The Elevated Railways Pre: 1887


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For years and years, the New York newspapers, merchants, bankers, brokers, and people generally, who lived uptown and did business downtown, discussed all sorts of plans for securing more rapid transit than omnibuses or the street railways afforded from one end of the island to the other. Underground roads for steam propelled cars were projected, and one was actually tunneled for a short distance under Broadway.

 At last it was discovered that the best present and most practicable means of travel was above, rather than on, or even under the street, and, this determined, the great boon of rapid transit was soon secured. it would have cost millions to remove sewers and gas and water pipes, or to change their direction, and millions more to secure the right of way under foundations, blocks, and buildings for an underground road. Such a scheme was impracticable, if not impossible.

The Metropolitan Elevated Railways

The first of the new roads from the Battery to Central Park and beyond, was opened June 5, 1878, and on the first day 25,000 persons availed themselves of this novel means of travel. Running through some of the side streets on the west side of the city till it reached the broad Sixth avenue, thence to Central Park, five miles from the starting point, it was pushed as rapidly as it could be built to the Harlem river. Very soon afterwards, the same corporation built another road on the east side of the city, also extending from the Battery, till it reached the Bowery, and then through Third avenue to Harlem. And as soon as the immense advantage of these up-in-the-air roads was seen, still other branches shot upward, till now the main thoroughfares are fairly grid ironed with these elevated iron roads. It is as if the lower part of the city were the palm of a great hand with gigantic iron fingers stretched out to grasp Westchester county.

How The Roads Are Constructed

The pillars which support the roads are rolled iron, set deep in the ground beyond the reach of displacement by frost, and all the supports and girders, though seemingly light and frail, are secure and substantial. Where the streets are narrow, the roadway is bridged across by girders from side to side; in the broad Bowery the tracks are carried on rows of pillars close to the barb on each side of the street; and in Third and Sixth avenues they rest on columns at each side of the surface railroads, and are bridged at the top by iron girders. The roads are not ornamental to the city. They spoil the fronts of many fine buildings. They destroy the privacy of second floor tenements past which they run. The smoke blown into the windows, and the ashes, water and oil dropped into the street, and in some places on the sidewalks, occasion much complaint; they darken some stores and places of business, particularly at the corners where the stations and stairways to the same are erected; the noise of the cars is a nuisance; and the companies pay nothing for real or assumed damages to private property, and not a dollar tot he city for the privilege of using and running over the most public thoroughfares. But the advantages in rapid transit, in the increased value of up-town property and the constantly increasing trade and p population, by bringing back thousands who have been forced to live out of the city, but who now find tenements at reasonable rents on the upper end of the island, more than compensate for all the real or imaginary damage these roads have done to individuals or the city.

Stations and Equipments

The stations on these roads occur at frequent intervals, so that houses can be reached within a block or two almost anywhere, and the routes are available for short as well as long distances. The cars are superbly furnished with spring cushion seats handsomely upholstered and ranged on each side of the length of the car, so as to give a wide passage through the middle for entrance and exit. Nicely carpeted floors, plate glass windows with adjustable blinds, and neat ornamentation throughout, make the cars attractive to passengers, and the absolute security for the safety of the traveler renders accidents of any kind very rare. Nervous people may fear that the cars might run off the track and tumble down into the street; but there are sure safeguards against that or any accident that might occur from a broken axle or wheel. Millions of people securely travel every year over these elevated roads, which combine safety with speed. The trains run between the stations at the rate of thirty miles an hour, and for the whole distance, making all the stops to let off and take on passengers, at the rate of sixteen miles an hour. All the principal elevated railway companies are consolidated in one corporation.

Upper New York

The greatest advantage to the city by the opening of the elevated roads, was the almost immediately increased value of real estate on the upper part of the island. In the first year after the trains began to run, more than 500 houses were built above Fiftieth street, full 400 of them being second class houses, at reasonable rents, for the small-salaried and working classes who, hitherto, had been compelled to find cheap homes on Long Island, in New Jersey, or elsewhere in the country. To these, the saving in time alone, in going and coming to and from their houses to their work or places of business, is an immense advantage. The city population has been increased by thousands by bringing back these people. Trade of all sorts which goes to feed, furnish, and supply these families with the daily necessaries of life is proportionally benefited. The immense advantage in real estate has not only enriched individuals, but has added to the revenues of the city; and the extensive building enterprises, which will go on till all the vacant spaces are covered with streets and houses, give employment to thousands of mechanics and day-laborers. The large slice of Westchester county recently comprised within the city limits, became immediately valuable by means of rapid conveyance thereto, and the elevated railways have added incalculably to the growth and wealth of the city, and to the convenience and comfort of the people. The whole upper part of the city is now as accessible to the citizen or the stranger, as Union Square used to be, when the only means of transit were the street cars and omnibuses.

One curious effect of these roads upon certain kinds of retail trade was noticed within a year after their opening. Men who had moved their stores and shops from down-town, found that either they had not moved up far enough, or that they had better move back again to their old locations. Business men do not stop to make retail purchases on their way home, as heretofore. Either they buy at shops near their own places of business, or wait until the cars take them to places near their homes. Hence book, picture, and similar stores flourish in Nassau street, and first-class tailor and shoe shops do a good business, even in Broad and other down-town streets.


Website: The History
Article Name: The Elevated Railways Pre: 1887
Researcher/Preparer/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Wonders of a Great City; or; The sights, secrets and sins of New York; being a wonderful portrayal of the Varied Phases of Life in the Greatest City of America. by Matthew Hale Smith Chicago, People's Pub. Co.,1887
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