its meeting authorized the issue of bonds to the amount necessary to secure the prompt construction of the extensions. The bonds were taken by the agent of a foreign (probably German) house and on terms regarded as favorable to the company. In the last months of the year 1874 I. D. Barton addressed a gathering of farmers from Farmingdale and Bethpage about extending the Bethpage Branch northeastward. There was some talk as well of a branch to Amityville and no less than three routes were surveyed in June and July; purchase of the South Side R.R. in September effectively ended this scheme.
It is odd that with the public enthusiasm for an eastward extension reaching its peak, and encouraged in every way by the company itself, nothing at all came of it. In 1875, when we should normally have expected some action after two years of active campaigning, the newspapers of the day are strangely silent. We are left to surmise that the Poppenhusens had their hands full with the responsibilities and financial obligations of their already large network of lines, and dared not strain their resources by constructing costly extensions.
It is worthwhile at this point to pause and examine the Poppenhusen system at its peak. As of 1875 the North Side system consisted of about fifty-five route miles and the South Side about sixty-eight miles, a total of 122 miles. The main line which ran from Hunter's Point through to Patchogue was largely double-tracked as far as Woodside, and the two lines from there to Flushing gave the effect of a double track. From Flushing eastward the whole line was single-track but with many turnouts.
At Long Island City the line approached the river between the present Forty-eighth and Forty-ninth Avenues, then curved sharply south to the depot at Fifty-first Avenue and Second Street, directly opposite and at right angles to the Long Island R.R. station. Here were located numerous side tracks, freight spurs and a turntable. The Hunter's Point station building had been erected in October and November 1869, and embraced an iron structure 190 x 48 feet long, with a car shed 77 x 54 feet. Covered passageways led to the ferries and to the Long Island R.R. depot nearby. When the Central R.R. became part of the North Side system, Central trains were also accommodated here.
Aside from the College Point car shops, which we have described earlier, the next important facility to the east was in Central junction on the east bank of Flushing Creek. The depot building was located at the corner of Sanford Avenue and Delong Street. Behind it was a large car shed, and engine roundhouse with turntable and sidings. From the yard tracks at this point a spur led northwest, crossed Flushing Creek on its own trestle and connected with the Woodside Branch track and the Flushing Bay dock spur on the open meadows.
Moving eastward on the Central R.R., now the main line, the next siding was located between 164th Street and Fresh Meadow Lane. At Hinsdale (Floral Park) the Central R.R. crossed the Long Island R.R. by means of an embankment and iron bridge, twenty feet above the surrounding ground level, and supported on either side on stone abutments. A turnout was located just east of Hinsdale station. At Garden City station itself a turnout had been installed to accommodate the Sunday excursion trains which brought prospective buyers from the city during the 1874 and 1875 seasons. At the Hempstead depot there was another turntable and engine house.
On the long lonely stretch eastward from Garden City, the next turnout was located at Island Trees station (Jerusalem Avenue). Four miles to the east one came to Bethpage Junction, where a spur led northeast to the brick yards just north of the present Bethpage Park. From Farmingdale the road struck southeast through a very sparsely inhabited country until joining the South Side R.R. at Babylon. On the south shore the Poppenhusens inherited the well-established facilities at both Babylon and Patchogue, the former with a siding and car shed, and the latter with terminal sidings, engine house and car sheds.
The whole Poppenhusen system traversed a fairly level country and there were few structures that required elaborate maintenance. In Long Island City there were two small wooden trestles, the first over Jack's Creek which was damaged by fire in June 1875 and later filled in, and the second over Dutch Kills. Over Flushing Creek, two were maintained by the Flushing & North Side to carry their main line and Whitestone Branch, and one by the Central R.R. for its Flushing Bay Dock spur. To the east there was only the Connetquot River trestle at Great River, plus several culverts of varying size.
The Rocky Hill cut in Queens Village represented a constant maintenance problem because of the danger of falling rocks. In March, 1872, a large rock weighing about three tons was loosened by a spring thaw and fell on the tracks. The company set a watch at the cut to warn trains of danger and their foresight was rewarded a few days later when another large stone fell before daylight, with much earth and rubble, and delayed the first train half an hour. In March of 1875 more large stones rolled down onto the tracks, but the vigilant guard gave the alarm before any damage was done. Much of the safe operating record of the Central R.R. was attributable to the guard houses, scattered at two and one-half mile intervals all along the right-of-way. These were two-story frame houses with two rooms on each floor, serving as living quarters for the track walkers.
To operate the large Poppenhusen network required a greatly increased rolling stock. Even before the Central R.R. opened, the management began the purchase of new and larger engines. In April 1872 the Farmingdale #8, and the Babylon #9 were purchased and placed in service as of July; in May, the Garden City #10 was delivered from the Rhode Island Locomotive Works and placed in service in June 1872. In August, 1873, the Hempstead was received, and the Hyde Park received from Dunkirk in November 1873. In December, the Fire Island completed the Dunkirk order; all these were comparatively large and heavy engines and designed for hauling fast expresses. On June 22, 1874, according to the newspapers, another "splendid new locomotive," not named, but from the Schenectady works, was placed in service. A newspaper note of July 1874 stated that five new locomotives had been ordered for delivery in the fall by the North Side line, but there is little likelihood that any such order was filled.
The company soon found that an even larger investment had to be made in passenger coaches. The elegance of the North Side coaches had always been the hallmark and pride of the company since 1868; the management now surpassed themselves with the purchase of "palace cars," sumptuously upholstered affairs, heavy with carving, hanging draperies, dark burnished woodwork and gilt decoration. In December 1873 three "new and elegant cars" were added to the roster, costing about $5,000 per car, a new high for that period. Before the year was out, on December 1, one of these handsome palace coaches, #36, caught fire at Hempstead station because of improper firing of the stove and was entirely destroyed.
In January 1874 the management resolved to further expand their fleet with the purchase of Pullman Palace cars on the Babylon express run. On January 20 new and elegant "palace smoking cars" were put in service on the local North Side trains. In expectation of the spring excursion traffic the company also purchased eight used passenger coaches from the United States Rolling Stock Co.; these cars had been rented to the South Side R.R. during the 1873 season, and were shunted over from the South Side to the Central track by means of a temporary switch at West Babylon.
With the beginning of the big summer excursion traffic on July 4 of 1874, the palace cars went into daily service. The papers of that day commented in awe on the silver-plated water coolers, with handsome silver cups attached to the cooler by silver chains. On July 31 another palace car was put in service, and three more were ordered from the American Car Co. for use on the Central road.
On August 8, 1874, the first drawing room palace car ever seen on Long Island was placed on the Fire Island Express. They were manufactured by the American Parlor Car Co. and cost $15,000. The carpets, parlor furniture, mirrors and curtains in this car were the last word in luxury in that day; the car made two trips a day and carried a maximum of fifty. Although there was a surcharge of 25¢, the car was always full. The first week of August witnessed the addition also of four new ordinary passenger coaches to the North Side fleet.
Although we have no evidence to shed light on the types of passenger coaches and their number series, the annual reports give us an inkling of the yearly roster increase:
Service and scheduling on the Flushing, North Shore & Central network was generally good and rarely evoked criticism, except on those occasions when some traveler's favorite train was lopped off on the change of timetable. The Whitestone Branch, always favored by the company because most of the high officials lived either in College Point or Whitestone, was served by eighteen to twenty trains a day consistently during the four-year period 1873-76. Occasional trains were short routed at College Point. The service was half-hourly during the morning and evening rush hour, and hourly to an hour and a half during the rest of the day. Fares were generally 25¢ to College Point and 30¢ to Whitestone with occasional fluctuations. The eleven-mile run usually consumed thirty-five minutes if all stops were made, or twenty-eight for expresses skipping all Newtown stops. The Whitestone Branch originated the heaviest riding on the system largely because of College Point, which had several large and many small factories (hard rubber, breweries) and a huge excursion business. The number of saloons and beer gardens in College Point far exceeded that of any other village on the road. Although the community was a large one by the standards of that day--4,500 people-- thousands more came to enjoy the shooting galleries, beer gardens, dances, etc., and the place was a mecca for singing organizations, shooting companies, and fraternal groups of all kinds. An official calculated that in 1875 $80,000 a month was spent at College Point on lager beer, retailing at 5¢ per glass. The village had its own water and gas works, three Institutes besides a public school system, and supported two newspapers.
The Great Neck Branch, with its five small village stops, originated little traffic in comparison. Bayside was a booming community in the early seventies, when the break-up of the great estates was already in progress, but with only 1,078 persons in 1875. Little Neck with 780 persons and Great Neck were small crossroad villages, with scattered houses dotting the roads beyond the villages. For the four-year period 1873-76, the branch had six or seven trains a day, never more or less. Service was given only from 8 A.M. to 7 P.M., and at intervals of from two to three hours; the fourteen-mile run from Hunter's Point was scheduled for fifty minutes' running time. The fare remained uniform because of the absence of any competition. The rates from New York to the following communities were:
Scheduling on the Central R.R. was always generous, largely because this was the prestige run of the system. The best trains operated over the best roadbed, and gave a service well in excess of the requirements of traffic. The Hempstead Branch, serving a large and well-established village, got eight trains a day in 1873, and this was increased to ten or eleven for the years 1874-76. Unfortunately for the Central, the Long Island R.R.--and, at times, the Hempstead & Rockaway railroad--also shared the patronage of Hempstead. The Central Extension eastward from Garden City had three trains a day when service opened to Bethpage and then Farmingdale. When through service to Babylon opened, trains fluctuated between seven and ten, depending on the season, running at roughly two-hour intervals. This was remarkably good service considering that the entire route ran through an unsettled territory with no villages at all to furnish patronage except the terminus at Babylon. The run from Hunter's Point through to Babylon was scheduled for one hour thirty minutes to one hour forty minutes for way trains and one hour ten minutes for the Fire Island Express, which stopped only at Flushing and Garden City. The fare structure was as follows:
|Hillside||25¢||East Meadow Brook||55¢|
|Kissena||25¢||New Bridge Road||60¢|
After the take-over of the South Side R.R.'s eastern end in 1874, the rates were reduced from 15 to 20¢ under the former South Side rates.
|Club House||1.25||Blue Point||1.45|
Besides the conventional one-way tickets, the Central R.R. sold "family tickets," being packages with a strip of thirty tickets, each good for one passage. The North Side division in December 1873 substituted commutation cards for commutation books. The holder showed the card only when requested, and with it he could travel over the road ten times a day if he chose. The strictest check on tickets on the road was at Hunter's Point, where a passenger had to show his ticket at the door of the waiting room in the depot before being allowed to enter the cars. This occasioned some tall swearing, as we learn from the papers, when a man with his coat snugly buttoned up, and his arms full of bundles, was mildly requested to show his bit of pasteboard, probably tucked away in an inner pocket for safe keeping.
Routing on the Poppenhusen system was interesting. Trains from Hunter's Point ran through either to Whitestone or Babylon (later Patchogue). Often one train did duty for both Great Neck and Whitestone; the train was broken up at Whitestone Junction on the meadows, half the cars being hauled to Whitestone by a second engine dispatched from the College Point shops, while the original engine went on to Great Neck. At other times Great Neck shuttle trains emptied their passengers out at Whitestone Junction, and left them there for the College Point & Whitestone train to pick up. After the opening of the Woodside Branch in April 1874 another routing was instituted. College Point and Whitestone trains ran through over the new branch to Woodside and Hunter's Point instead of joining the old main line at Whitestone Junction. This left the old main line free for the Central trains, and Great Neck passengers then transferred at Central Junction for their shuttle trains.
At "Long Island R.R. Crossing" on the Hempstead Plains all Central trains were required to stop, and a man was stationed at that point to make sure there was no possibility of collision with a Long Island R.R. train. A tower was erected at the crossing, which displayed colored signals in the daytime and lighted ones at night. Here passengers for Hempstead changed to the Hempstead shuttle, waiting on the spur to transport them 1.4 miles south to Hempstead village. Four trains daily ran through to Hempstead without change.
Passenger traffic on the Flushing, North Shore & Central R.R. was fairly heavy on the North Side division, but light on the Central division. From the annual reports we get these overall statistics:
Only rarely do we get breakdowns of such general figures for the different parts of the system. On a Sunday in June in 1873 one conductor who made five round trips on the North Side division turned in the following report: 11-car trains were running all day, yet there were many standees. On five westbound trips there were 105, 59, 152,531 and 640 passengers, respectively; on the five eastbound trips there were 445,317,601,142, and 73 passengers, respectively. The total number of passengers passing over the road that day was 3,065. During 1874 we read that the Poppenhusen system had captured most of the Hempstead and Babylon traffic, and that on August 16 the Central carried more passengers to Babylon and Fire Island than on any Sunday since those roads were built. A brief remark of 1874 mentions that the Fourth of July traffic that year netted the railroad over $2,000 in passenger revenue. On Sundays during 1875 the road was using seven and eight car trains all day to accommodate the Sunday excursionists.
Charter outings added their share to the company's revenues. When Garden City was first opened to the public by A. T. Stewart in 1874 for the rental of homes and farms, special trains ran every Sunday in September and October to accommodate prosspective buyers. The well-known real estate promoter, Benjamin Hitchcock, also chartered trains on occasional Sundays to transport 300 or 400 people to visit his Flushing Park development and buy lots. In September of 1875 the wealthy Mickle family of Bayside chartered a train to enable wedding guests from the city to witness the marriage of their daughter. The North Side tracks ran through their estate and their gardeners fashioned a temporary station on the grounds for the guests.
Next to College Point, the heaviest excursion traffic was to the Creedmoor Rifle Range. Conrad Poppenhusen had generously donated the land for the range to the National Rifle Association, and Creedmoor soon became the site for international competitions, as well as the practice range for the local National Guard units. Creedmoor was graded by the railroad crews and formally opened in June 1873. Every fall thereafter for many years trainloads of private shooting societies and entire National Guard units traveled to Creedmoor for meets and practice sessions. It was not uncommon to schedule train-loads of 1,000 men and more on a Sunday.
Next to passenger traffic in production of revenue came the freight traffic of the road. The Flushing & North Side R.R. originally had only its passenger dock at Hunter's Point for freight movement, but the authorities at the Point would not permit the handling of manure, the product most in demand by Long Island farmers. In the summer of 1873 the Central R.R. built a spur from Central Junction across the creek and over the meadows to Flushing Bay and then out into the water. It seems highly probable that the railroad simply took over an abandoned steamboat dock, constructed in 1855, to lure excursionists to Yonkers Island, a scheme which had fallen through. The dock must have been opened in the spring of 1873, for the Flushing Journal commented that its presence had made the shipping on Flushing Bay very active, and that all summer long it had been in constant use by scores of boats and some schooners unloading lumber, coal and manure and merchandise. Enough business was done at the dock in the 1874 season to warrant making that point the headquarters of the superintendent of the freight department of the road. A passing reference of 1875 mentioned that in March no less than eight barges and one schooner were all unloading manure at the dock.
The flourishing freight business of the road induced the company to build a new freight depot and storehouse with a 100foot platform at Vernon Avenue. The new structure was completed for use in July 1874. In February, 1874, as a result of a reduction in freight rates, the manure hauling business doubled. Large numbers of new flat cars had to be turned out at the College Point shops, and some of the longest freight trains ever seen left Hunter's Point. We are told one freight train totaled twenty-four cars, which was then followed by an equally long manure train; to move the volume of goods it became necessary to do much night hauling on the single track road to avoid interference from daylight passenger movements.
In June 1874 new refrigerator cars were put on the Central R.R. to convey fish from Babylon to New York in better condition. We read that the number of barrels of produce carried rose from 125 to 140 per day, due to the company's aggressive policy of courting business. The most unusual improvement of all was the inauguration in 1874 of the "Market train," which arrived at Hunter's Point at 2 A.M. The novel feature was that the train was placed in charge of commission merchants who not only loaded the farmer's produce, but attended to the sale of it in the city, charging only 5% for their services. By this method the farmer saved himself the long hard drive to the city over poor roads and the produce arrived faster and in fresher condition at the market. Besides this, the train's capacity for loads was far beyond that of one wagon. The plan caught on slowly but by late fall the freight depot was full of grocerymen from New York and Brooklyn buying supplies.
In March of 1875 the company arranged to expedite the movement of freight from Hunter's Point over the East River to New York by engaging a barge and renting a dock on the New York side. Hitherto all the freight had been carried in wagons over the ferry.
One of the unexpected effects of the boom in freight traffic was the decision on the part of the railroad to revive the old New York & Flushing R.R. right-of-way from Winfield to Hunter's Point, which had been abandoned in 1870. Title to this line had apparently been secured through purchase of the South Side R.R. in Hunter's Point. In the first two weeks of December gangs of laborers were set to work rebuilding the pilework and regrading the old road, and on December 22 gangs of men were set to work laying ties and iron upon it. On February 1, 1876, the work was mysteriously suspended. Though no one knew it at the time, Poppenhusen was dickering with the Long Island R.R. and this connection would then be unneeded. Again on May 1, 1876, Poppenhusen reconsidered and work began anew, but again work was halted in a few weeks' time, this time for good. After 1876 the old right-of-way permanently disappeared from the map.
The Flushing & North Side R.R. originally operated its own express business, but in February 1874 the company sold the franchise to the United States Express Co., which took over on February 8. Two years later when the contract ran out, the business was transferred to Westcott's Express as of May 1, 1876; they also assumed at the same time the conduct of the news agency.
The Central R.R. introduced the use of a railroad mail car on its routes on December 3, 1874. The car left Whitestone at 7 A.M. daily, collecting, separating and delivering all mailable matter between that village and Patchogue. It also received and supplied mail at Long Island City and the Southern R.R. at Babylon, returning to Whitestone at 5 P.M. Through use of the mail car, all of the North Side villages on the line were furnished with morning and evening mails, letters being delivered directly from one village to another. Under the old system, all letters had gone to New York and were sent out from there by train the following day. The partial sorting of mail, formerly done at the Flushing Post Office, was now all done by the Mail Route Agent on his car. Letters which formerly were delivered a day or more after mailing now reached their destination on the same day they were mailed, and in a matter of hours.
The telegraph system on the island, introduced by the South Side R.R. in the Sixties, was enlarged once more by the construction of the Central R.R. In September 1872, well before the road was finished, the poles for the telegraph were going up all along the right-of-way. By July 1873 the telegraph at Central Junction was in operation. In December the road established a telegraph station in its switch house at Winfield Junction. A Western Union employee was put in charge and it was open to the general public. This was moved in January to Winfield depot; Western Union also operated a public telegraph station at Corona depot. By the end of 1873 the poles for the telegraph line stretched unbroken all along the right-of-way of the Central R.R. from Central Junction to Babylon. In the fall of 1874 the Flushing & North Side was reported as receiving from, and sending messages to, all parts of the country, the business being done for the Atlantic & Pacific Telegraph Co. Flushing, with its three railroad stations, enjoyed the presence of three separate telegraph stations.
Despite the considerable size of the North Side railroad network, there were remarkably few accidents. Most of the known accidents were trifling, attributable more often than not to equipment failure:
- April 4, 1873--Tender derails at College Point.
- April 11, 1873--Engine "Winfield" derails coming off Whitestone turntable.
- March 7, 1873--Misplaced switch at Hinsdale derails engine and one car.
- July 14, 1873--A freight car and two flat cars loaded with brick picked up excessive speed while being switched onto a siding at Hempstead, struck two others and crashed through a bumper block.
- August 7, 1873--Slight collision at Babylon.
- September 24, 1873--Engine at Hempstead overruns the turntable and plows into the dirt.
- December 17, 1873--Switch lock breaks at Garden City, while train is taking the siding, so that the Babylon and its tender take one track and its coaches another. Trucks sprained, but no damage.
- June 18, 1874--Cylinder head on an engine at Flushing bursts, followed by the breaking of a piston rod.
- July 22, 1874--Manure on the Island Trees siding makes the passing siding so slick that one engine is unable to stop and slides into another. Only pilots of engines torn off, with no more serious damage.
- December 1, 1874--Engine Bayside breaks a piston rod. Mayor Havemeyer of New York is forced to walk to Flushing and dies of apoplexy.
- April 17, 1875--Engine Winfield derails at Whitestone.
- April 19, 1875--Steam pipe bursts on the Winfield.
- February 24, 1876--Forward truck on rear coach derails on Winfield Switch, throwing coach over both tracks.
- November 15, 1876--Engine Woodside breaks a shaft and derails at Flushing depot.
- February 1, 1877--Engine Bayside bursts a flue.
The North Side system made some definite safety efforts that may well have contributed to its good operating record. In December 1874 the road master, H. C. Moore, patented a new "frog" for railroad switches in three sections, so that repairs on the steel head would be more quickly and cheaply made. In February 1876 the railroad adopted automatic electric gates at the Skillman Avenue crossing in Long Island City. This device, so commonplace today, had just been invented by a Jersey man, and the Flushing & North Side was one of the first to be attracted by its safety features. Another safety factor of the first importance was the completion of the installation of vacuum brakes on all the North Side, Central, and Southern cars by October 1875. Another more unusual precaution was the issuance of Babcock fire extinguishers to every depot building and guard house on the line of the Central road after fire had destroyed one of the palace cars at Hempstead in December 1873.
On the single track roads of those days, faulty dispatching was one of the most frequent sources of accident. The Southern R.R., under Poppenhusen management, experienced more than one bad wreck; the Central division got by with several narrow escapes. On a pleasant day in June 1873, Mr. A. T. Stewart, accompanied by Herman Poppenhusen and several other directors, arranged a joyride for themselves in a special train out of Hunter's Point, the movements of which were not telegraphed to the station agents or to the conductors of the regular trains. On the outward trip, when at the Garden City depot, the engineer decided that there was not time enough to reach Hinsdale siding before the regular express train would arrive. The railroad officials on board, nevertheless, ordered the engineer to rush on at the rate of 60 MPH to reach the turnout. The engine started, but in the vicinity of Stewart Manor, the whistle of the eastbound express was heard. The trains were about half a mile apart when warning signals were blasted by both engineers, and the engines were reversed. Both trains were traveling so fast that a stoppage could be effected only when the engines were within a stone's throw of each other. It was fortunate that the long straight road and elevation of the track made visibility clear! Stewart and Poppenhusen both may have been able financiers, but complete amateurs at running a railroad and had no moral right to overawe the operating officials with their position and so endanger lives.
A very similar narrow escape occurred not long after. On July 17, 1875, a Creedmoor special, crowded with National Guard reservists, was steaming westward and switched off onto the siding just beyond Kissena station, as usual, to await the eastbound train. When nothing happened after ten minutes, the conductor concluded to run to the next station, putting on steam to make up for lost time. When only a few yards from Hillside station, a man was seen running down with some danger signals, and the troops were thrown into a state of the wildest excitement for a few moments, fearing that a collision was inevitable. The engine was stopped and the trackman picked up, who reported that the eastbound had been just about to start from Central Junction siding, when the smoke of the Creedmoor train had been sighted. Had a collision occurred on the meadows, many soldiers as well as regular passengers in coaches and palace cars would have been killed.
From what we can tell at the distance of almost a century, maintenance was good and the roadbed first-rate everywhere except on the North Shore division. Perhaps this was so because of the very light traffic and the fact that the road was only leased. The Flushing Times in March 1875 appointed itself the champion of the people in "exposing" the "rotten, dangerous condition" of the Great Neck Branch. A reporter walking over the roadbed between Main Street and Broadway stations found that a large number of the ties were rotten, with the result that the spikes were either loose or out altogether. Many ties could be kicked apart and the spikes drawn out by hand. Here and there washouts had left a tie loose and dangling. At the joints many bolts were loose and wooden "Dutchmen" were found breaching gaps at the rail ends. The loose ties affected the gauge in spots and the reporter marveled that an accident had not already taken place. The paper speculated on how rotten the remaining miles of road might be.
That there must have been some basis in fact for these strictures was silently acknowledged a week after the damaging evidence had appeared in print, when section hands were put to work and carloads of fresh ties appeared in Flushing. Even Poppenhusen and the seven directors thought it prudent to tour the line and see for themselves on an inspection trip made on April 22.
In bringing to a close this brief appraisal of the Flushing, North Shore & Central, let us take a look at the men who ran the road. Conrad Poppenhusen, about whom we have spoken earlier, was often in Germany almost the year around, and the posts of president, vice-president and secretary were rotated among his two sons, Herman and Alfred; Morris Franklin, an old stockholder and president of the New York Life Insurance Co.; and Loomis L. White, a wealthy resident of College Point. All through the life of the company, Elizur B. Hinsdale retained his post as secretary and chief counsel. The person closest to the work-a-day operation of the railroad was its superintendent. It was he who scheduled the trains, checked the equipment, hired and fired the employees, and made constant trips of inspection. The superintendent for 1873 was one L. F. Marshall, who tendered his resignation in July and went to work for the Long Island R.R. as train dispatcher. After a six months' interregnum, a highly capable and experienced man, Isaac D. Barton, took over the post as of December 1, 1874. He had worked for Charlick's Long Island R.R. in the Sixties, then had become superintendent of the United States Rolling Stock Co., and most recently, superintendent on the Atlantic & Great Western Railway of New York. Under Barton's energetic supervision the North Shore and the Central roads were very efficiently operated and skillfully managed. He knew how to handle men and speak their language and could be kind yet firm at the same time.
It was he who saw to it that the men got their pay from the nearest station along the road rather than journey all the way to College Point shops for it as had been the custom. He also did not hesitate to post an order directing all employees who were behind in their rent to their landladies to pay up or be fired! The ability to combine discipline with tact was a sorely needed quality in those halcyon days of railroading; numbers of the men were attracting unfavorable attention to themselves and to the company for getting arrested for drinking and brawling, and on at least one occasion the passengers were scandalized to find their engineer and brakeman sitting on the track drunk, the run being made perforce by the fireman. When the engineer was coaxed aboard, he pulled the throttle full open, and the locomotive dashed at full speed down the track, with the passengers white with terror in their seats. After Barton became superintendent, these abuses ended at onec.
The road suffered a real loss in February 1876 when Barton resigned. At the inquest on the South Side R.R. accident of July 1875, the Poppenhusens felt that Barton had given testimony in court damaging to the company and strained relations resulted. Barton was too good a man to continue working under a cloud, and he tendered his resignation as of March 1, 1876, a resignation which the directors in their foolish pride accepted. The post went to an obscure man from the Pennsylvania Railroad, John Fisk.
It is fitting in closing to honor the memory of four humble conductors of the North Shore and Central roads, Messrs. H. A. Hurlbut, Calvin Curtis, Cheshire, and G. W. Whidden, mentioned often in the Island press of the day for their popularity among the men commuters and their gallantry to the fair sex.
CHAPTER IX: Collapse of the Poppenhusen System
Even at the very moment that the Poppenhusen railroad empire was at the peak of its prosperity, powerful forces were at work undermining the system. The arch rival of the Poppenhusens in the struggle for control of Long Island's rail traffic was Oliver Charlick, president of the Long Island R.R. It will be recalled that Charlick first clashed with the Poppenhusens in 1868 when the latter began to parallel Charlick's New York & Flushing R.R. In the face of this threat Charlick considered it prudent at the time to sell out to his rivals. What he did not and could not foresee was that the Poppenhusens would soon become such formidable rivals of his own Long Island R.R. Charlick was probably reluctantly willing to sacrifice the Flushing and College Point business to his rivals, but when they joined with Alexander T. Stewart to build a large system threatening him at every point, it was time to stage a counter blow.
As early as June 1869 a rumor flew that Charlick would build a branch from his own Long Island R.R. to tap the profitable traffic of Flushing. Such a branch would attack the Poppenhusens in their own stronghold. The year 1870 passed without action and the Poppenhusens breathed easier, but in April 1871 they were horrified to learn that Charlick had quietly filed articles of association for the Newtown and Flushing Railroad. Charlick's notorious obstinacy made any ideas of dissuasion futile.
As projected by Charlick, the new road was to branch off from the Long Island R.R. at Maurice Avenue and run through Newtown, Corona, and across the meadows, entering Flushing precisely where the Poppenhusens were planning to locate Central Junction station on the Central Railroad of Long Island. Since a roundhouse and yard were to be erected there as well as a depot, the track of the Charlick road cutting diagonally across the site would ruin everything. During April 1871 Charlick was able to get the permission of the village trustees for his hand-picked route.
The Poppenhusens, furious at this invasion, brought out their own heavy artillery. In the same month of March 1871 they filed articles of association for the Flushing Village Railroad, a short line that was to utilize the Central roadbed to Lawrence Street and then parallel Franklin Avenue for about a mile to near Northern Boulevard. The hidden joker in the plan was that the road was to be built atop an eight-foot embankment, which the Poppenhusens piously protested was necessary to avoid cluttering the streets of Flushing with grade crossings. Charlick perceived immediately that the Flushing Village R.R. was designed purely to serve as a Chinese wall to obstruct his road into Flushing. Reluctantly, the two rivals were forced into a parley by the village trustees, and in June 1871 a truce was patched up. The Newtown & Flushing would still be built into Flushing, but Charlick had to shift his route one block south to avoid the proposed Central Junction depot grounds. The Poppenhusens for their part agreed to drop the Flushing Village R.R. scheme.
From November of 1871 to October 1873 the building of the rival road went on, a surprisingly long time for such a short road. Finally, on November 10, 1873 the new line opened for business. In a bid to divert traffic to his road, Charlick exerted himself to make his road outshine the Poppenhusen's. He opened a convenient depot popularly referred to as the Jaggar Avenue Station on Main Street between Forty-first Avenue and Forty-first Road on the present Loew Theatre site. He also provided all new coaches, painted pure white and assigned some of the fastest engines to the route. The new road, popularly dubbed the White Line, because of its white cars, soon cut into the business of the Flushing & North Side R.R.
In the beginning the White Line charged the same rates as the Flushing & North Side to Hunter's Point and the way stations, but within a month competition began. During 1874 the rate to Woodside and Winfield fell from 15¢ to 13¢ and then 10¢; Newtown and Corona fell from 20¢ to 15¢ and the fare to Flushing from 25¢ to 20¢. By the end of 1875 even these low tariffs were further cut by special excursion rates, books of 100 tickets, and round trip fares, making the run to Flushing and return only 15¢, Corona 15¢, and Woodside, Winfield and Newtown 10¢.
These rates were certainly ruinously low for both railroads. Oliver Charlick lost money on every passenger he carried, but stubbornly hung on, sardonically savoring the distress of his rival. The Poppenhusens tried to recoup their losses by charging the former rates on College Point and Whitestone traffic, but the residents shrewdly refused to buy tickets for their actual destination, preferring to pay only to Flushing, and then purchasing the cut-rate round trip tickets from there to New York. The Flushing public profited handsomely from the intense rivalry of the railroads. Three different railroad stations afforded a convenience never enjoyed before or since. Each road offered twenty or more trains a day each way and at the lowest possible cost. Even the ride itself provided entertainment and excitement, for, because of the nearness of the two parallel rights-of-way, the engineers of the rival trains raced each other all the way into Long Island City, flaunting the superiority of their equipment.
In February 1874 a rumor went about that Charlick was making overtures to the Poppenhusens to stop his trains on condition that he received 5¢ for every Flushing passenger carried by the Flushing & North Side R.R. It was estimated that about 1,000 persons commuted from Flushing to New York daily, which would net Charlick $50 a day or $250 a week, more than the present receipts of the White Line. Needless to say, this blackmail feeler was indignantly rejected by the Poppenhusens.
Beginning in 1873 the operation of the Central R.R. tended to offset slightly the damaging competition of the White Line by its cheap freight rates. The opening of the Woodside Branch in April 1874 also gave the Flushing & North Side R.R. an edge over the White Line, for it provided another track to Long Island City, and hence faster service to the ferries. Nevertheless the damaging competition continued. Both roads came out with package tickets of 100, and merchants in Flushing began to sell these themselves at a slight mark-up to persons who did not or could not use 100 tickets. Feeling itself imposed upon, The Flushing & North Side withdrew these package tickets in May 1875. The result of all this jockeying of fares was that people shifted their patronage from road to road, while the operators increasingly felt the financial pinch.
The bitter rivalry with the White Line at Flushing was not the only area of competition. With the opening of the Central Railroad of Long Island in January 1873 and its operation by the Poppenhusens, further fierce struggles developed at Hempstead and Babylon. The Central R.R., because of its newness and glamour, won the preference of the Hempstead and Babylon people and secured the lion's share of the New York travel. The farmers along the line appreciated the low freight rates, and a heavy traffic developed in shipping manure with trains of as many as twenty-four cars. From 125 to 140 barrels of produce were shipped daily. To attract and hold the Hempstead traffic, the passenger tariff on May 1, 1874, was reduced to $75 a year or thirty package tickets for $10.50, and nineteen trains ran in and out. The Poppenhusens scored a coup in 1874 by the purchase of the South Side system; by this stroke they eliminated most of the Central Railroad's competition and exerted crushing pressure on Oliver Charlick's Long Island R.R. The Poppenhusens had the advantage of newer rolling stock, new road bed and offered more trains than the traffic justified.
It is hard to say just how long the ruinous stalemate between the railroad giants would have continued; the situation changed suddenly with the death of Oliver Charlick on April 30, 1875. The Long Island's Board of Directors in the March meeting of 1875 realized that Charlick was dying and that his railroad war with the Poppenhusens was driving the road to the brink of disaster; to no one's surprise, therefore, Charlick failed of reelection to the presidency for the first time since 1863, and there was installed in his place as president, Henry Havemeyer, whose family was one of the principal financial backers of the road.
Feeling that the death of Oliver Charlick removed the one great obstacle to a working agreement with the Long Island R.R., President Herman Poppenhusen of the North Side line called on Havemeyer and urged him to increase rates for both passenger and freight to a tariff to be mutually decided upon by the two companies. Havemeyer rejected the proffered olive branch, and Poppenhusen countered with a threat to fight on, not only at Flushing, but at every other point where their roads touched.
On May 15, 1875, Poppenhusen implemented his threat by cutting the passenger rate to 10¢ between Flushing and Long Island City, with excursion tickets at 15¢. All the passengers who had previously patronized the White Line now rushed back to the North Side road. The following day Havemeyer cut his rates to meet the North Side's tariff. To further injure Poppenhusen and recover lost traffic, the Long Island's Board of Directors authorized the surveying and construction of some new branches, designed to tap the Poppenhusen system. One was designed to run the length of the Rockaway peninsula, and another to drop from Brentwood south to Islip and Babylon, both to siphon off the summer excursion traffic.
By June 1875 it was reported that the Flushing line of the Long Island R.R. had thus far cost the road $5,000 in excess of the receipts, while the Flushing & North Side ran $200,000 behind during the operation of the White Line. It was clear to everyone by this time that both the North Side and Long Island systems would sooner or later either break or be forced into an agreement. In the spring of 1874 there was a rumor that Charlick would sell out the Long Island R.R. to the Poppenhusen interests if they could raise the money, but nothing came of this. In January 1875 a reporter called on Herman Poppenhusen and was assured that the North Side R.R. had not the slightest interest in the Long Island R.R. On January 12, 1875, an article appeared in the New York press announcing such a sale, but it was again denied. The Brooklyn Eagle pointed out that the Poppenhusens were in no condition to buy any new roads after buying up the South Side R.R. This had been a financial strain dictated solely by the fear of Charlick purchasing the road and making another White Line of it. In May when the persistent rumor again arose, President Havemeyer of the Long Island R.R. again denied it, yet in a press interview in June he himself casually remarked that a consolidation might be forthcoming eventually.
The steady pressure of financial stringency was having its effect on the managements of both systems and the Poppenhusens took the initiative in sending out cautious feelers. These initial contacts went so well that news of an understanding eventually leaked out to the press in January 1876. As late as January 20 the two roads were still issuing denials and the press speculated on the dangers of a monopoly. On January 23, 1876, President Havemeyer and Herman Poppenhusen were observed closeted together in Poppenhusen's College Point mansion. It developed that Havemeyer had secured the consent of a majority of the stockholders of the Long Island R.R. to the change, and that there was to be a consolidation of the roads and not a sale. The transfer was made public on January 25.
On February 1, 1876, details of the deal became known. Thirty-five thousand shares of Long Island R.R. stock were sold to the Poppenhusen family for $37.50 per share, or $1,175,000. The capital stock of the Long Island R.R. was then 66,000 shares. The purchase gave the Poppenhusens a controlling interest in the management while the Havemeyers profited handsomely, for they had bought the stock at about $22, even though its par value was $50.
The union of all the competing Long Island railroads into one operating whole was a landmark in Long Island transit history and a major achievement, the significance of which was not fully realized by the public of that day. The immediate concern at that time was a fear of the effects of monopoly and a dread of runaway fare increases. Today, we can, in retrospect, see more clearly what the unification really meant--the emergence of the modern Long Island R.R., and the familiar routings and operations in practice today. The new united Long Island railroad did not wipe out the corporate existence of the component roads. The Poppenhusen blueprint called for the leasing of the newer roads to the older and financially stronger Long Island R.R., and this plan was submitted to the stockholders at the May meeting of that year. The North Side and Central system was to be leased at an annual rental of $229,250 for the first year, increasing in six years to a maximum of $351,050. For the Southern the rental was set at $173,250 for the first year and to increase in six years to $233,450. All the leases were to run 99 years.
Poppenhusen, in his address to the directors, pointed out that the new arrangement was designed to benefit all three roads alike both in the savings of about $150,000 in running expenses and in the increase of business facilities for both passengers and freight. The Long Island R.R., in accepting the leases of the other two roads, did not accept the liabilities of these roads, the mortgages on them remaining as before, but it would have the right of removing shops and depots so as to have central buildings for railroad purposes, and also the right to use the rolling stock of each company on any of the tracks.
The union of the three roads was achieved not entirely without opposition. In February a stockholder's suit was commenced against President Havemeyer to restrain him from selling Long Island R.R. stock to the Poppenhusens on the ground that it would transfer the leadership of the road to the inexperienced hands of the Poppenhusens. The court found that "it is by no means clear that the transfer of control...to persons interested in other roads would be injurious to the stockholders." In June a second suit was filed to prevent the leasing of the other roads to the Long Island R.R. on the ground that it would lead to the bankruptcy of the parent company, but this suit also failed.
The union of all the roads met with apprehension in some quarters and approval in others. Some wits suggested that the Germanization of the entire system by the Poppenhusens was just a matter of time, with Germanized names of the communities in Gothic script, and German-speaking conductors conducting all train business. Other newspaper editors approved the change and placed the highest confidence in the Poppenhusens. In mid-April the new master and his officials made a triumphal tour of the road in a special train, consisting of one engine and a dazzlingly splendid palace car, reputed to have cost $11,000. The tour was completed from Greenport to Hunter's Point, a distance of 94 miles, in one hour and forty-nine minutes, an average of 52 MPH.
The Poppenhusens lost no time in making changes on the railroads. The first and most critical reform was the raising of the ruinously low tariffs prevailing in the Flushing area. The newspapers gloomily anticipated this move, and grudgingly admitted that the fares were too low; they warned, however, that Poppenhusen should not succumb to the temptation of raising rates to a point that would injure the community and ultimately the railroad itself, and pointed out that the state set a maximum of 2¢ per mile on passenger fares.
A few commuters, sensing the change to come, rushed to the ticket offices and bought $20 worth of package tickets on the White Line. Most, however, were caught by surprise. Very quietly, on the morning of February 1, the new rates went into effect. To everyone's relief the new tariff proved to be the old rates current in 1873 before the disastrous competition of the White Line. The rates from Hunter's Point were:
|One Way||Round Trip|
The overnight change on the White Line proved the most dramatic of all; a package of 100 tickets (the bargain rate of 7½¢ a ride) rose from $7.50 to $16!
The immediate effect of the increased rates was a sharp drop in the traffic from Flushing to New York, but this gave joy to the shopkeepers who had previously seen the loss of all their trade to Manhattan, thanks to the 15¢ round trip fare. Many of the railroad personnel feared momentary dismissal, but no drastic cut occurred. Superintendent Barton, the North Side's able superintendent, resigned as of March 1 because of strained relations with the management, and the Long Island R.R.'s general superintendent Snyder succeeded him. To avoid confusion in tickets, conductors on the Long Island R.R. were notified to accept North Side and Central tickets when presented in payment for fare by passengers. In May the general business offices of the Flushing & North Side, the Central R.R. and the Southern R.R. were all transferred into one office in the second story of the Long Island R.R. depot at Hunter's Point.
The physical changes that the Poppenhusens introduced at this time were far-reaching and most significant, for they represented the beginnings of the modern track layout and operational arrangement of the present Long Island R.R. These changes made in the spring of 1876 and the spring of 1877 have persisted to our own day, and never again were so many changes made at one time as during this brief Poppenhusen regime.
The first major change was a predictable one, the suppression on April 16, 1876, of the hated White Line that had been a thorn in the flesh of the Poppenhusens for two and a half years. The tracks were not torn up, but all trains were withdrawn; there was a public outcry for the moment, but since the fares were now the same at all stations in Flushing, and two depots fully adequate to handle the traffic, the excitement soon died down. The sole reason for keeping the White Line intact at all was that there had been some difficulty in handling crowded military excursions to Creedmoor in the 1875 season, and it was decided that the White Line track would be handy to handle overflow crowds.
To permit easy movement of trains from one railroad to another, so that there would be genuine physical unification, several other interesting connections and abandonments were made:
- At Central Junction in Flushing the White Line track was connected by a curve with the Central track for the movement of freight and Creedmoor excursion trains.
- The Long Island R.R. and Southern R.R. were connected at Springfield Junction in June 1876, and passenger service abandoned on the Southern track between Jamaica and Springfield.
- The Long Island R.R. Rockaway Branch over the meadows from Springfield Junction to Cedarhurst (Ocean Point) was abandoned on June 1, 1876, all trains using the Southern R.R.'s Rockaway line henceforth.
- A switch was installed at Hempstead Crossing to connect the Hempstead Branch of the Long Island R.R. with the Central's Hempstead Branch.
- The original Long Island R.R. Branch to Hempstead south of the Central R.R. track was abandoned, all trains using the Central terminus.
- The repair and construction shops of the North Side R.R. at College Point were closed, and personnel and machinery moved to Hunter's Point.
- The South Side freight docks on Newtown Creek and at Hunter's Point were abandoned; also the North Side R.R. freight dock on Flushing meadows was abandoned.
- The Central Junction roundhouse and yard at Flushing was abandoned in April 1877.
The complete integration of all the railroads permitted an intermixture of rolling stock to a degree never before possible. In a single train one could now observe coaches painted in different colors and bearing the legends of the Southern, Long Island, White Line, and North Side roads, all coupled together. In the eighteen-month period that the Poppenhusens managed the united Long Island railroads, many worthwhile improvements were undertaken. To expedite traffic the roadbed of the North Side R.R. was widened and a double track laid from Woodside to the White Line turnoff just east of Winfield. This gave a three-track main line to Winfield and three tracks to Flushing over three separate branches. Another double track was installed on the Long Island R.R. between Willow Tree station (184th Street, Hollis) and Springfield Junction.
On December 18, 1876 as a general inducement to traffic, the Poppenhusens issued a bulletin announcing the reduction of fares from nearly every station, and special bargains in package and excursion tickets; they hoped in this way to prove that their train monopoly was a blessing to the island after all. The Poppenhusens displayed an unusual awareness of the value of advertising and good public relations. In March they announced the publication of the road's first Guide Book, a little volume that appeared shortly, full of information about the various villages, their vital statistics, tourist accommodations, etc., together with wood cuts of scenic spots.
In June the management began the summer operation of the first newspaper train on Long Island between Long Island City and Greenport. The Union News Company, which owned the newspaper franchise on the road, filled a coach and baggage car with papers, and dropped off bundles all along the route. More than 5,000 copies of the metropolitan papers were distributed by the Sunday train, to the great pleasure of the summer residents, all of which reflected favorable comment on the road.
Another popular device that evoked very favorable comment for the railroad was the institution of long-distance Sunday excursions. In July 1877 popular-price excursions were operated three times a week to Greenport and Shelter Island for only $2 round trip. Beach excursions were also heavily patronized. It was estimated that over 20,000 persons were carried on the Fourth of July and close to that number on several successive Sundays. Huge loads of excursionists from points as far distant as Port Jefferson and Oyster Bay visited Rockaway, and at the end of the season it was computed that the railroads had carried 200,000 persons to the beach, making a daily average of 2,500.
In spite of this record-breaking traffic on the united roads, and the intelligent efforts of the Poppenhusens to popularize the road, the financial situation continued to grow more and more strained every month. The first strain on the family resources had been the assumption of operation of the Central Railroad of Long Island. The next had been the purchase of the Southern Railroad in 1874. In April 1875 the family negotiated a loan of four million dollars with the New York State Loan & Trust Co., and a new mortgage was taken out on the Southern R.R. for $500,000 to rehabilitate the property. There were certain small signs that all was not well with the road but no one noticed them at the time. In January 1875 all the free passes on the North Side and Central roads were called in and everyone was obliged to pay cash fares. In March of the same year a general wage reduction went into effect on the system. On May 1, 1876 two stations on the Central R.R., Meadowbrook and Island Trees, were quietly closed down for lack of patronage, the first such contraction on the system.
Least noticed of all were the almost constant trips to Europe of Conrad Poppenhusen, senior member of the family and father of Herman and Alfred Poppenhusen. In the year 1875 Conrad spent only the month of April in this country; in 1876 he remained here only a month and a half, and in 1877 again a month. Most persons assumed that his health required these frequent ocean voyages to the old country and his stays at spas; the fact was that he was using his prestige in German financial circles to raise as much money as possible to keep the railroad system from bankruptcy. The Long Island R.R. was earning its own expenses, but the rental charges for the other two systems was an impossible burden. The Southern R.R. had heavy fixed charges to meet on its underlying bonds and because of two bad accidents in 1875, Poppenhusen dared not neglect further the maintenance on the road. To get day-to-day funds, it became necessary to pledge large amounts of stock and bonds to Drexel, Morgan & Co. of Philadelphia. The sad fact was that neither the Southern, the North Side or Central roads earned their rental, despite the record passenger traffic carried.
Besides these difficulties Poppenhusen was forced to pay several heavy judgments. Oliver Charlick, former president of the Long Island, had stubbornly refused since 1869 to pay the contractor for the construction of the Sag Harbor Branch. The contractor went to court, and after a long fight, won a judgment for $50,000 which had to be paid immediately. Meanwhile, the Havemeyer family put a lien on the road for $70,000, representing a debt due Havemeyer which had as yet not been paid. The pressure proved overwhelming. In September 1877 Conrad Poppenhusen decided to call a halt to the continuous and fantastic financial drains made upon his private purse because of the failure of the various railroads to earn running expenses. He began by filing judgments against the Southern R.R. for $374,307 and against the North Side for $410,000 representing money loaned to both these roads plus interest. Since Conrad owned nearly all the stock of both roads, he was, in effect, obtaining a judgment against himself, but it was the only way to force the reorganization and to put a stop to further financial demands.
When the courts investigated the financial structure of the two roads, a bewildering tangle of complicated financial transactions was uncovered, in which the four main railroads and their subsidiaries were closely interrelated. It developed that the strain of raising money to keep the roads solvent had been so great that not only the underlying mortgages of the different roads, but even the personal property of the Poppenhusen family, had gradually been signed over to different creditors, the chief of whom was the great banking house of Drexel, Morgan & Co. of Philadelphia. Up until 1873 Conrad Poppenhusen was worth perhaps five to six million dollars. He had founded the rubber works at College Point, the fountainhead of his wealth, and had developed almost single-handed the surrounding village, endowing it with schools, streets, the Institute and countless public improvements. He built homes for the mechanics and laborers and magnificent homes for himself and his three sons. In 1868 he resolved to connect College Point with the outside world by building a railroad, and thus he gradually became involved in the railroading business. Besides his vast holdings in College Point real estate, he invested heavily in land along the line of the Central R.R., the largest purchase being the Creedmoor rifle range.
The first disappointment had been the Central R.R. which, despite the best efforts, failed to earn its running expenses resulting in a loss of two to three million dollars. The next blow had been the inroads of the White Line; up to that time the North Side system had paid very well, but now it fell behind $150,000 to $200,000 a year. Mr. Poppenhusen never allowed the reputation of his roads to suffer. He met every obligation out of his own money. When he purchased the Southern R.R., he incurred further huge losses in his zeal to bring that road up to the standards of the rest of the system. To his great disappointment and surprise, the Southern also failed to earn its running expenses. When Mr. Poppenhusen purchased the Long Island, he increased the service on all the roads and failed to lop off duplicate trackage. The number of trains was at no time justified by the traffic and this involved further losses.
The prospect of ruin drove Mr. Poppenhusen to Germany every year to raise money, while his son Adolf was left in charge of financial matters with power of attorney. Adolf raised large sums by the assignment of mortgages, and this was used to meet the paper already afloat. Both Conrad and Adolf began to assign mortgages even on their own real estate holdings in College Point, and friends and neighbors were prevailed upon to accept the Poppenhusen holdings. So it came about that Hermann Boker, the hardware wholesale dealer; Hermann Funke, Boker's wealthy general manager; the firm of Victor & Achelis, dry goods importers; William Pauly, superintendent of the hard rubber comb department; Frederick Koenig, brother-in-law of Conrad, and others of the College Point aristocracy became creditors of the Poppenhusens. Even Conrad's sister, Caroline C., and Alfred T. and Hermann C., his two sons, pledged their real estate holdings to help their father.
In the end it was all in vain. It was perhaps the Central R.R. that really dragged down the whole system by superimposing the final crushing burden. The Central touched only three villages of importance, Flushing, Hempstead and Babylon, and all three were already served by rival roads. Even Garden City, the village for which the road had been designed and built, contributed nothing. The place had no inhabitants at all until the spring of 1874, when Stewart felt himself ready to open the hotel and rent some of the houses, and thereafter there were almost no year-round inhabitants. The road had been built to the finest standards, using the best Prussian steel, and the rolling stock was possibly the best in the country, yet the territory served was a revenue vacuum.
When Conrad Poppenhusen filed his judgment against the Southern and the North Side in September 1877, his creditors realized that the family fortune was gone at last. Drexel, Morgan & Co. and several smaller banks immediately filed as preferential creditors, and when Conrad realized that these might very well shut out the equally valid claims of his relatives and friends, he went into voluntary bankruptcy, and threw the whole matter into the jurisdiction of the bankruptcy courts. When the court opened hearings in November, it developed that there were only twenty-six creditors in all, and that only six of these had large claims:
|Drexel, Morgan & Co.||$1,214,900|
|Commerz und Disconto Bank,
|Knoblauch & Lichtenstein of
29 William Street, New York, brokers
|Hermann Watjen of Bremen||230,000|
|Frederick Koenig of Bonn||140,400|
Conrad's sole assets were two and a half million in notes made to the Long Island R.R. and almost four million in stock and bonds; of these nearly one million had already been pledged to Drexel, Morgan & Co. What the remaining securities would bring on the market was anybody's guess.
It was remarkable that both the press and his own creditors showed no rancor whatever against Conrad Poppenhusen. His prestige was so great and his personal nobility and utter honesty so universally respected, his public and private acts of beneficence and his public spirit so often demonstrated that his present fall excited nothing but compassion. His business acumen and patient industry had brought him to the top and it was sad to see the accumulation of thirty years of effort swept away, leaving him penniless in his old age.
In October 1877 the court, at the request of the creditors, placed the whole railroad system in receivership; since Drexel, Morgan & Co. were the major creditors of the road, the court acceded to their nominee for the post of receiver, Colonel Thomas R. Sharpe. He was appointed on October 23 and took possession October 26. Sharpe had had railroad experience in pre-Civil War days in the South and had held responsible positions in the Railroad Department of the Confederate Government. After the war he rose to the highest levels in the Baltimore & Ohio R.R., a Drexel, Morgan property, and the banking house, in sending him to Long Island, felt that their investment would not only be protected but even enhanced through his skill and experience.
Their confidence was not misplaced. Sharpe took the ailing railroad into his strong hands and infused some of his own energy and competence into the management of the road. He traveled continually over the road, shrewdly noting weaknesses and areas susceptible of improvement. Like a wise man, he made no sudden radical changes on the road during the 1878 season, contenting himself with improving the service and attracting the maximum patronage at a minimum of operating expense. To assist him, he brought from the Baltimore & Ohio another veteran railroader, Samuel Spencer, who was appointed to the post of superintendent. Both men took up quarters in the hotel at Garden City, a village that has since become the traditional residence for successive presidents of the road.
Within a month of his appointment, Sharpe faced a near strike of the employees on the road. The men were two months in arrears on their wages and were getting understandably restive. Sharpe summoned their leaders and promised to get the court to release funds for their wages, which was done. Operating economies were made immediately, the advent of the winter season cushioning the effects of this move. Twenty of the locomotives were laid up for repairs, twenty fewer trains were run, and 150 employees including conductors, ticket agents, firemen, brakemen and switchmen were laid off.
Savings were made in track mileage as well. The Central Road between Garden City and Babylon was abandoned completely, since it ran through empty territory, but not torn up. The Long Island R.R. line to Hunter's Point was reduced to freight operation only for the winter. The receiver also terminated all service on the Grinnell Branch or Woodside Branch of the Flushing & North Side R.R. Since all the leases of the separate roads to the Long Island R.R. had been cancelled by the court, Sharpe was required to operate each of the railroads separately and keep separate accounts, and the former joint timetable pooling all the schedules was no longer issued.
In an unusual bid for public support, Sharpe asked the advice of employees and patrons of the road as to the scheduling of trains, so as best to accommodate the public and expressed his desire to meet their wishes and requirements and assure their comfort and convenience. In February he issued a circular to the farmers of the island offering them special facilities and cheap rates; if desired, trains would even stop between stations and pick up and drop off freight. On April 1, 1878, cheap new freight tariffs were issued, plus reduced rates for single excursion and commutation tickets. During March the first known "fisherman's special" was operated and a fish freight established to the east end. Because of the low rates, only 27¢ per 100 pounds to New York and 8¢ per 100 pounds for delivery, large quantities of flatfish and flounders were shipped to market from Sag Harbor.
During the spring season service was speeded up appreciably by the introduction of fast expresses on the Hempstead and Port Jefferson Branches, twenty minutes or more being cut from the running time. Many stations originating light traffic were reduced to way stations where trains stopped only on signal. The Rockaway travel to the beach was pushed as never before; trains ran every Wednesday and Saturday from Whitestone via Winfield; on Tuesdays from Glen Cove via Rockaway Junction; on Thursdays from Port Jefferson via Rockaway Junction, and on Fridays from Patchogue via Valley Stream. The round trip rate for all these was only 75¢.
Because of the increased traffic, Sharpe was forced to rebuild the Hunter's Point terminus of the Long Island R.R. On May 27, 1878, the old Flushing & North Side depot was vacated and all the trains used the Long Island depot. The old buildings were then used for a freight depot and were slated in time to be razed. Between May 1-26, 1878, Receiver Sharpe completed another important track connection, this time at Floral Park, between the Long Island track and the Central R.R. track. The old Central track crossed the Long Island on an iron bridge and then ran east on an embankment through Floral Park. The connection was accomplished by a long gradual curve almost half a mile long built at grade level. With this improvement which was placed in service on May 27, 1878, the portion of the Central R.R. between Garden City and Floral Park was used as the main line to Hempstead. In mid-June a second track connection at Floral Park was completed enabling Long Island R.R. trains from Hunter's Point and Brooklyn to turn north onto the Central track to reach Creedmoor.
During the month of April 1878 Mr. Sharpe tore up the old Long Island R.R. track in Main Street, Hempstead, which had lain disused for two years. In removing the platform a young bonanza was found in the shape of stray pennies and other small coins which had fallen through the planks over the past thirty years.
The spring of 1878 marked the retirement of the Poppenhusens from the active management of the railroad, and in a sense, the end of our story. Drexel, Morgan & Co., who owned all the stock as collateral, voted it to install all their own men, and of the former officers, only Poppenhusen's old counsel, Elizur B. Hinsdale, remained on the board, this time as counsel to the receiver.
The new year 1879 signalled the end of the once proud Central R.R., opened with such eclat only six short years before. In February 1879 Mrs. Cornelia Stewart sued Receiver Sharpe for failure to pay rental on the portion of the Stewart road within the limits of the Stewart estate, (New Hyde Park to Bethpage), as required by the successive leases of 1873, 1874, and 1876. The receiver in rebuttal admitted the lease of 1873 and 1874 but pointed out that the Long Island R.R. was only an under-tenant, the Central being leased directly to the Flushing & North Side, and passing to the Long Island R.R. in 1876 merely as an appendage of the North Side system. If pressed for payment of a large rental, Mr. Sharpe informed Mrs. Stewart that he would abandon operation of her road and leave her with a worthless and inoperable section of track without engines or cars, and unneeded by the Long Island R.R. Mrs. Stewart perceived the truth of this argument, and since the destiny of her husband's Garden City was involved, she accepted a compromise. In return for forfeiting her claim for $90,000 for rental of the Stewart road, Sharpe agreed to run at least seven trains each way daily through Garden City.
Convinced that the Central R.R. could not, and never would, earn its expenses, Col. Sharpe, as part of his economy drive, announced the abandonment of another large slice of the road, this time from Central Junction in Flushing to Creedmoor as of May 1, 1879. Then, on July 9, 1879, the million-dollar first mortgage on the Central was foreclosed, with interest since March 1877. The company's entire property was put up for sale, excepting the sixteen miles of the Stewart-owned portion, the lease of which was to go with the sale. As might be expected, the sole bidders at the sale were two agents of Drexel, Morgan & Co., who bid in the property for $50,000, part of which was payable in the bonds and coupons of the road, and the majority of which they already owned. In mid-October Receiver Sharpe notified the residents along the route that the rails would be torn up and all the depots and trackwalkers' houses removed. This action destroyed about five miles of the old Central right-of-way; the little one-mile stub north of the Long Island R.R. main line track that terminated at Creedmoor was left intact because of heavy annual military traffic to the Rifle Range. All that was now operated of the former extensive Central road was the stretch from Floral Park to Garden City and the branch into Hempstead; sixteen miles of road eastward to Babylon lay unused and weedgrown, but physically intact.
We must now turn our attention to the North Side road, set adrift to get along as best it could after the dissolution of the system by the courts. The North Shore section, extending from Flushing to Great Neck, built as a separate road in 1866, and operated all these years by the Flushing & North Side under lease, was foreclosed by the bondholders in September 1880, and Thomas Messenger, president of the Queens County Bank in Flushing, was appointed receiver for the road, taking possession as of December 1. Three months later the Flushing & North Side R.R. was itself foreclosed and sold at auction December 11, 1880. Again, predictably, the road was bought in by Drexel, Morgan & Co.
Meanwhile, other important changes were taking place on the Long Island R.R. itself. Drexel, Morgan & Co. was approached by a syndicate of bankers headed by Austin Corbin, owner of the hotels and railroad at Manhattan Beach, with an offer to buyout the Long Island R.R. and all its branches. During the year 1880 negotiations were perfected, and on January 1, 1881, Austin Corbin entered into possession of the Long Island R.R. system, supplanting Thomas R. Sharpe, the receiver.
Corbin immediately reorganized the old North Side line and re-incorporated it as the Long Island City & Flushing R.R. Co. on March 21, 1881. The new road was then promptly leased in August to the Long Island R.R. for a period of fifty years; this was a necessary move, for the North Side R.R. owned no rolling stock of its own and logically was a natural part of the Long Island R.R. system.
When Austin Corbin took possession of the North Side road, he found himself in the peculiar position of operating trains not only from Long Island City to Flushing, but also over the North Shore R.R. to Great Neck as well, a section of railroad he neither owned nor leased and with whose receiver he had no operating agreement. He therefore sent a communication to the North Shore R.R.'s receiver, Thomas Messenger, informing him that after August 14, 1881, he would no longer operate trains over his road. Mr. Messenger was in a bad position; he owned no rolling stock whatever, and the physical condition of his road was chronically far below standard. He appealed to Mr. Corbin to continue the old arrangement, now sanctified by years of custom, and reminded him of the hardships that would result for the residents of Bayside, Little Neck and Great Neck. Reluctantly, Mr. Corbin advanced the date to August 20 on condition that Mr. Messenger would undertake immediate and extensive repairs to the roadbed.
The bondholders of the North Shore road, faced with the prospect of an assessment for repairs, refused to do anything, and instead charged that no proper accounting had been made to them during Sharpe's receivership and that Corbin was stopping the trains solely to depreciate the property, with a view of becoming its owner at a nominal fee. Corbin refused to make any new concessions and on August 20, 1881, the trains stopped running. This created a small complication at Flushing. The Main Street depot now became a stub terminal and it soon became necessary to run shuttle trains between here and Whitestone Junction on the meadows to serve the people of Flushing.
The residents of Bayside, furious at being forced to rely on stagecoaches to reach Flushing, got an order from the courts directing Messenger to issue certificates to raise funds to repair the road and reopen it immediately as far as Bayside, using Long Island R.R. equipment. Operation beyond this point would involve use of the Little Neck trestle and draw which was considered in dangerous condition, but even Corbin conceded that the track to Bayside was in good repair. Corbin refused to loan the rolling stock unless protected against loss by accident.
An accommodation was finally reached by the two receivers under pressure from the courts. A group of public-spirited citizens executed to the Long Island R.R. a bond of $10,000 for the security of the Long Island R.R. rolling stock, and on Saturday, September 24, 1881, train service was resumed to Bayside after a suspension of five weeks. The effects had been already noticeable; tourists cut short their stay and business men their residences at country seats. Surveyors were dispatched over the road on October 4 to ascertain what repairs were necessary to open the remainder of the line. Again a bond was privately executed to the Long Island R.R. to guarantee the safety of the trains on the remainder of the line to Great Neck, but Messenger made no move to operate. The residents went into court and secured a peremptory order, requiring Messenger to show cause why he should not be removed from his office or be punished for not complying with the order of the court. His health impaired by all this unaccustomed turmoil and pressure from all sides, Messenger sickened and died on October 18, 1881.
The court, which had meantime ordered the bankrupt road to be sold, held a sale on October 22, 1881, and the road was knocked down to the bondholders for $50,000. To everyone's surprise and contrary to rumor, Austin Corbin made no move to purchase the North Shore road. The trustees for the bondholders undertook the repair and management of the road and in January, 1882, reported to the court. The road to Bayside had been operated from September 17 to October 9, 1881, at a loss of over $1,300, and for the entire three months previously to December 27, at a loss of $3,500. The trustees asked that the persons who had directed the road to be run should indemnify them against future loss and pay the indebtedness. A further disaster occurred on March 16, 1882, when the Little Neck drawbridge collapsed into the water, ending all traffic on the road. It was discovered that the A-shaped frame which supported the bridge, had given way while the bridge tender was in the act of opening the draw for a boat, and the bridge had completely collapsed. When the court and the new receiver, Thomas H. Messenger Jr., heard of this blow, the court instructed Messenger to discontinue the running of trains on and after March 31, 1882.
Faced with the prospect of constant future expenses to keep the road running, and always at a loss, the trustees met and resolved to salvage whatever they could on their investment by selling it to the Long Island R.R. After considerable dickering on the price, Austin Corbin was at last induced to buyout the derelict road in April, 1882. Thus, after fifteen years of semi-independent existence, the corporate identity of the North Shore R.R. was extinguished. Two years later, Corbin quietly conveyed the old North Shore to the Long Island City & Flushing on October 2, 1884, and the Long Island City & Flushing itself was merged into the Long Island R.R. on April 2, 1889. In this way the whole rail empire of the Poppenhusens became submerged in the Long Island R.R.
The passage of seventy-five years has done little to alter the situation until the mid-Thirties. Most of the old Flushing & North Side R.R. is still operated today in full from Long Island City to Great Neck, with a later extension to Port Washington, but the competition of the subway with its five-cent fare forced the disappearance during the depression of the Whitestone Branch on February 15, 1932. The Central R.R. between Flushing and Creedmoor was never revived. A valiant attempt was made to re-activate the line in 1914-1916, but this was defeated by the increasing cost of materials in World War I and a franchise dispute with New York City. Part of the segment between Creedmoor and Floral Park still remains today years after the abandonment of the Rifle Range in 1910. Of late years the spur serves largely to bring coal to the State asylum and to service one or two coal yards. In 1949 the track was torn up between Hillside Avenue and Winchester Boulevard for a garden apartment development, and in 1955-56, houses were built on the right-of-way for two or three blocks east of Winchester Boulevard. The remainder seems destined to last for the immediate future.
The Central road inside Garden City was finally sold outright by the Stewart heirs to the Long Island R.R. in 1893, terminating the former annual leasing arrangement. During the 80's and 90's and up to about 1898, all the fast trains to points beyond Babylon ran via the Central R.R. Then, possibly as an economy measure, this routing ceased and the Central Extension was allowed to run down. Nevertheless, it was kept in skeletal repair for decades, altho lightly used. Regular local freight service (carload lots of manure, potatoes, etc.) continued until at least the mid 1920's. In 1908 the railroad used five miles of the plains section as an experimental line to test out various types of catenary construction, and built mock tunnels, etc., to measure clearances in connection with the building of the Pennsylvania tunnels. Thereafter, the lonesome stretch again fell into disuse.
In 1915 the Long Island Rail Road instituted trolley service over the short stretch between Garden City station and Clinton Road, where a new brick station had been erected, in connection with the residential development of that area. With the outbreak of World War I in 1917 and the establishment of Mitchel Field and the Rainbow Division encampment east of Clinton Road, the trolley service was extended to the field and then very shortly afterwards to "Salisbury Plains" at Merrick Avenue. Surprisingly, this trolley operation lingered on until 1933, providing a shuttle service for the residents of eastern Garden City, and for visitors to the Meadowbrook Hunt Club and the Salisbury Golf Course. Occasionally, special multiple-unit electric trains ran to Meadowbrook during the International Polo Matches.
Shuttle passenger service between Garden City and Salisbury continued with M. U. electric trains during the 1930's; during World War II the service operated to Mitchel Field and lasted until May 15, 1953. The year 1961 saw the final abandonment of passenger service on the Central Extension, when the L.I.R.R. withdrew the Roosevelt Raceway Specials because of the refusal of the Raceway officials to contribute to the cost of the service.
In 1925 the disused Central Extension between Farmingdale and Babylon was extensively overhauled for the use of through trains to Babylon and points east, this change being necessitated by the electrification of the Montauk Division. At the same time, however, this rehabilitated stretch was linked up to the Main Line at Farmingdale (Bethpage Junction) and the plains section cut back to Stewart Avenue, Plainedge. Once this track connection was broken, the remainder of the Central Extension on the plains was doomed.
During World War II the Salvage Division of the War Production Board considered tearing up the long disused and weedgrown plains track, and asked the LIRR to give up the unused rails. To the surprise of the railroad it was discovered that the rails were already gone, and the railroad was accused of abandoning without permission. An investigation disclosed that the rails had, in reality, been stolen by a scrap dealer living near the right-of-way, who claimed that someone had sold him the rails. In his own defense he testified that he had assumed the seller was an authorized representative of the railroad. Since no additional rails were available in wartime to re-lay the road, and there being no need for service, the Long Island applied to the Office of Defense Transportation and the regulatory bodies for post de facto permission to abandon, which was granted.
In 1946, in order to bring building materials to the huge new Levittown development, the rails were re-laid eastward to a point just east of the Wantagh Parkway, where a temporary freight terminal was set up. The track crossed the parkway at grade and trains were flagged across. As soon as Levittown was completed, the track was cut back to the rear of the Meadowbrook Hospital, where coal was occasionally hauled in. Finally, the opening of the Meadowbrook Parkway and the laying out of Salisbury Park by the county in the late 1950's further cut the track back to the present Roosevelt Raceway terminus. A line of high tension wires still marks the old right-of-way all the way to Bethpage. Thus, after almost a century roughly half the old Central Railroad trackage has disappeared, but the other half still forms an indispensable part of the present Long Island Rail Road, a living memorial to the energy and vision of those two great Long Islanders, Alexander T. Stewart and Conrad Poppenhusen.
Roster of Passenger Stations
- WHITESTONE BRANCH
Whitestone: Temporary wooden depot erected October, 1869. New permanent depot opened on January 30, 1871 on Fourteenth Road between 149th and 150th Streets. Ground dimensions of the building were 86 x 23. It was built in the form of the letter H, the central part being one story high, with towers on either end two stories in height; whole structure brick with Croton facing brick. Main floor contained ticket, telegraph, waiting and baggage rooms. The towers contained 5-6 rooms each for the living apartments and offices of the station master. The building lasted till the end of rail service on February 15, 1932.
College Point: On 127th Street at Eighteenth Avenue. Two-story brick edifice with Mansard roof. Opened for use Saturday, August 14, 1869. Lasted till the end of rail service on February 15, 1932; demolished 1934.
Bridge Street: Located just north of Northern Boulevard. Opened August 14, 1869. Lasted till the end of rail service on February 15, 1932. Two-story station building with Mansard roof built October-November, 1870. New brick station built 1893.
- MAIN LINE
Main Street: The original terminus: Site donated by William Redwood, owner of a mansion just north of the tracks. Depot built by Sylvester Roe in December, 1853, fronting on Main Street. In the rear were located a frame engine house with a turntable and a car shed. Station burned down 4 A.M. on Sunday morning, October 30, 1864, along with the car shed. Second depot: built January and February, 1865, on the same site. Nothing is known of the style or dimensions. Third depot: Built October-November 1870, south of the tracks. Brick, fronting 50½ feet on Forty-first Avenue, and 80½ feet in depth, extending back to the track. High platforms. Building destroyed November-December, 1912, on electrification of North Side branch. Fourth station: opened October 4, 1913.
West Flushing: The West Flushing Land Co. erected "a neat Gothic depot" on the east side of 108th Street on the north side of the railroad track in September 1854. It is uncertain when this station was abandoned.
Fashion Race Course, later West Flushing, later Corona: Known as West Flushing until June, 1872, when the Post Office was opened under the name of Corona. The depot was built on the west side of National Avenue in March, 1855. The race pens were located on this street which led directly north to the Fashion Race Course. Service opened April 2, 1855. Station became the West Flushing depot when the 108th Street station was abandoned. A new depot was erected in September-October, 1872. This building burned down on December 9, 1880. In the same month the Corona Park "White Line" depot, abandoned four years, was moved to Corona and installed on the site of the burned building. In September, 1894 the old "White Line" building was demolished and a new one-story brick station was built and opened in September, 1894.
Newtown: (Elmhurst) Locality known as Newtown until fall of 1896 when the Post Office changed the name to Elmhurst; in June, 1897, the L.I.R.R. officially changed the station name. Site donated for a station in January, 1855. A building mentioned as housing both depot and post office is mentioned as existing in December 1860. In October 1888, a new brick, one-story structure was built, 22 x 40, with bay window and slate roof, and opened in December, 1888.
Winfield: Winfield was laid out as a village in 1854 by the developers Andrews and Kendall. In July, 1854, they erected a depot at their own expense on the southeast corner of Fiftieth Avenue and Sixty-ninth Street. Building moved to Winfield Junction in August, 1876, to serve both roads.
Woodside: Village did not exist in New York & Flushing days; station opened by the Flushing & North Side R.R. on November 15, 1869. Located on the north side of the tracks and on west side of Fifty-eighth Street. The two-story frame building with peaked roof in the center continued in use till the grade crossing elimination of 1914; demolished 1916.
Maspeth: On January 15, 1855, a station was established at Covert Avenue, now Fifth-eighth Street at Fifty-fourth Drive. So far as is known, there was no depot building. Station discontinued very early, probably 1858.
Penny Bridge (Calvary Cemetery): At Laurel Hill Boulevard opposite Meeker Avenue. The penny toll to cross the bridge at this point continued to be collected until 1881. No evidence of a station building. Abandoned on November 14, 1869, when route was changed.
Hunter's Point: In a description of 1854 we read that a stone embankment extended from the shore line into the river, and piling from there into deep water. Atop this was the depot, described by a contemporary as "a cheap, comfortless painted shanty, entirely open at each side and end...it is built upon a singularly narrow and wedge-shaped pier, at which the steamboat and cars effect a decidedly awkward meeting." Under Oliver Charlick's management a new dock 700 feet long and with a new depot and ferry house built upon it was begun in May, 1859, and finished in 1860. This building was abandoned as a passenger station March 31, 1862, after which all passengers used the Long Island R.R. depot. A new Flushing & North Side depot was begun October 29, 1869, at Fifty-first Avenue between Second Street and the East River. On November 15, 1869, trains began running into the new station. Covered passageways led to the ferries; station refurbished March 1874. In June 1872 the station was enlarged along the west side of Second Street for the use of the Central R.R. by means of a new iron depot 190 x 48 with a car shed 77 x 54. The Flushing & North Side station closed May 27, 1878. In July, 1878, the building was refurbished and reopened for the use of the Long Island's Brighton Beach service, which began using the station on August 6, 1878.
- WOODSIDE BRANCH
Grinnell: The sole station on the Woodside Branch was opened April 27, 1874. The station was located probably at Junction Avenue and Thirty-fifth Avenue. Named after D. C. Grinnell who owned the land in this area. In December, 1875, a depot was erected and opened. Service on the Woodside Branch abandoned October, 1877. Building mentioned once in July, 1882, as still existing.
- GREAT NECK BRANCH
Broadway: One of the original stations which opened with the road on October 27, 1866. Located on the north side of tracks and south of Northern Boulevard. Nothing is known about the construction of a depot building.
Bay Side: One of the original stations which opened with the road on October 27, 1866. The name is always written as two words. Located on the north side of the tracks and east side of Bell Boulevard. No information is preserved on when a depot was built.
Douglaston: One of the original stations opening with the road on October 27, 1866. Located on the north side of the railroad and west of Douglaston Parkway. Depot built April-May, 1867, at the expense of William P. Douglas, owner of most of the land in the area, and named "Douglaston" in his honor, though listed on timetables as "Little Neck" from 1866 to June, 1870. Depot repaired and furnished with a freight platform in June, 1870. Made into a two-story building summer of 1871. In April, 1887, Mr. William P. Douglas and others of the village contributed $6,000 to erect a new depot in the Queen Anne style; it was completed in June, 1887. The original depot was moved to a private site on Little Neck Parkway, where it was still in use as a storehouse in 1914.
Little Neck: Depot built February-May, 1870, on south side of the tracks and east of Little Neck Parkway. (Old House Landing Road). Building erected by Benjamin Wooley, 16 x 26, two stories, with high platform in front, 75 feet long. Cost $1,500. Station opened July, 1870, as "Little Neck", superseding earlier Little Neck station, which reverted to the name of Douglaston.
Great Neck: Original terminus when road opened on October 27, 1866. Station site and nine acres all about donated by Daniel T. Smith in 1864. Station located north of railroad and east side of Middle Neck Road. Originally called "Great Neck"; on table of November, 1869, first called "Brookdale"; reverts to "Great Neck" again on table of May, 1872. Both names used jointly 1872-75. Thereafter always "Great Neck". The original station was replaced by a new structure in October, 1883.
- CENTRAL RAILROAD OF LONG ISLAND
Central Junction: One of the original Central stations; opened January 8, 1873. Depot building completed July, 1873. Abandoned as a station April 30, 1879. Located at the head of Sanford Avenue at Delong Street.
Hillside: Station first appears on the timetable of April, 1874. Located at the present crossing of Main Street and Rose Street. Abandoned as a station April 30, 1879.
Kissena or Kissena Park: Station first appears on the timetable of June, 1873, and is last listed on that of August, 1876. Station reopens in June, 1877, and is re-named "Kissena Park" on timetable of October, 1877; is abandoned April 30, 1879. Depot located at Kissena Boulevard. In 1877-78, the Poppenhusens who owned the land, placed the realtor Hitchcock in charge of developing the surrounding area under the name of Flushing Park, or popularly, Hitchcock Park. Station building bought by the Grady family of Flushing and used as a private home until the night of May 8, 1918, when it burned down.
Frankiston: Station located at Seventy-third Avenue. (Black Stump Road) at 208th Street. This locality had for 200 years been known as Black Stump and occasionally in the 19th century as Union Place. Why the Central R.R. should have chosen to call its station "Frankiston" is an unsolved mystery. There was no family of that name anywhere in the area, nor any such landmark. Loomis L. White, the second largest stockholder in the Central R.R., bought all the land around the station in April, 1871, as a real estate speculation, and it is possible that it was he who, for some unknown personal reason, chose the name "Frankiston". Station building erected by E. W. Karker & Co. of College Point in April and May, 1873. The station is first listed on the timetable of June, 1873; abandoned April 30, 1879.
Creedmoor: One of the original stations; opened January 8, 1873; abandoned April 30, 1879. Station building built June-July, 1872, by Grossmann & Karker of College Point; 40 feet long x 22 feet wide; platform 170 feet. This was one of the most important stations on the line. Located on the south side of the tracks at Range Street.
Hinsdale: Depot built in June, 1872, by Grossmann & Karker of College Point; 70 feet long x 22 feet wide with an ornamental tower in the center of the building in the Swiss chalet style. Depot platform 170 feet long. One of the original stations, opened January 8, 1873; abandoned April 30, 1879. Located on the south side of the track at 254th Street, just north of the Jericho Turnpike. Sold for $300 in March, 1883, and removed in April, 1883.
Hyde Park: Station first appears on the timetable of June, 1873, and is last listed October, 1876. Reappears in June, 1878; station finally abandoned April 30, 1879. Located at New Hyde Park Road on the present Stewart Manor station site.
Garden City: The showpiece station of the railroad, as befitted Stewart's own Garden City. Located on the north side of the tracks at Park Avenue and Seventh Street. A large square brick building with a mansard cupola in the front and high platform in the rear. Built October, 1872-April, 1873. A brick freight house was added October-November, 1874. One of the original stations on the road, opening January 8, 1873. Original depot replaced by a new structure in August, 1898, built just west of the original one.
L.I.R.R. Crossing: Station first appears on the timetable of January, 1875, and last appears on timetable of November, 1875. This was probably located inside the present Garden City Wye. There is no evidence of any station building.
Hempstead: Construction on depot building was begun October 16, 1872; a substantial brick structure just west of the carriage sheds of the Presbyterian Church and facing on Fulton Street. Placed in service January 8, 1873. In 1878 the Central station became the main Hempstead station for all trains.
Meadowbrook (Westbury): Station is first listed on the timetable of May, 1873. A depot building was contracted for in July, 1873, and may have been built. Discontinued as a station May 1, 1876. Station located between the present Merrick Avenue and the Meadowbrook Parkway.
New Bridge Road: Station first listed on table of April, 1874. It is uncertain whether a station building was ever built. There was a hotel and coal yard at the station in 1874. Station last listed on the table of October, 1876.
Island Trees (Hicksville): The name of the locality was derived from a stand of trees which rose up out of the treeless prairie of the Hempstead Plains like an oasis. Station is first listed on the table of May, 1873; station abandoned May 1, 1876. The station building was located at Jerusalem Avenue in today's Levittown. In December, 1875, a telegraph office was opened and operated by the station agent, Mr. William Place. The passing siding was located here.
Central Park (Jerusalem): First listed on the timetable of May, 1873, and last listed in October, 1876. As of February, 1874, there was neither depot nor freight house, but Mr. Smith, the agent, used one of the rooms in his own house for a public waiting room. The station was located on the east side of Stewart Avenue in today's Plainedge. A side track was installed for freight cars in January, 1874, and a swing pole for farmers to load hay and straw onto the freight platform.
Bethpage Junction: First listed on the table of June, 1873; abandoned October 1, 1877. Located at the junction of the Central R.R. right-of-way with the L.I.R.R., where the Bethpage Branch used to branch off. No known station building.
Bethpage: Passenger service opened as an accommodation to farmers beginning November 9, 1874, with one round-trip a day. During 1876 and 1877 summer service only was provided. Station appears to have been located at Winding Road and Battle Row, Old Bethpage, just north of the big Stewart Brick Works. There is no evidence of a station building.
Farmingdale: Station first listed May, 1873. Station building erected in August-September, 1873. Train service discontinued June 1, 1876. Station located on the east side of Main Street just south of W. C. Dupignac's Hotel. Mr. Dupignac, Jr. served as station agent. A freight house was erected by the railroad in April-May, 1874.
Breslau: A station was opened here in June or July, 1873; last listed on the timetable of March, 1875. The station was probably located at Wellwood Avenue, Lindenhurst. As of July, 1873, no depot had yet been constructed.
Belmont Junction: A station was maintained here from January, 1875, to the end of 1876. In September, 1874, the Central R.R. built a freight depot with platforms, and removed the telegraph office from the Central R.R. Babylon depot to this place.
Babylon: A temporary station at the Merrick Road and East Neck Road with covered platforms was maintained from August 1 to October 17, 1873. In September-October, 1873, the permanent depot was completed between Carll Avenue and Fire Island Avenue. The station building was 38 x 60, with 300 feet of platforms around it. An engine house and turntable adjoined the station. In April, 1874, a freight house, 26 x 32 with a platform 10 x 100 was added. After November 9, 1874, all trains ran through to the South Side R.R. station and the Central station was abandoned. In June, 1875, the engine house and freight house were removed to the South Side depot grounds, where they replaced the original engine house and baggage house, which were then torn down. In May, 1876, John Lux, operator of the Washington Hotel, facing the station, bought the abandoned Central depot and moved it on May 18-19 to the southeast corner of his property on Railroad Avenue, where it was converted into a private dwelling.
Roster of Rolling Stock
- NEW YORK & FLUSHING R. R.
#1 Flushing--Rogers, December, 1853.4-4-0. Arrived at Hunter's Point week of May 6-13, 1854. Cylinders: 13" x 20"; Wheels: 60"; Weight: 18 tons; Tender: 2 tons.
#2 New York--Builder uncertain, December, 1853. 4-4-0. Arrived at Hunter's Point week of May 6-13, 1854. Cylinders: 13" x 20" Wheels: 60"; Weight: 18 tons; Tender: 2 tons. Either the New York or the Flushing plunged through an open draw into Jack's Creek on November 29, 1864. It was fished out in January, 1865, repaired and restored to service.
#3 Manhasset--Possibly Danforth, Cooke & Co., 1864. Arrived in Flushing on March 25, 1864. Later sold to the Long Island R.R. about 1871, where it became the Corona #46.
#4 Uncle Tom--Built by the Boston & Providence R.R. in 1851 as the Dedham. Sold to the Fitchburg & Worcester, where it became the Uncle Tom. Came to the Flushing R.R. in April, 1866, by which time it had been modified to a 4-4-2 tank. Fell into Flushing Creek from a dock on May 16, 1868, sustaining damages of $300. Recovered June 3.
- FLUSHING & NORTH SIDE R. R.
#1 College Point--Rogers 1868, delivered second week of August, 1868; placed in construction service September 15, 1868. Cylinders: 13" x 22". Drivers: 60" ; Type: 4-4-0. Later became the Long Island R.R. Newtown #4. Rebuilt to 4-4-0 tank engine in 1885. Transferred to the Atlantic Avenue Division in November, 1880.
#2 Whitestone--Rogers 1868, delivered second week of August, 1868; cylinders: 13" x 22"; Drivers: 60"; Type: 4-4-0; Weight: 28 tons. Plunged into Flushing Creek through an open drawbridge on December 13, 1870. Fished out on March 18, 1871, and sent to Rogers for overhauling. Re-entered service July 4, 1871. Later became the Long Island R.R. Whitestone #5. Rebuilt as a tank engine in 1885. In the renumbering of 1898 it became #296; gone by 1906.
#3 Flushing--Rogers, March 1869. Cylinders: 13" x 22"; Drivers: 60"; Type: 4-4-0. Later became Long Island R.R. Flushing #2.
#4 Woodside--Rogers 1869, arrived week of August 15, 1869. Cylinders: 13" x 22"; Drivers: 60" ; Type: 4-4-0. On September 10, 1869, at 6 :45 A.M., the boiler blew up at Main Street depot. Later became the Long Island R.R. Woodside #3.
#5 Bayside--Builder uncertain, November, 1869. Placed in service January, 1870. Cylinders: 13" x 22"; Drivers: 60"; Type: 4-4-0. Later became the Long Island R.R. New York #1. Rebuilt at some unknown date as 4-4-0 tank engine.
- CENTRAL RAILROAD OF LONG ISLAND
#6 Newtown--Rhode Island Locomotive Works, 1871. Ordered April 29, 1871; placed in service May 29-June 3, 1871. Cylinders: 15" x 22"; Drivers: 60"; Type: 4-4-0. Boiler blew up at the Whitestone station on September 25, 1872. Later became the Long Island R.R. Bayside #6.
#7 Winfield--Rhode Island Locomotive Works. Factory claims delivery May, 1871, but newspapers say September, 1871. Placed in service October 4, 1871. Cylinders: 15" x 22"; Drivers: 60"; Type: 4-4-0. Boiler blew up at College Point on June 11, 1879. Later became the Long Island R.R. Winfield #7. Retained same number in renumbering of 1898.
#8 Farmingdale--Rhode Island Locomotive Works. Factory claims shipment as of April, 1871, but newspaper report arrival of engine on April 30, 1872. Put in service July, 1872. Cylinders: 15" x 22"; Drivers: 60"; Type: 4-4-0. Later retained same name and number on the Long Island R.R. In the renumbering of 1898, it became #9. Gone by 1906.
#9 Babylon--Rhode Island Locomotive Works, 1872. Received April 30, 1872. Put in service July 16, 1872. Cylinders: 15" x 22" ; Drivers: 60" ; Type: 4-4-0. Later became the Long Island R.R. Hinsdale #10.
#10 Garden City--Rhode Island Locomotive Works, 1872; delivered May, 1872. Placed in service June, 1872. Cylinders: 16" x 22"; Drivers: 66"; Type: 4-4-0. Smokestack ripped off the engine on June 28, 1872. Later became Long Island R.R. Garden City #11. Retained this number in renumbering of 1898.
#11 New York--Rhode Island Locomotive Works, August, 1872. Cylinders: 16" x 22"; Drivers: 66"; Type: 4-4-0. Later became Long Island R.R. Hyde Park. Gone by 1898.
#12 Hempstead--Brooks, August, 1873. Cylinders: 15" x 22"; Drivers: 6 1½"; Type: 4-4-0. Later became the Long Island R.R. Babylon #12. In renumbering of 1898, it became #3.
#13 Hyde Park--Brooks, 1873. Received November 21, 1873. Cylinders: 15" x 22"; Drivers: 61½"; Type: 4-4-0. Later became Long Island R.R. Hempstead #13. In renumbering of 1898, it became #4.
#14 Fire Island--Brooks. Ordered December, 1873. Date of delivery unknown. Cylinders: 15" x 22"; Drivers: 61½"; Type: 4-4-0.
- PASSENGER CARS
- FLUSHING R.R. AND NEW YORK & FLUSHING R.R.
Eaton, Gilbert & Co. of Troy, N. Y. Six passenger cars, built 1853, two seating forty to sixty passengers and four seating sixty or more.
Cummings Car Co. of Jersey City, N. J. (?) In July, 1866, the newspapers record the arrival of "several splendid passenger cars". added to the New York & Flushing R.R. "within the last week."
- FLUSHING, NORTH SHORE & CENTRAL R.R.
Although the cars of the Flushing, North Shore & Central R.R. are hardly more numerous than the engines--only about thirty-two in all--our records of them are far more fragmentary. The cars are seldom if ever mentioned by number in contemporary newspapers, and only occasionally did the editors of the Seventies record the arrival or the maker of any particular new shipment. A notice of September, 1872, expressly states that the passenger cars were manufactured as follows:
- Taunton Car Co., Taunton, Mass.--10
- Wason Mfg. Co., Springfield, Mass.--4
- Osgood-Bradley Co., Worcester, Mass.--2
- Company shops, College Point, L. I.--?
From a careful analysis of all the scattered newspapers notices on car deliveries, the following tentative roster is derived:
Taunton Car Co.--2 cars, ordered April, 1871, placed in service December 7, 1871; 2 cars, delivered December, 1871; 2 cars, delivered March, 1872; 1 car, delivered April, 1872; 2 cars, delivered May 4-11, 1872.
Wason Mfg. Co.--2 cars, delivered September 6, 1872, cost $6,000 each; 2 cars, delivered September 1872.
Osgood-Bradley--2 baggage cars, delivered September, 1872.
College Point Shops--1 Palace car, made January, 1871; 1 baggage car, made July, 1871.
In January, 1874, eight passenger cars were purchased from the United States Rolling Stock Co.
Car #32 burned up at Hempstead depot on December 1, 1873, the fire in the stove accidentally igniting the woodwork.
Car #20 mentioned June 29, 1874.
"A stove, which is in one corner of the car and enclosed for safety by an ornamental iron closet, furnishes hot air to iron pipes, which coil under the seats throughout the cars and serve to keep passengers' feet warm in any location and any weather. The stove closet is kept locked and is in charge of the brakeman. The seats are Buntin's patent, being chiefly composed of ornamental cast iron with silver plated iron rests; the backs and bottoms are of wire so worked and painted as to resemble cane."
- January, 1873
- FREIGHT CARS
Taunton Car Co.--3 long flat cars, delivered July, 1871.
Wason Mfg. Co.--10 long flat cars, delivered on April 27, 1872.