Sunday, January 20, 2013

100 Years Ago on Second Avenue

New Lines and Third-Tracking of Interborough
and New B.R.T. Routes Come Up for Approval

This was the headline in the
New York Times on January 3rd, 1913.

So you ask, what's this all about?

Around this time period, 100 years ago, the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) was pressing the New York Public Service Commission for approval to add a third-track, for express service, on its Second, Third and Ninth Avenue elevated railway lines in Manhattan.

In this posting we'll take look at the IRT's efforts to add a third-track to the Second Avenue Elevated Line -- nearly 100 years ago.

Before we get to that, let's look at some of the history of the Second Avenue Elevated, which operated from 1882 until 1942.

The Metropolitan Elevated Railway Company began initial construction of the Second Avenue Line on February 24, 1879.

At that time, the population of New York -- (then comprised only of Manhattan and parts of the Bronx) -- was about 1.2 million.1

Map and Guide of the Elevated Railroads of New York City
H. L. Latimer, 1881

The company's design (for the Second Avenue line) called for sufficient space to lay three elevated tracks. However, during the initial build, only two tracks were laid.2

It was reported that initial construction of this line, as well as the other "el's" as they are sometimes called, was not without conflict. There were reportedly long battles over rights to air, property, light and access.

An article in Scientific American in October 1879 described in some detail the early construction efforts at that time,
"For a distance of four miles a perfect network of gas, water, and sewer pipes was encountered, making a special plan necessary for each foundation.

The most troublesome pier of all was that at 108th street, where the center of the pier was directly over a large sewer which received two large inlets within the area of the foundation, and the problem was further complicated by the presence of a 30 in. gas main and two croton water pipes.

Though twenty piles were enough to carry the piers under ordinary conditions, it was necessary at this point to drive 82 piles to get proper bearings, and to use 130 cubic yards of concrete, a massive cast iron bed plate, and 80,000 bricks.

In all nearly a thousand tons of iron are said to have been required in arching over pipes in the 2,400 foundations for piers.

In making these foundations 60,000 cubic yards of rock had to be blasted and removed under the most exacting conditions, and 80,000 cubic yards of earth.

Five steam pile drivers were employed in driving 300,000 lineal feet of piles for foundations in marshy places.

The engineer in charge gives the amount of lumber used in the piers at 800,000 feet board measure, there were required, in addition, 50,000 cubic yards of sand for mortar, 80,000 cubic yards of broken stone for concrete, 70,000 barrels of cement, and 21,000,000 bricks.

One contract for iron for the superstructure called for 80,000,000 pounds."3

The first section of the Second Avenue Elevated, from Chatham Square to 65th Street, was opened for service on Monday, March 1st, 1880 at 5:30 a.m - amazingly just one year after construction had begun.

When the line opened, none of the stations were yet complete. the New York Times reported that "the ticket-sellers yesterday sat on temporary pine boxes, resembling the boxes which ornament the street corners on election day."4

By August 16, 1880, all structures and tracks were ready for operation, and trains were operated from South Ferry to 127th Street, then the extreme north limit.5

By 1884 the Manhattan Railway Company had taken over the Second Avenue Elevated when the Manhattan Railway, Metropolitan Elevated and New-York Elevated companies were merged into a single company.

Then in 1903 the IRT secured control of the elevated railway lines in Manhattan when it leased all of the franchises and property of the Manhattan Railway Company. The term of IRT's the lease was 999 years.6

The elevated line was operated using steam powered locomotives until the turn of the century when efforts to operate electric trains were introduced.

The first regularly scheduled electric train service operated in late 1901. By September 2nd, 1902, all of the steam powered locomotives had been removed from service on the elevated line.


In early 1914 a final decision was made to add a third track to the Second, Third and Ninth Avenue elevated railroads in Manhattan. Construction contracts for the work were awarded to three firms: Terry & Tench Company, Snare & Triest Company, and the T. A. Gillespie Company.

With an additional track, each line would be able to offer one-way express service during the rush hour periods.

Third-tracking work on Second Avenue began in 1914 and was completed in early 1916, without the need to shut down the existing service on the line.

The express stations on the Second Avenue Line were constructed at the City Hall, Chatham Square, 14th, 42nd, 86th and 125th Street stations.

In some locations, the construction of express stations was found to be quite difficult due to the narrowness of certain streets.

To overcome this problem, so-called "hump" stations were constructed at some of the planned express station locations. This resulted in the express track being elevated above the local tracks, for example at the 86th Street station, and access to the express platform was provided via the local platforms.

The images that follow were taken during 1914 and 1915. They appear to be construction progress photos that were taken to document the work of the contractors.

At some point, the images were turned over to the New York Transit Museum, which is where I found them during a recent visit to their archives.

Please Note:
The black & white images from the New York Transit Museum
may not be reused in any format without the prior written
consent of the Transit Museum. The quoted caption below
some of the images was provided to me by the Transit Museum.

Courtesy of New York Transit Museum
"Photograph from the street level looking west down 92nd Street on the Second Avenue Elevated line prior to the addition of a third track along the line to allow for express service."

If you look carefully at the image above, you can see the 3rd Avenue Elevated line (up the hill) in the distance.

92nd Street, SE corner - looking West

And here's the same view as above but nearly 100 years later.

The only clearly visible object that appears in both images would appear to be the fire hydrant on the NW corner of the intersection. (The actual hydrant is not the same.)

Courtesy of New York Transit Museum
"(4) RI-9 S4-A 2nd Avenue - 91st Street / Bent 678"
looking North

At this location, the contractor is constructing new outside platforms at the 92nd Street station. Once this was done, the existing wooden center-island platform, which is visible in this image, would have been removed to make room for the new third track.

The buildings to the left of the station were part of George Ehret's Hell Gate Brewery and the Jacob Ruppert Brewery that once operated in this neighborhood.

At their peak, the two breweries owned almost three dozen buildings between Third and Second Avenues and 90th and 94th Streets. The Hell Gate Brewery and Ruppert Brewery ceased operations in 1929 and 1965 respectively.7

Courtesy of New York Transit Museum
"Photograph from the mezzanine floor looking north toward 92nd Street Station on the Second Avenue Elevated line. This work is being conducted as part of the addition of a third track along the line to allow for express service. George Ehret's Hell Gate Brewery is shown on the left."

Note the two men at the top of the image above, working on the station structure.

Courtesy of New York Transit Museum
"Sec. 4A #302 - New stairway and mezzanine floor. Bent 683. 92nd Street Station, Second Avenue, East Side"

The new stairway (shown above) at this station is being built to provide access to the new outside platforms.

Look carefully and you can see two street cars. The somewhat blurry car in the foreground would appear to be a horse drawn car, which is commonly referred to as a horsecar. Horsecars were still in use in parts of New York City as late as 1917.

Courtesy of New York Transit Museum
"Photograph of a new stairway and mezzanine floor on the west side of the 92nd Street Station on the Second Avenue Elevated line."

Courtesy of New York Transit Museum
"Sec. 4A - #491. 92nd Street and Second Avenue Station.. Looking North from 91st Street."

In the image above, you can see that the new outside platforms at the 92nd Street station are now complete and in service.

Courtesy of New York Transit Museum
"Photograph from the street level of the 92nd Street Station on the Second Avenue Elevated line looking south from Bent 685."

This would appear to be a view looking south from a point between 91st and 92nd streets.

Note above, the street car in the distance and the lack of overhead trolley wires. Street cars on this line picked up power using a technique known as conduit current collection, meaning the power was collected from the conduit between the tracks using a device called a plow.

Courtesy of New York Transit Museum
"Survey photograph of the Second Avenue Elevated line at 92nd Street looking South."

Courtesy of New York Transit Museum
"Photograph of a new stairway and mezzanine floor on the west side of the 92nd Street Station on the Second Avenue Elevated line."

Just south of 92nd Street, west side of Second Avenue - looking NE

And here's the same view nearly 100 years later.

The red brick building on the NE corner of the intersection above appears in both images. (Look closely at the roof line of the building facade in both images and you will see that they match.)

Frank Goldsmith /
Undated photograph (probably around 1940)

A southbound Second Avenue Elevated local train at the 92nd Street station - after the 3rd track was added.


Now let's have a look at the work in and around the 86th Street station location.

Courtesy of New York Transit Museum
"Sec. 4A #66? - 84th Street Looking North from Bent 633."

Workers in the image above are installing the iron beams that will be used to support an elevated "hump" track at this station. The original station will be on the lower level, with two local tracks and side platforms. The third track for express service will be one level above the local tracks, on the "hump track."

Note above the lack of any type of safety equipment or protection such as hard hats, safety harnesses or netting under the workers.

Courtesy of New York Transit Museum
"Sec. 4A #677 - Between 85th & 86th Streets. Looking North from Bent 641."

Another view of the "hump track" at the 86th Street station.

Courtesy of New York Transit Museum
"Sec. 4A #743 - From Bent 642 through express station [at] 86th Street & Second Avenue."

Above is a view of the express platform under construction at the 86th Street station.

Unknown photographer / War of Yesterday
ca. 1940
Second Avenue looking north at 86th Street station.

And a view of the same upper level "hump" express track at 86th Street, 25 years later.


The Second Avenue Elevated remained in service until the early 1940s.

The last run over the full length of the line departed South Ferry at 11:16 p.m., on Tuesday, June 11, 1940. It arrived at 129th Street, its final destination, at 11:51 p.m.8

The portion of the line south of 60th Street remained in service for two more years, until June 13, 1942.  It was reported that there were two hundred passengers on board the six-car train that pulled out of South Ferry station, on the "last run" of the Second Avenue El, that evening.9


1. Reeves, William Fullerton, The First Elevated Railroads in Manhattan and the Bronx of the City of New York, New-York Historical Society, 1936, p. 32.

2. "Rapid Transit Facilities," New York Times, February 25, 1879.

3. "The Progress of Elevated Railways," Scientific American, Vol. XLI, No. 17, October 25, 1879.

4. "More Elevated Facilities," New York Times, March 2, 1880.

5. Reeves, William Fullerton, The First Elevated Railroads in Manhattan and the Bronx of the City of New York, New-York Historical Society, 1936, p. 22.

6. "Manhattan Road Leased," New York Times, November 27, 1902.

7. Gray, Christopher, "Where the Streets Smelled Like Beer," New York Times, March 21, 2012.

8. "Two 'El' Lines End Transit Service," New York Times, June 12, 1940.

9. "200 Take Last Ride on 2D Ave. Elevated," New York Times, June 14, 1942, p. 47.

Recommended Reading:

The 2nd Avenue Elevated

Manhattan and Bronx Elevated Railroads
1920 System Track Map
By Michael Calcagno

Time Traveling on the Second Avenue El
A trip back in time on the New York City Second Avenue El

Riding the El - Second Avenue / part 1
Riding the El - Second Avenue / part 2
Riding the El - Second Avenue / part 3
By Joe Brennan
Jan/Feb 2011

Frank K. Hain and the Manhattan Railway Company
By Peter Murray Hain

The First Elevated Railroads in Manhattan
and the Bronx of the City of New York
By William Fullerton Reeves
New-York Historical Society

Second Avenue El in Manhattan
By Joseph Cunningham

On a related topic...

When the Second Avenue Elevated line was discontinued in 1942, some of its coaches were acquired by the Richmond Shipyard Railway in California.

One of these coaches, No. 561, survives to this day and can be found, in operable condition, at the Western Railway Museum in Suisun, California.

Jack Snell / via Flickr

According to the Western Railway Museum, the car was built in 1887 as Manhattan Railway Car No. 844 by the Gilbert Car Company of Troy (Green Island), New York. In its early days, it was pulled by a steam engine.

When the elevated lines in New York were converted to electric power, Car 844 was subsequently equipped with electric propulsion equipment.

Jack Snell / via Flickr

The interior of Car 844.

Here's a listing of the recent additions
to the right-hand column of The Launch Box:

MTA Second Avenue Subway Newsletters
Issue VIII - January 2013

Lex Av/63rd St Station Area

72nd St Station Area

86th St Station Area

96th St Station Area

Off Topic

The 100th Anniversary of Grand Central Terminal
Friday, February 1, 2013


The Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Metro-North Railroad will open Grand Central Terminal to the public on Friday, February 1, 2013 for the celebration of its 100th Anniversary with a full day of activities. This will include a morning public re-dedication ceremony and various musical performances.

February 1 also marks the opening of “Grand By Design: A Centennial Celebration of Grand Central Terminal,” a major new exhibition produced by the New York Transit Museum that showcases the history and impact of Grand Central in its first century. The exhibit will be open Feb. 1 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and runs through March 15, 2013.

Further details can be found on these two links:

Grand Central: 100 Years Grand
Official website

100th Anniversary of Grand Central Terminal
MTA Metro-North Press Release

Readers may also be interested in these three links:

100 Years of Grandeur
The Birth of Grand Central Terminal
By Sam Roberts
The New York Times

A Recap of Events: Grand Central’s Centennial
By Emily Moser
I Ride The Harlem Line

Happy 100th, Grand Central Terminal!
By Emily Moser
I Ride The Harlem Line


martindelaware said...

Were the "130 cubic yards of concrete" for the "troublesome pier" at 108th Street encountered during excavation for the new Second Avenue Subway?

The Launch Box said...

The work described in this section of the posting took place in 1879 during construction of the Second Avenue Elevated Line.

The reason that I included the large quote, from Scientific American, was in part to draw the connection between the work on Second Avenue then, in 1879, and now.

Workers on both projects struggled with the maze of utilities under the roadway surface.


martindelaware said...

I'm aware that the "troublesome pier" was constructed in 1879, but I was wondering whether it was removed when the elevated line was demolished in 1942. I just realized, though, that subway construction in the 1970s only reached down to 109th Street, not 108th. I guess we'll find out whether the pier's still there during Phase II of the subway project.

The Launch Box said...

Most likely the "troublesome pier" at 108th street is still there.

The pictures that I've seen of the demolition on the Second Avenue El in 1940-42 do not include any images of piers being removed from below grade.

I do know that the contractors working on Phase I of the SAS did come across brick piers, from the Second Avenue El, when they were excavating at street level.

One of these old piers can be seen in this Launch Box posting:
May 11, 2008 w/updates


Unknown said...

Great photos at 92nd St showing the Geo. Ehret's Hell Gate Brewery. I am always on the lookout for images of what was once the largest brewery in the world...

Unknown said...

It was wonderful to read you thanks for sharing such a great information.