In South Ferry I, we looked at the first elevated railway station at South Ferry, and in South Ferry II, we considered how New York Elevated managed to operate two lines out of the tiny two-track terminal. Now, we'll see when the better-known four-track terminal was built. This larger terminal lasted until 1950.
The Park Commissioners yesterday granted the privilege to the New-York Elevated Railroad Company to build a "Y" on the Battery, to connect with Pier No. 1, North River.
That's the Tribune reporting inaccurately on a significant event on July 3, 1878. This was the official permission to build a very short branch line not at Battery Place but at Whitehall Street. The Parks Department was not part of the city government, but a fairly independent body similar to the public authorities today. The Parks Department had jurisdiction over parks and also some public streets near parks. It appears from subsequent events that Whitehall Street, alongside Battery Park, was one of those streets.
The permission predates the opening of the Third Avenue El by a month and a half, but the company did not follow up immediately, forcing use of the inadequate old station.
The Third Avenue El was extended to 89th Street on December 9, and the papers described planned rush hour headways of two minutes from South Ferry. This could only have been done by turning some trains at the recently installed third track south of Franklin Square. A company spokesman said now that they would build a terminal at 129th Street and that "a similar station will be erected at South Ferry". Service to the end of the line at 129th Street began on December 30.
Bromley's Atlas of the Entire City of New York, dated 1879, above, shows the location of the buildings at South Ferry. The elevated terminal was sited along the west side of the ferry plaza. This may have been done to keep clear the space in front of the South Ferry ferry terminal, but I think even more likely it was done to make the elevated station as long as possible to accommodate Third Avenue trains of four or five cars. The station house is along the west side of the big ferry terminal, not in front of it, getting another car length or so for the station platforms.
Let's get a good look at the scene. The first three images below, from stereo views, are from unknown dates in the 1870s or even 1860s before the elevated railway was built.
A view from the water shows the South Ferry terminal. The map above and the name on the arch agree that the boat on the left is handling the Hamilton Ferry, and the empty slip on the right is for the South Ferry to Atlantic Avenue.
This view from over the Staten Island ferry building shows where the elevated terminal would be built, along the left side of the South Ferry building and along the edge of Battery Park.
Turning around, we see the front of the South Ferry terminal. Look closely and you can see the names South Ferry and Hamilton Ferry on each side. I wonder what colors this amazing building was painted! The elevated terminal would be built along the edge of the park and extending into the space to the right of the ferry terminal.
A detail of the cabinet card from South Ferry I looks down the edge of the park, where we can see the shacks serving as Staten Island ferry terminals.
Construction for the big terminal must have begun around December 3. That's when the political grandstanding about encroachment on the park started.
The Tribune described the work in an article of December 19:
The plaza near the South and Staten Island Ferries has now a very disorderly appearance, owing to the preparations of the Elevated Railroad Company to extend its tracks over a portion of it. Heaps of earth, stones and logs lie scattered about, while here and there laborers are engaged making excavations for the foundations of pillars. Pumping engines are required to keep several of the holes free from water, which flows in at high tide. In order to secure any foundation, the railroad company's engineers have been compelled to drive long wooden piles into the bottom of the holes. Besides excavating holes in the plaza, the railroad company is digging others in Battery Park. ... When all the tracks are completed the company will be able to dispatch trains with far more frequency than at present. A handsome new depot will also be constructed on the south side of the plaza.
Further progress was reported on January 31:
Work on the station and tracks at South Ferry is advancing, and it is thought that in a month trains will start from that point on a one-minute headway. ... The road is carrying an average of 90,000 passengers a day.
It took more than a month. A report of March 7:
The terminus in Whitehall-st is so far completed that ties are being put in place ; before it can be used and the old structure in Battery Park removed, the new station adjoining Staten Island Ferry will have to be built. With the arrangements completed at this point a train may start out on each side as one arrives.
That means "the old station in Battery Park removed". I'm surprised to read that they were up to laying ties on the new terminal trackways when they had not yet even started building the station house.
The opening of the City Hall branch (joining the main line at Chatham Square) on March 17 provided some relief. Rush hour headways became: South Ferry to Harlem 4 minutes, South Ferry to Grand Central 6 minutes, Franklin Square to Harlem 8 minutes, and City Hall to Harlem 4 minutes. Do the math: that's 47½ trains per hour in one direction on the main trunk between Chatham Square and 42nd Street.
Trains crossed at grade going in and out of the branches at Chatham Square and 42nd Street. New York Elevated's management didn't believe in interlocking systems and ran everything with flagmen. At 42nd Street, trains going uptown to Grand Central every 6 minutes crossed trains going downtown less than 1½ minutes apart. What could happen? A side-swipe collision there on March 25 put an end to this schedule after only eight days. Both branches were immediately closed, and on March 27 the company announced that platforms would be built at the junctions so that the branches would be worked only with shuttle trains.
On this occasion Company President Cyrus Field provided a clue to the opening date of the terminal at South Ferry:
Mr Field thought this determination necessary, as trains will be run from South Ferry in a day or two at one minute intervals, and then the danger at the cross tracks would be very great, as the trains at Chatham-square would not be more than a half-minute apart.
You would expect a news article would follow describing the wonderful new terminal at South Ferry, which may have opened on the weekend of March 29 and 30, or Monday March 31. But I have not been able to find one.
I do have an article in the Tribune for April 11 that mentions that the Third Avenue El was then operating 62 trains an hour in one direction in rush hours. This scarcely seems possible with a two-track terminal at South Ferry, but it is certainly impossible without it. Of the 62, some probably ran from Franklin Square. It's still astounding.
And let's look at the new terminal. The three images below are early, possibly close to opening day.
I think this first one is a great image. You can see the same Staten Island ferry shacks on the right, with a stairway direct from the elevated station. Toward the left, under the el, you can see the South Ferry terminal too. Compare it to the views up above.
This image might show Third Avenue cars and pre-1880 Ninth Avenue cars together. The car farther back is a 1878 Third Avenue car built by Gilbert and Bush, with pointed arches over the window— for transit geeks, it's the same type as Car G, which still exists, and might possibly even be Car G although that's impossible to determine. The closer car, far left, is at the Ninth Avenue line platform, and although the roof silhouette is consistent with the narrow pre-1880 cars, I don't think it's clear enough to say for sure. If it is though, then this image is no later than May 1880.
This stereo view seems to be from around the same time as the cabinet card. The ladder on the elevated station and the materials in the street make me wonder whether the elevated station has just opened, and some work restoring the street plaza is just being finished.
Around the other side, we can see the corner of the South Ferry building on the left.
This is a Third Avenue train, with the other type of 1878 Third Avenue cars, built by Wason, without the pointed arches. Both types had an oval on the side at the center of the car.
You can see steam from the engine that brought this train in, trapped at the end of track. When the train is pulled out by another engine, this one will follow it out to a point past the switches, where it will wait to move in to take another train out.
The site of the original station from 1877 became part of a track not used for passenger service but useful as the only connection between the east side and west side elevated lines. Two images from Charles Warren's pages show the connection.
This scene is looking west toward Battery Park, with the big South Ferry station to the left. An engine is ready to take out a Third Avenue train. The white pole toward the right is at about the location of the stairway up to the original station. The trees inside the triangle are in photographs of the old station.
This is a later view. The departing Third Avenue train is running across the site of the original station. As we saw in South Ferry I, the station stairs were on the sidewalk under the tower seen here, and the platform extended to the left of that point. There is only one connecting track, on the near side of the tower.
Third Avenue engines ran with the engine on the downtown side, while Ninth Avenue engines did the opposite— so an engine running through the connection to the other line was oriented correctly.
The old South Ferry terminal is still standing here, but there is something in front of it that may be an elevated walkway. The building on the right was built by the United States for the Barge Office and the Immigration service.
The Second Avenue and Sixth Avenue Els began running to South Ferry in 1880 and 1881 respectively. Paths for these additional trains were made by routing some East Side trains to City Hall and terminating some West Side trains at Rector Street.
The terminal was expanded by 1910 with longer platforms and side platforms. The Sixth Avenue El closed in 1938, and after the Ninth Avenue El closed in 1940, the west side of the South Ferry terminal was demolished. The Second Avenue El closed in 1942, and in 1950 Third Avenue El service from Chatham Square to South Ferry was eliminated. After that the remainder of the terminal was removed. Nothing of it can be seen today. Even the path of the West Side elevated in Battery Park has been obliterated by redesign, and Front Street, over which the East Side lines approached, has been closed and built over.
The Staten Island boats were shifted to the site of the former Brooklyn ferries early in the 20th century, and new terminals for them were completed in 1909, then 1956, and most recently 2005.