Sunday, July 31, 2011

Crispy Pig Tails


Looking for a new Internet time-waster? Go to and type the name of a person you know in the box "Find someone's list".

Search by name works best with unusual names. My name is hopeless. There's a lot of us. I'll save you some time and tell you that I never made an Amazon wish list. Maybe you think that's just what I'm saying. Then I can't help you.

A few of my namesakes have listed their birthdays, which is nice for gift giving. It's a common security question for resetting passwords, too. I'll take a risk and say that none of the birthdays the few people have listed is mine. That narrows the field by a few dates.

Let's see...

Name 1. Only one hit, and only one book. The book seems... unlikely. Or has he for all these years been hiding his interest in foods like Crispy Pig Tails and Rolled Pig's Spleen and Pig's Trotter Stuffed with Potato? You never know. I had to look up what part of a hog the Trotter is, and though it sounds like a euphemism, it really is just a foot.

Name 2. Only one hit. The two books about her favorite hobby tell me that this is the person I know. But there's also a CD from a 1960s group I am not familiar with, which is saying something. And she'll need the CD because Amazon does not offer mp3 downloads of the songs on it. I checked the samples. It's a thumping garage band with an enthusiastic singer, and it sounds like it was recorded over the telephone. Why does she want this? It came out when we were teens. There is an untold story here. She ran away from home to see them, and was married to the bass player for a week until the drugs ran out and they noticed she was sixteen. I can't confirm any of this.

After a good start it was downhill from there. Most of the names I tried are not found, or they just list boring stuff. If you make one of these wish lists you should list one crazy thing, to entertain people. Get them talking.

Someone I haven't seen since the 1980s wants three of the five volumes of Dante's Divine Comedy. I wonder why she's into that. There's also a small picture of her. Hey you, what's with the white hair? Are we old or something?

I see that back in the year 2000, someone I know at work wished for some technical books about computer system administration. They have got to be a little dated at this point. Do these lists ever expire, Amazon? Eleven years isn't long enough? The revealing thing is that her ex-husband's surname is appended to the name she uses now.

Is this getting creepy? It's the trouble with the Internet. It's too easy.

I had the idea once of forming a club of people who have the same seven-digit phone number in different area codes. To call each other you'd only need to remember three digits because the rest would just be your own phone number. I never followed through.

Now I can just Google my home phone number and find out who some of the club members would be. You can waste time doing this too. You get mostly business web sites but it's a start.

I get a McDonald's in Chicago, a psychologist in St Louis, a printer in the Bronx, a public relations firm in Tennessee. Then there's a mysterious business in Seattle, name redacted to [name], that has this to say:
[name] USA Inc. manages the supply chain of raw materials from North America to [name]'s global production and distribution facilities. [name] USA Inc. is staffed with industrial professionals with profound international marketing background.
I'll just say that [name] are in the export business and let it go. Onward. A marina and conference center (two in one) in Wisconsin, a computer repair guy in Orlando, a hair salon in Greensboro. All connected by the thread of a phone number. Our fates might be tied together. It makes as much sense as astrology.

After those I started hitting sites in Britain. There's another mysterious business in London that offers "access consultancy research and design", and a young people's music venue in Sheffield that says:
Security: Tight but polite, full co-operation with South Yorkshire police
Please Bring Photo ID if you are lucky enough to look under 18
Dress: Sleek and Sexy, No Hats or Hoods, Guys put in an effort for the girls
I've taken a note, in case I ever stay in Sheffield.

The whole concept of the phone number club was based on the need to remember phone numbers. It's becoming weird to think that you'd have to store seven-digit sequences in your brain in order to call somebody.

I still remember my home phone number from when I was a kid. It started with two letters, and we didn't have area codes yet when I memorized it. It was in the SWarthmore-7 exchange. I converted the letters to numbers and prepended the area code for Fair Lawn, and looked it up. It's a cell phone now. I mean the entire exchange is cell phones. I wonder how they managed the cutover. Because I work on things like that sometimes.

Those are my ideas for this week. Come on, it's summer.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Dietch's Zoo


Look at the temperature Friday in Newark, New Jersey, five miles from the property. Weather reporters said it was 108, but it felt like 115. As if I would otherwise say to myself, oh it's only 108 outside, I will put on the running shoes. As if I can tell the difference between how 108 feels and 115. As if.

Because of the heat here in War of Yesterday headquarters, I have not taken time to edit this week's installment as much as usual.

Dietch's Kiddie Zoo, Fair Lawn, New Jersey, circa 1960,
from the Zito Photography Collection.

The pop musique in Kings supermarket is not predictable. Somebody at the music service takes time to go beyond the usual stuff. Once in a while I'll stop and examine the breads or spaghetti sauces to listen to a choice selection.

I forget whether I ever mentioned to you that sometimes I'll stay a couple of minutes in the car, in a parking lot or my own driveway, to catch the end of a good song I haven't heard in a while. Only when I'm alone.

Sheryl Crow's "My Favorite Mistake" is such a perfect record. It goes along well for a couple of verses and choruses, and that's enough to make it a good one, but then it spins off into that end section that never repeats, and when she casually hits the lines "Did you see me walking by? Did it ever make you cry?" it's as if she never did that and it's not the heart of the matter.

A few months ago Kings came up with "Walk Away Renee". Who pulled that one out of the vault? I mean, there are songs I haven't heard in years, but this is one I have not even given a thought to. And it sounded great! I don't recall what food aisle I paused in, but it was just before I was leaving, and at the register the very young clerk was singing the tune softly to one of her coworkers and asking if she knew what it was. Go to Youtube and choose any version by the Left Banke. Yes, "Banke". It's like French or something. Let that go. Just play the song.

Left Banke. At one time I though "rive gauche" meant something like "silly laughter". Consider the French cheese from "la vache qui rit". If that can be "the cow who laughs"... French. I never took French. I took German. Consider "die lachende Kuh": that's almost English with a funny accent.

We don't have laughing cows. Borden Dairy had contented cows.

Borden's mascot Elsie the Cow lived in New Jersey. She has a gravestone in central Jersey, giving her real name, You'll Do Lobelia, but the burial site itself is nearby, under houses. No one knows exactly where, but the residents of one house sometimes hear a cowbell at night.

I am not certain whether her husband Elmer should have been contented. It depends on what that glue was made from. If it was casein, not his problem. But it seems to me hooved animals would never be contented when the subject of glue is brought up. Change the subject.

This week at Kings it was Debbie Boone singing "You Light Up My Life". It sounded awful.

Well, duh, you say. But I'm not here to knock that style of music. I can go for a big sappy ballad. I just want the singers to throw themselves into it. "If it's worth doing it's worth overdoing" as Bruce Springsteen said. Remember Whitney Houston's "One Moment in Time"? Well if you didn't like that you just don't like this kind of song. I don't know what to tell you.

The version of "You Light Up My Life" in my head was a lot better than the one they were playing. The version in my head has the same deliberate two-finger piano, dum dum dadum, but it's got a strong female voice going through the steps to get to the big chorus. OK not Whitney Houston in her prime. But a strong voice. What happened?

Were they playing an alternate take from a Debbie Boone box set? I can't prove it didn't happen. But chances are it was the original.

This happens to me sometimes. It will be some song I haven't heard since the Johnson administration, and then I happen to hear the record, and it's too fast, or too slow, or a different singer, or there's a part I forgot was there, or the words changed.

I told you about hearing the Hollies' "Carrie Anne" last year and noticing that the instrumental break is played on steel drums. Steel drums? What the? Was that always in there? And it was funny hearing Graham Nash singing the lead. "Teach Your Children", man.

So here's this iconic "You Light Up My Life", Billboard number 1 for ten weeks in a row, biggest deal single of the 1970s apparently. Let's say it has not aged well. As if it used to sound better.

The next Billboard number 1 was "How Deep Is Your Love". Rival Cashbox
allowed Deb only eight weeks at number 1, giving Crystal Gayle's "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" a couple of weeks before they too cut over to the Bee Gees. I've heard the Bee Gees song too many times for it to surprise me. But Crystal Gayle. I wonder. Should I seek it out? Sometimes they're better than I remember.

OK, I did. It's not. The singing is corny and the instrumental backing is worse.

I checked Debbie Boone's Wikipedia page. She's a Jersey girl! Born in Hackensack. That's just a few miles from where boy Joe was living at the time. I never knew this.

Before the Garden State Plaza and Bergen Mall opened (both 1957), my parents took me to places like Packard's Department Store in Hackensack. That means I may have been in Hackensack on the fateful Saturday in 1956 when Debbie Boone was born.

What could I have told her? Nothing really. She was a baby.

Packard's. Before Christmas, and it may well be 1956 that I am remembering, they had a train ride in the store. Probably a 18-inch gauge. If I am recalling right, they just laid the track on the floor. Is this even possible? What power did this indoor train run on?

Some other wanderer on the web has written, "At Christmas time they had a great train set up, and Santa would give you a toy and a lollipop!". So it really happened.

And the old Packard's building was a masonry structure with wooden floors, according to another web contributor. My father was a firefighter and he always noticed things like that. He must have checked where the exits as when we went in. Just in case. I don't blame him.

It make me think of Dietch's Kiddie Zoo, which was right in town in Fair Lawn. That had a train too. And I have only mixed-up memories of it, but check this out, from the Bandwagon for September 1961:

Located on several acres of ground, this enterprise is fronted by a park full of kiddie rides and concession stands. To get to the zoo, the customers must pay a small fee but what they get for their money is really something worthwhile. Here is a conglomeration of pens, stalls, barns, cages and ponds filled with just about any type of animal worth seeing. Following the paths toward the back end, you finally emerge in a grove of trees where the Ringling cages are on display. Surrounding the whole area is a train with reproduction of old cars that carry passengers for a small fee.

The Ringling cages. Fifteen circus animal wagons of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Combined Show. The decorative painted wagons of a bygone age, from the old travelling tent show. They held the Menagerie. The cages and some of the animals were trucked to Manhattan once a year for viewing while the Show was at Madison Square Garden. The article lists the wagons.

The location is not quite right in the article. It was on Saddle River Road, between the road and the river, near the end of Berdan Avenue.

EVERYTHING will be on the Internet soon. There's a home movie of Dietch's Kiddie Zoo on Youtube, and below I'll give you a few screen shots from it.

Was this "The Caterpillar" or something else? It has a little derby hat. Most of the rides were like this. Different shaped things ran in a circle. This one had rubber tires under it that ran on the pathway— you can't see the tires in the movie but I actually remember that.

This ride was different. Handcars. You had to make them move yourself, using your arms to turn the wheel. See the video. Since some kids couldn't keep it going the whole distance, the man there had to encourage them or just plain push them. I might have been one of those kids. This ride was a challenge.

I wonder what the chimp is in for? It looks like he regrets his sorry life. They don't have zoos like this any more. Good.

As you can see in the video, the elephant kept swinging side to side. What I just said about the chimp.

The "No American Buffalo", in the first image on this page, seem more peaceful. I think they take to domestication like cows and are happy to just lump around and eat grass. Maybe I am deluding myself.

For the train geeks, here's the non-operating engine from Maine.

Watch the home movie to the end! There's a bonus. The last several seconds show Kind's Dairy, which was also on the east side of Saddle River Road, down near Route 4. We just called it the Dairy. "Do you want to go to the Dairy?", my father would ask, as if we would ever have replied, "Oh no Dad, we've had too much ice cream this week". That would not have happened. Fans of Moderne lettering, take note.

This is very self indulgent, but these images really tickled the memory cells, and I'm putting them here in case anyone searches Kind's Dairy and Ice Cream Bar, Fair Lawn, New Jersey.

Billboard, the same magazine with the pop music charts, originally covered the entire "variety" industry from circuses to vaudeville. A sideshow like Dietch's Kiddie Zoo was in scope.

From a lengthy article in 1954, we learn that the zoo opened three years earlier. Bob Dietch had a farm and was asked whether he thought he could tame a couple of llamas for a petting zoo, and Bob was the kind of guy who figured why not? This led him into wanting to run a small zoo of his own. He found someone else who wanted to run some carnival rides for kids, and someone else who wanted to run a small railroad. That's how these things go. The Ringling wagons and animals came a few years later.

The railroad equipment came from a Maine two-footer, including two engines from 1893 and 1895, and flatcars that were adapted for people to ride. The train owner had converted the engine that was running to gasoline power.

A webster somewhere asks the dates of the zoo. I'd just gleaned that the opening season was 1951. Another net denizen recalled from memory that it closed when the Saddle River flooded and destroyed much of the property.

So when did it close? Billboard reported on it in 1967. So it closed that year or later. I felt the need to settle the matter.

In the age of the Internet, the answers come almost too fast. Here we go. The New York Times reported on September 14, 1971, "Violent 3-Day Rainstorm Slackens", a stalled front that caused disastrous flooding all over northern New Jersey, only two weeks after the same region had been drenched by tropical storm Doria. The official gauge on the Saddle River at Lodi got stuck at almost 11 feet above normal, but officials said the river had certainly been higher. That would have been enough to flood Dietch's riverside property.

But not so fast! A post on in 2005 says that Dietch's closed in 1968. The contributor seems well versed on the topic. He lets us know that the loop was 5/8 of a mile, and that the train had brakes only on the engine, with link and pin couplers to the cars. He says the two engines are now at Boothbay Railway Village, Maine. And they are still there in 2011. The roster online shows two engines originally of S D Warren Co, Maine, sold to Van Walsh of Ridgewood, New Jersey, who I know was the operator at Dietch's, and then sold to the museum in 1969. So I think we have established that the railroad ride ended in 1968.

Elsewhere on the net, I find a discussion of where the RBBB giraffes were housed when not being shown in New York. One commenter says that Dietch told him in May 1967 that he had one of them, and the writer thinks the giraffe may have gone to and from Dietch's until about 1972. But in a reply, a longtime Fair Lawn resident thinks Dietch's closed "around 1967". So there, support for both 1971 and 1968 in the same exchange.

And then, as I realized that not only was I was reading a discussion of where Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey giraffes were kept, but reporting to you on what it said, I realized it is TOO FREAKIN HOT and I am losing my mind.

See you next time.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

South Ferry III


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.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

South Ferry II


From the time I first learned about the elevated railways, and for many years afterward, I assumed that the large four-track South Ferry terminal was part of the original construction. Although the Greenwich Street and Ninth Avenue line pre-dates the others by eight to ten years, it was not extended to South Ferry until 1877, one year before the Third Avenue line opened, and I could rationalize that the company knew by that time that they would need a double terminal for the two services.

Not even research in New York Times microfilm— the only way you could do it in the 1970s— brought me to the true story.

I did find, back then, a series of articles throughout December 1878 about New York Elevated Railroad's "encroachment" on Battery Park. An additional track or tracks were being installed. Members of the city's Common Council gave speeches calling the Battery "the most beautiful park in all creation" and the like. They passed a resolution directing the Corporation Counsel to take action directing the Park Commissioners to revoke the privilege. By the end of the month the Mayor had to inform them that the Parks Department had sole power over parks and that they could do nothing about it. None of the Times stories describes the purpose of the encroachment. I concluded that the viaduct through Battery Park was being widened in some way. What else could it mean? Right?

I'm pretty sure that I only finally got it around about 2004 after staring at photographs like the two I put up last time. Where is this? And my wondering eyes finally realized that it was another, smaller, different South Ferry station that pre-dated the more familiar one.

So now I needed to find out how long the old terminal lasted and when the larger one was constructed.

Above: Aerial photography from 1924. Observe how the 1877 station blocks the Third Avenue El at Whitehall Street. Also, (looking ahead in our story) you can see that the curve from the West Side into the new station necessarily begins over the park, causing the encroachment complaints in 1878. (The ferry terminals were being reconstructed in 1924, creating temporarily the white open space to the right of the elevated terminal.)

The Third Avenue El opened on August 26, 1878, from South Ferry to Grand Central. Trains ran every 15 minutes, and 10 minutes in rush hours, and there were no Sunday trains.

Where did they end at South Ferry? One of the photographs I put up last time shows that the 1877 station spanned the width of Whitehall Street, to the end of Front Street. It was still there in June 1878, judging by the two Scientific American illustrations I posted last time. The Third Avenue El came down Front Street, so there was nowhere else it could have gone.

But the East Side trains were a foot and a half wider than those on the West Side. Did they really run trains of both lines from this one small station, with its single stairway to the street? Yes, it looks to me like they did.

The company must have cut back one side of the island platform by about nine inches for East Side trains. The images from 1877 show that the iron structure provided a level open deck on top. The station was probably all woodwork resting on the iron deck.

The first evening of Third Avenue service, there was a collision in which a West Side train, going around the curve in Battery Park, rear-ended another West Side train waiting to enter the station at South Ferry. This may have had something to do with new arrangements at the terminal, but the company as usual made no comment to the press.

The tremendous disadvantage to sharing South Ferry was that each line had only a one-track terminal. That limited the frequency of trains to how quickly they could get in and out of one track. It wasn't so bad on the West Side line, but business on the East Side grew fast.

The Tribune reported on September 3 that some of the East Side stations were too small to accommodate the crowds— and this was just one week after the opening. The following sentences are all I have found to explain the arrangement at South Ferry at the time the Third Avenue El opened.

The company intends building a triangular switch extension to the South Ferry to accommodate the trains from the East and West Sides. This will be built at an early date, and when completed the Board of Directors will take into consideration the question of running trains continuously from one side of the city to the other on one fare, or perhaps issue a coupon ticket. Under the present arrangement, if a passenger desires to go from one side of the city to the other, double fare has to be paid.

At this time, New York Elevated still collected tickets on the trains.

By the time the Third Avenue El opened to 67th Street on September 16, the company had taken delivery of more engines and cars, and began to run trains every five minutes to each branch, Grand Central and 67th Street. This was the practical limit with a single-track terminal at South Ferry, as stated by a member of the board:

It is physically impossible to make up trains there faster than one in two and a half minutes. We are now sending trains out of the South Ferry Depot at that rate, but it doesn't meet the exigencies of travel during the evening hours ; nothing less than double this service will. Trains must be dispatched on a minute headway, and to do this we are preparing to build a spur at Franklin-square, from which point trains will be dispatched just as rapidly as those from South Ferry.

The spur was a third track between the two main tracks, with a stub at the north end to hold an escaped locomotive. A southbound trainset would run into the third track, the locomotive in the stub would move down and couple to the north end while the incoming locomotive was detached, and the the trainset could move back out northbound as its former locomotive escaped up into the stub, where it would wait to take the next northbound train.

The Franklin Square track effectively provided a second terminal track to reverse some trains in rush hours. The rationalization was that trains were "well filled" in rush hours by the time they got to Franklin Square, the third stop from South Ferry. Nothing was said, or at least nothing was quoted at this time, about a new South Ferry terminal. But plans were already being made.

Above: Conjectural track plan for the transitional period, adapted from a track map showing tracks of the 1893-1903 period. This is the first mile of the Third Avenue El.

I'd love to drop in a photograph here of a Third Avenue train at old South Ferry, but as far as I know, no such image exists. That would be a find!

Next time, the new terminal is built, the one that lasted until 1950.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

South Ferry


A couple of weeks back I wrote about the southern terminal of the first elevated railway in New York at Number 7 Broadway. As I mentioned there, that terminal was in use for about four years ending in April 1877.

The next terminal was at South Ferry, one stop farther south. New York Elevated Railroad was permitted by law to build extensions to connect with railroad terminals and ferries, and in February 1876 the company obtained permission from the Parks Department to build an extension through Battery Park near its edge along State Street to connect to the ferries at the foot of Whitehall Street. Construction was halted by a lawsuit after a few foundations had been dug, and did not resume until February 1877. City officials and property owners on State Street were against the extension, fearing a loss of property values. In the suit, lawyers argued that when the city was granted the land in 1790 by the United States, the city was required to use it only for "public purposes". In this case and in others, the appeals court eventually ruled that railways are a public purpose, since the public are accommodated on them.

The deal with the Parks Department called for ornamental iron columns, with plantings of ivy that would grow on them. Calvert Vaux, who designed Central Park along with Frederick Law Olmsted, created the design below (as printed in the Daily Graphic newspaper in May 1876):

Is it any surprise that the structure as built had just the structural parts of those columns, without the planned embellishments?

The point of interest here is that the original terminal was not the four-track terminal that old New Yorkers remember. It was a much more modest station, in keeping with the minimalist nature of the old New York Elevated Railroad. This was the company that took seven years to complete a second track ; the company that had people walk across one track to avoid building stairs from the street on both sides of the structure ; the company that ran trains with the engine pushing in one direction rather than construct a second track at terminals.

By New York Elevated standards, South Ferry was a pretty big station. It was an island platform between two tracks. Two! Not only that, the new structure through the park was built for three tracks, as you can see in the Vaux cross section above. What extravagance! As I mentioned last time, this and the second track running almost to the other terminal at 59th St meant that finally the engines could escape and run at the front of trains in both directions, a distinct improvement in safety.

The original terminal is very little known today, so I want to present the details I've been able to find. First, here's a diagram I made based on several illustrations. I've drawn in green the tracks and the station platform over Whitehall Street as they were in 1877. The base map is from 1880 and therefore shows (roughly) the location of the later station too.

The best reference image I have found for the track arrangement is the drawing below, published in Harper's Weekly on February 9, 1878. We are on the roof of a building on Whitehall Street, looking west toward the park.

This image shows a single crossover track, instead of the double crossover I would expect to see. A center track seems to be drawn, but there are obstacles on each side of the switch that I cannot identify. They seem to consist of two posts with a little peaked roof between them. I drew this part of the middle track space as a dashed line.

Both trains shown have the engine at the uptown end.

Another drawing (like the one above, it is based on photography) appeared in Scientific American for June 15, 1878, showing the same section of line seen from street level.

In this image, there is a little signal box in the distance up on the structure. I think the necessary other crossover track is out there, so I drew it there in the map above. The middle track probably began at that point.

We can see here from underneath that the stringers (lengthwise girders) for a middle track continue all the way to the station, and we'll see in a photograph below that they continue all the way to the end of the structure. The station platform was built over the stringers for the middle track.

The train in the distance has its engine at the downtown end.

Now let's consider the station.

There was just one narrow stairway to the platform, which splits into two for the lowest flight. It was of wooden construction. You can see the homely wooden posts in the second image above. The Harper's image shows a small octagonal booth near the head of the stairs, which I suppose is the ticket office. The width of that platform is less than eight feet, and yet the stairway comes up between sections of platform where people are standing. The booth might be four feet across. The minimalism of New York Elevated!

Let's make this more real. I have a couple of photographs from 1877.

We're looking down Whitehall Street to the ferries. A steam dummy and two shadbelly cars are in the station. Ahead of the engine, a well-dressed signalman is reading a newspaper (?). At the extreme right is the beginning of the crossover track, and, as in the Harper's drawing, there is no sign of a crossover on the other track. There is possibly one rail where the center track would be.

In the background are entrances to two Staten Island ferries. The one on the left is the ferry to points on the north shore of the island, and on the right the Staten Island Railway ferry to points on the east shore. The Brooklyn services that were actually called South Ferry, as you can see from the map up above, are off frame to the left. Out in the harbor is Governor's Island with the stone fort.

Now we're looking across Whitehall Street, the ferries off frame to the right. A different train has come in, with the type of cars acquired after the shadbelly cars, all one level and with a center door that opens with a knob.

Were these photographs taken the same day? The horse cart with barrels is the same place, and so is the ladder leaning against the staircase. But the tree on the right is not there in the first image.

I think everyone enjoys the women and children posing for the photographer. Two men pose behind them too, and so do most of the people in the train. Ghosts on the left and on the stairs were not patient enough. They all probably checked the photography stores weeks later to see whether their photo was published. The prints above were on cabinet cards. Stereo views of the same two scenes were also sold.

The woodwork of the stairs is decorative although simple for the day. You can see why the stairway to the platform was so narrow: it had to fit between the stringers for a possible center track, which are spaced to support rails 4 feet 8½ inches apart.

There is no engine trapped at the end of the train, where it would be if the train had come in engine first. So I was wrong in the Number 7 Broadway piece: they did not immediately change the practice of running downtown with the engine pushing. But they did change by June 1878— more than a year after opening— the date of the Scientific American illustrations.

On the left, you can see the end of the structure. It runs to the east side of Whitehall Street and stops, pointing itself to continue in Front Street. The very last pair of columns support a cross girder, a different type of construction that would be used for the continuation as the Third Avenue El, which was not yet built when this image was taken. The continuation was built for two tracks spaced farther apart, because the newer lines had coaches about a foot and a half wider than the old west side road.

Here's an enlarged detail of another image from the same issue of Scientific American as the previous one, June 1878.

We're looking out the arched entrance of the South Ferry terminal toward the elevated station. Up on the el, on the right, are a couple of sheds, one of which is apparent also in the first photograph above. The train has the engine at the downtown end, and there is another engine, partly obscured, on the far track at the extreme right. That engine is past the station platform, at the end of track.

This drawing is as usual based on photography, but it is looser in detail than some, to some extent an artist's impression. It captures the busy scene in a way that slow-shutter photographs could not. Horse cars and horse omnibus lines started here, and cabs waited for passengers. The buildings in the background are on State Street. On the right Whitehall Street runs back into the distance.

This little station did not last. It was probably inadequate the day it opened, and once the Third Avenue El opened it was hopeless. Within two years a much larger terminal went up. We'll get to that next time.