Ghosts of the 6 Train

New York City’s vast transit system is in a constant state of flux, expanding to fill the needs of underserved areas and simultaneously contracting due to budget cuts or obsolescence. Abandoned subway stations across the city remind us of how transit has changed over the years.

On March 24, 1900, the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) broke ground in a ceremony at the front steps of City Hall for the construction of a subway system. This was not the first attempt at subterranean transit in the city, but it was the most comprehensive.

Photographer unknown. Engineers in tunnel during construction of present IRT at City Hall Station. ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York. 46.245.2

Photographer unknown. Engineers in tunnel during construction of present IRT at City Hall Station. ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York. 46.245.2

Only four years later on October 27, 1904 at 7 PM, subway stations spanning about 9 miles from City Hall to Grand Central, and Times Square to 145th Street and Broadway opened to the general public, with an estimated 150,000 people paying 5¢ to ride underground.

Robert L. Bracklow (1849-1919). Subway Opening, Oct. 27, 1904. Museum of the City of New York. 93.91.380

Robert L. Bracklow (1849-1919). Subway Opening, Oct. 27, 1904. Museum of the City of New York. 93.91.380

The line’s southern terminal, City Hall, was intended to be the system’s showpiece and differed vastly from the other subway stations with its vaulted ceilings covered in Guastavino tiles, leaded skylights, and brass chandeliers.

Rotograph Co. (New York, N.Y.). City Hall Subway Station, N.Y. City. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.2879

Rotograph Co. (New York, N.Y.). City Hall Subway Station, N.Y. City. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.2879

For all its elegance, however, the station was never as important as officials hoped it would be. Its proximity to the much-busier Brooklyn Bridge station made it somewhat redundant. In addition, the tight curve of the platforms was deemed too difficult to lengthen when the Board of Transportation embarked on a $13 million project in 1944 to expand subway platforms to accommodate increasing ridership.

Souvenir Post Card Co. City Hall Loop, Rapid Transit Tunnel. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. F2011.33.1092

Souvenir Post Card Co. City Hall Loop, Rapid Transit Tunnel. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. F2011.33.1092

Although it closed as a subway station on December 31, 1945, the City Hall station continues to serve as a loop for downtown 6 trains returning to the local uptown track. You can see the station for yourself if you stay on the 6 train after the Brooklyn Bridge stop.

Illustrated Postal Card Co. City Hall and Subway, New York. 1905-1914. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.3661

Illustrated Postal Card Co. City Hall and Subway, New York. 1905-1914. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.3661

Just two stops uptown was the Worth Street station, situated at the intersection of Lafayette Street and the northwest corner of Foley Square and Thomas Paine Park. It provided easy access to the numerous government facilities in the area.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). 125 Worth Street. City of New York, Health Building. 1936. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.6879

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). 125 Worth Street. City of New York, Health Building. 1936. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.6879

The station’s platforms were lengthened twice, in 1910 and again in 1948. But improvements made to the Brooklyn Bridge station in 1956 extended egress to the north at Foley Square and Pearl Street, making the Worth Street station redundant. It closed in 1962.

Six stops uptown from Worth Street, the 18th Street station became a casualty of the platform expansion project begun in 1944. Its closure on November 8, 1948 coincided with the opening of the 22nd Street entrance to the 23rd Street station.

H.C. Leighton Co. Subway at 18th Street, New York. ca. 1906. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.2880

H.C. Leighton Co. Subway at 18th Street, New York. ca. 1906. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.2880

Try looking up from your book the next time you commute, and you may see glimpses of the past flashing by outside the window.

5 responses to “Ghosts of the 6 Train

  1. Patricia Zedalis

    Lauren: Great piece. Supposedly you can see the southern end of the 18th Street closed station from the end of the Union Square station. There are a number of other stations besides those on the 6. A friend has an art piece in the abandoned Myrtle Avenue station – Masstransiscope – that you can see from the train as it goes through yet another abandoned station. Patricia

  2. Reblogged this on JANINEVEAZUE.

  3. Nice article. I shot a film in the subway that recently screened at The Anthology Film Archives. The reason I am mentioning this is that I had the wonderful opportunity to shoot video at the City Hall Stop, while going on a Transit Museum tour. During the tour, the chandeliers get turned out. If you are at all interested in seeing what the station looks like now, please take a look. It’s a 12 minute film designed as a day taking a ride on the Subway going on the original line which is now the 1 train from 145th to Times Square, the Shuttle to Grand Central and the 6 down to City Hall. For that reason, the footage shot in City Hall is closer to the end of the film. So, if interested, check it out

    http://www.9beachfilms.com/a-city-symphony-underground-video/

  4. Lauren Robinson

    Patricia, I’m glad you enjoyed the blog. We have a photo of the Myrtle Avenue Station, taken before it closed in 1956 – http://collections.mcny.org/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult_VPage&VBID=24UP1G3C20PA&SMLS=1&RW=1312&RH=714

  5. Pingback: Simon Says: Daily Food Quote, June 17, 2013 - The Rambling Epicure | The Rambling Epicure

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