Sunday, August 16, 2009

Botanical Garden II

Last time I told you how I learned about the unique greenhouse-like station house at the Third Avenue El terminal at Bronx Park. But there are actually three things that make the terminal unique. The other two are its location and its lower level.

Let me set the scene with a quick historical review. The Third Avenue El was one of the four elevated railways built in Manhattan in a burst of activity from 1878 to 1880. As opened in 1878 by the New York Elevated Railroad, it ran from South Ferry to the end of Third Avenue at 129th Street. Rapid transit was promoted by civic groups and real estate developers because it made possible the expansion of the city beyond the range of commuting by slow street vehicles. A decade later, the same coalition of interests promoted an elevated railway in the Annexed District, later known as the Bronx. The first section, including a terminal at 129th Street and Third Avenue and a Harlem River bridge at the head of Second Avenue, was opened in 1886. Built mainly over Third Avenue, the Suburban Rapid Transit line ran through the neighborhoods already growing around stations on the New York and Harlem Railroad that paralleled it just a few blocks to the west. Compared to the Harlem Line, the elevated railway had more frequent service and a lower fare, but it was a slower ride. As for convenience, passengers going to the business district in Manhattan by either route needed to change trains, at Grand Central or at 129th Street, until through service began operating in 1893 from the Suburban line into the Third Avenue El (Manhattan). The Suburban was extended as far north as Tremont Avenue (177th Street) by 1891 but construction then stalled.

The extension to Bronx Park that we are concerned with happened at the start of the twentieth century, just as the City began construction of subway lines and the transit interests began consolidating companies. The Manhattan Railway, operating the four Manhattan els since 1879 and the Suburban since 1891, constructed the extension just before and after its acquisition by the Interborough Rapid Transit system. The first section up to the end of Third Avenue at Fordham Road (Pelham Avenue at the time) was pretty straightforward, just a continuation of the same type of elevated structure, and was opened to traffic in July 1901. It brought the el to a major east-west road, to St John's College (called Fordham University from 1907), and to the Harlem Line's Fordham station.

For the last stretch to Bedford Park, the company originally wanted to cut over to Webster Avenue at Fordham Road and run over Webster to a final station at 201st Street. The city's Rapid Transit Commission approved this and other elevated extensions in March 1898, but the company rejected the franchises in May because of conditions placed on them. However, by 1899 the company was secretly planning to build to Fordham using the original Suburban Rapid Transit franchise, which also provided for continuation north from there on private property. In January 1900 the state's Board of Railroad Commissioners ordered the extension built, and a week later the Manhattan Railway officially announced that they would build to "the Bronx Park at Bedford Park Station". Construction was underway in June.

However, only the section to Fordham seems to have been put under construction, and as of its opening in July 1901, the continuation to Bronx Park was not even started. A letter to the New York Times back on January 8, 1900, warned that company officials were talking only of extending to Fordham and asked whether it was because of "a niggardly unwillingness to purchase the strip of land which is required for the section northeast of Fordham station". I haven't been able to determine whether that was the sticking point, or whether the company were still trying behind the scenes to get an acceptable franchise via Webster Avenue, but according to an article I'll be citing shortly, the strip of land was acquired "early in 1902".

As constructed, the elevated railway crossed Fordham Road and into the strip of land, private property acquired from St John's College, following along the east side of the Harlem Line. The steel viaduct continued to the end even though there was no street underneath. The end of the line was in a strange landlocked location not directly adjacent to any street. Webster Avenue lay on the other side of the New York Central's Harlem Line, and Southern Boulevard lay even closer but could be reached only if the City's Parks Department would provide a footpath in Bronx Park land.

If this was the Manhattan Railway's second choice, it was not a bad one. The station would serve the neighborhood of Bedford Park, across Webster Avenue, whose residents had campaigned hard for the extension. It would also be an off-peak traffic generator provided Bronx Park access could be arranged. The New York Botanical Garden was just being built and laid out at this time on lands very close to the terminal site. Parts of the large greenhouse now known as the Enid Haupt Conservatory opened in 1900. And lastly the private property also provided much-needed space for terminal facilities, with a wider four-track viaduct and possible use of the land below the viaduct.

Here's an aerial view that we saw in part I, and a satellite view from Google Maps annotated to show the locations.

Land boundaries of 1902 are shown for park land (green), St John's College (maroon), and the Manhattan Railway (blue). The tracks, platform, station house, and walkways are shown in black. The City built an apartment block for senior citizens in the 1980s in former park land.

Joe Cunningham (see part I) reports in A History of the New York Subway System, 1976, that the station opened on May 21, 1902. At that time it seems to have had access only to Webster Avenue. Notice that the elevated railway terminal and the footbridge to Webster Avenue did not encroach on park land. Only the path to the Botanical Garden was inside the park.

The photograph below, taken by Bernard Linder on June 17, 1951, shows the station and the footbridge over the Harlem Line. From the Bulletin of the New York Division, Electric Railroaders' Association, for August 2009.

The Journal of The New York Botanical Garden for March, 1903 had an article on the elevated railway terminal, accompanied by a photograph. Immediately below is the postcard we saw in part I, and under it is the photograph from the Journal.

The point of view of the Journal photograph is almost identical with the postcard, but it was taken at an earlier date. We get a better look at the walkway and the station building with the shrubbery not yet in place. The grounds in the foreground are in a more raw state, and the lamps have not yet been mounted at the start of the walkway to the station.

From the article:


Early in 1902 the Manhattan Railway Company arranged to extend its elevated railroad from Fordham northward to the southwestern corner of the Garden, having purchased from St John's College a strip of land bordering the right-of-way of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad Company.

The Manhattan Railway Company requested of the Board of Managers of the Garden the privilege of an entrance to the Garden at this point, and after a careful study the following agreement was entered into on April 29, 1902:

The Garden will upon request of the Company forthwith construct a platform designed to afford access to the grounds of the Garden in Bronx Park from the terminal station of the Company adjoining the grounds of the Garden at Bronx Park, said platform to extend from said station along the southerly portion of the Bronx Park about three hundred feet ; and will connect the easterly end of said platform with a path leading to other paths to all parts of the Garden, for use when the Garden is opened to the public.

The approach and viaduct called for in this agreement were constructed during the summer and were opened for use in the autumn. ... The approach from the Garden is of rubble masonry, built of crystalline dolomite quarried from a ledge of this rock which was exposed in grading east of the public conservatories ; this approach is 130 feet long, providing a path 15 feet in width, and it opens against the traffic road of the Garden, leading directly to a path to the public conservatories, which intersects other paths leading to all parts of the Garden. The viaduct connecting this approach with the terminal Bronx Park Station is about 200 feet in length, built on brick piers and has an ornamental iron work cornice and parapet on each side ; the walk, both of the approach and viaduct, is of concrete.

The total cost of the approach and viaduct was $15,426.72, which amount was paid over to the Garden by the railway company, in accordance with the terms of the agreement.

I was hoping to read that an architect involved with the Garden's greenhouses worked on the elevated railway headhouse, but nothing at all is said about the design of the station house. At any event the dates don't line up: the terminal was open on May 21, but the contract with the Garden was dated less than a month earlier, April 29. It's possible the elevated station was still unfinished when it opened, and got its greenhouse roof later in 1902, but my guess is that it was designed that way from the start in faith that access to the Garden would be worked out.

Besides the path to Bronx Park, something else was not completed even as late as February 3, 1903, when a New York Times article blames the "non-completion of the Bronx Park station" for a delay in implementing increased train service until Monday, February 9. The elevated railways were operated by steam locomotives until a massive conversion program to electrical operation was undertaken in 1902 and 1903. Electric operation on the Third Avenue (Bronx) elevated line began July 1, 1902, about three months after Third Avenue (Manhattan), but a mixture of steam and electric trains ran for a time. The schedule changes in February 1903 probably represent the new faster running times made possible once the last steam trains had been withdrawn.

Above are track plans for 1903, left, and 1920, right. 1903 is by H T Raudenbush for Electric Railroads, a publication of the Electric Railroaders' Association. 1920 is by Alan Paul Kahn for The Tracks of New York / number 3 / Manhattan and Bronx Elevated Railroads, Electric Railroaders' Association, 1977.

The Suburban Rapid Transit was built as two tracks with an island platform between the tracks at each station, as shown at 183rd Street and Fordham Road in the 1903 plan. The structure was modified in 1915 to have three continuous tracks, with side platforms at most stations, to allow for express trains in the main rush hour direction. As shown in the 1920 plan, 183rd Street was a local stop and Fordham Road was an express stop.

The 1920 plan also shows the Webster Avenue extension that was approved in 1913 and opened in 1920. This was practically the routing the Manhattan Railway had requested to begin with back in 1898, except that now it had to be grafted onto the constructed route. It was not possible to continue straight on from the Bronx Park station, not only because of the greenhouse station house blocking the way, but mainly because the city would not allow an elevated line in park land. The first elevated railway had been allowed to run through Battery Park in the 1870s, but fighting the encroachment became a perennial political issue even as late as 1900. No further occupation of park land could ever be allowed. The extension had to branch off south of the Bronx Park terminal.

Keeping the Bronx Park terminal open as a stub off the new main line was useful for operational reasons. Ridership was lower north of Fordham Road, so it made sense to turn back half the trains (or more) at Bronx Park. And on the extension, north of Gun Hill Road the Third Avenue trains had to merge with subway trains, so not all the el service could operate there anyway.

And of course, the terminal had something else in that the company wanted to keep: the lower level. You thought I forgot, right?

As Myron Levitsky wrote (part I), under this portion of the elevated railway there was "a kind of scrub parkland". At the Bronx Park terminal, the Manhattan Railway economically used the available space under the el structure for a storage yard.

Joe Cunningham mentioned how trains got down there: a car elevator. This is a singularly inefficient way to move trains up and down, compared to even a single track ramp, so you know something strange was going on.

The lower level was used to store something that people today would never expect, something that was taken out of storage each spring and put back each fall, like you'd put things away in the attic.

Open cars. They had rows of bench seats running all the way across, and half-doors for safety, but otherwise they were open along the sides. They also had curtains that could be pulled down in case of rain. One demonstration car arrived in January 1902, and the main order of 35 more arrived from May to July 1902.

The photograph below of the first open car was taken early in 1902 at the 99th Street Yard in Manhattan. Staff, like the gentleman standing on the left, stood on the little end platform and worked the doors with the big levers you can see on the ends. The striped curtains are just visible below the roof line.

From The Tracks of New York / number 3 / Manhattan and Bronx Elevated Railroads, Electric Railroaders' Association, 1977. I date the photo to early 1902 for two reasons. First, the first car was only briefly numbered 142 as we see here, and then renumbered 1219 to group it with the other open cars, 1220 to 1254. Second, the old car partially seen on the far left dates to the opening of the Third Avenue El in 1878, and all of its type were retired at the end of steam service in 1903. I know the location by comparison to other photos of 99th Street Yard that show the tower and the curving track in front of it.

On June 1 the New York Times reported passengers on the few cars in service as saying "it is too good to be true". The usual "faultfinders" expressed their doubts:

The passages for entrance are somewhat narrow, and it was at first feared that some people, particularly women with voluminous skirts, would have some trouble in stepping on and off the cars. ... Some humorous incidents occur, in the cases of men or women who dozed in the cars, and before they knew it they found themselves hatless. ... There was a fear that during rush hours, the gate being low, people would not hesitate to jump off while the train was still in motion.

From Cunningham and De Hart, A History of the New York Subway System, 1976. This is another photo from early 1902, showing the first car when it was still numbered 142.

If you've been comparing dates you will notice that the open cars arrived while electrification was underway and just after the Bronx Park terminal was completed. They ran only on the Third Avenue Line, and usually on locals to Bronx Park, their home base.

They must have been exciting. You'd be riding high over city streets with the wind in your face and all the sounds and smells coming right at you. Imagine the thrill of seeing that open drop to the street below, if you rode on the outer side of the viaduct. Imagine crossing the Harlem River bridge. If you rode on the track side, imagine sticking your arm way out and having it yanked off by a passing train!

About two weeks ago, I wrote in draft, "Little is known about the lower yard at Bronx Park". But I've learned a lot in two weeks.

Here are two views from trains looking north toward Bronx Park terminal. The elevator is within pipe railings, right in front of the tower. The first one is by Bernard Linder, June 17, 1951 ; you can see the greenhouse station roof in the distance. In the second one, from Charlie's Third Avenue El page, you can see a train on the Webster Avenue extension on the left.

Here is a view looking south, again by Bernard Linder on June 17, 1951.

In his book New York Subways / An illustrated history of New York City's transit cars, Gene Sansone writes,
In the off-season the trailers were stored in sheds under the small yard directly under the Bronx Park spur. ... Since these storage tracks were never electrified, a Forney steam engine was used to shunt the cars.
The open cars were trailers, which means they had no electric motors and had to be run with other cars that did. The Manhattan Railway usually ran trains of three motor cars and two trailers, so the open cars would be found one or two per train, and never as the end cars.

The Manhattan Railway had about 350 surplus steam locomotives once electrification was complete in 1903. The Forney design was a tank engine that could be operated in either direction. A handful of the engines were not sold, but were kept for non-passenger duties, among which apparently was the seasonal move of open cars in and out of storage.

Charlie writes,
The car elevator at the Botanical Garden Terminal was used to lower and raise the open cars, which were stored in the brick storage building under the walkway at the north end of the terminal. There was also a transfer table which positioned the cars in front of the doors of storage building.
Most amazingly, Charlie even came up with a picture of an open car in the lower level, from some printed source, possibly the only such photo in existence. It's hard to make out details, but I think the car is on the transfer table, which is a section of track that moves sideways to position a car from the incoming track to one of the parallel tracks it will be stored on. Here:

Gene Sansone writes,
These cars proved to be very popular. An additional order for sixty trailer cars was planned but changed or cancelled at the last moment. The Manhattan open cars were last used in regular passenger service during the summer of 1917.
The car roster records that most of them were sold in 1918, but for some reason eight were retained. Five were converted to flat cars in 1925 and three just scrapped... in 1938!

Charlie wrote in a comment on part I, about the elevator:
I actually got to ride it down and back up once.
This surprised me a lot. I don't know what the lower level was used for once the open cars were mostly sold off in 1918, but the elevator still worked until some date near the end.

The Bronx Park station was closed on November 14, 1951. A coalition of political leaders and real estate investors had begun to chip away at the Third Avenue El to promote new building along the line in Manhattan, even though the long-promised Second Avenue Subway to replace it was nowhere in sight. The South Ferry branch closed in December 1950, leaving just the branch to City Hall as the southern terminal. Three months later night and weekend service was eliminated south of 149th Street. The number of trains was gradually reduced. It was a slow process intended to drive away riders and justify further cuts until the line was closed. By November 1951 there was no longer any need to maintain a terminal at Bronx Park. Routing all the remaining trains onto the Webster Avenue extension was simpler and provided minimal service there. All service south of 149th Street was ended in 1955, leaving only the Bronx portion of the el. This last section was in turn closed in 1973.

Roger Wines, Professor Emeritus of History, Fordham University, remembers the station:
Having grown up on els and subways, I thought it was a gem, in its country setting. My first year at Fordham College I used to take the train to it once in a while, when coming uptown or downtown on the 3rd Ave El. The train marked "Botanical Garden" would pull in. There was usually another train waiting at the other platform or alongside ready to go back downtown The station had a small glass dome, which echoed the theme of the Garden greenhouses. It gave you a wonderful light airy feeling, very UN-subway. A stone causeway took you to terra firma, the Garden or the back gate of Fordham. I always thought of it as the real Fordham University station.
I went to the site on August 12, 2009. Nothing remains. There is a short section of stone wall near the Harlem Line that might be the base of the footbridge to Webster Avenue, and some cut stones at the edge of the Fordham Prep campus that might be from the Botanical Garden walkway. The elevated property has gone back to Fordham University and has been encroached on by buildings over the past half century. Here are some of the stones near the station site:

You should look at Charlie's web pages about the elevated railways. There are more images at under Early Transit.

If you like Bernard Linder's photos and the history of subway and elevated lines, you might want to join the New York Division of the Electric Railroaders' Association and get their monthly Bulletin.

Next time: Information.


  1. There are some comments on these two posts here:

  2. The photos of Mr. Linder are priceless.
    I found a detail ERA map of the terminal showing the position of the car elevator. I can email it to you if you want to add to the maps above.
    I also posted a notice about the first BLOG on the Bronx Board. This has really been a most enjoyable Time Traveling experience.

  3. I found two Youtube videos that contain views of the Botanical Garden Terminal as seen from the NY Central Tracks. See
    The videos are labeled "1930's train ride. Denver & New York Central electric Part 1"
    and "1930's train ride New York Central electric part 2". The first half of Part 1 is a ride on the Denver Zepher. The next half is the trip north from 125th St to Wakefield or Fleetwood? Part 2 is the trip from the 238th St Bridge South to Murray Hill. We attempted to capture some scenes. However, the video is too pixellated. Any views of the terminal are rare. So, enjoy the rides.

  4. Thanks Again for these wonderful views. i too saw the youtube NYCRR video and was about to post about it but you beat me to it. I did not see the second one from 238th street but will look again
    Again you made my day, year and lifetime finding these views. lots of fond memories riding the El


  5. noelw346@yahoo.comJune 21, 2010 at 6:26 PM

    this is wonderful,.funny growing up in the bronx from 1960 on I never knew this exsisted.I am thinking of all those times I rode the el from 149st to Gunhill Rd and never knew this exsisted.....great job!!!

  6. The trip on the NY Central terminated at Mount Vernon West

    As a kid I always wondered where those tracks went after heading north from Fordham RD. Now all that has be done is get pictures of the Bronx Zoo Termina of the #2 line.

  7. The 181st Street terminal was later cut back, due to objections over having the station so close to Bronx Park property, to a station at 180th Street, which opened on October 28, 1910. After the Dual Contracts extension of the line to 240th Street, the Bronx Park terminal was rendered mostly redundant and finally abandoned in 1952; the West Farms yard was torn down at this time as well due to new yard facilities at East 180th St./Unionport, and 239th Street. The Intervale Avenue station was added in 1910.

  8. The other Bronx Park terminal at 180th St (Boston Road) was useful for decades for the same reason as the one I'm writing about: there was no need to run all the trains beyond that point. On that line, after 1952 the trains that had ended at 180th St were re-routed to the new through service to the Dyre Avenue branch. You can see the cut-off stub pointing to 180th St terminal immediately north of West Farms Square station, continuing straight where the existing line (1918) turns sharply to the right.

  9. Yes,that cut off stub is still visible pulling out of the westfarms station.It would be great to find a picture of that old station too just like you did with the Botanical Gardens stub north of the Fordham station of the 3rd Ave El. My relatives used both those old stations as well as the one that use to go to the Bronx Polo Grounds.

  10. Here is the Bronx Park terminal at 180th St