Tag Archives: Construction

The Broadway-Lafayette Transfer and the Evolution of the City’s Subway

By the time you read this, there will have been a major improvement in the subways of New York City. If you don’t  ride the B, D, F, or M subway lines daily you might not be aware of an amazing addition to the Broadway-Lafayette subway station that’s opening today. For the first time since the station opened it will now be possible to transfer from the B, D, F, or M train to the uptown 6 at Bleecker Street without having to leave the station and pay for another ride on your Metrocard.

While transferring to the downtown 6 was a breeze, transferring uptown meant going above ground, where one could often find commuters wandering aimlessly in the triangle between Bleecker, Lafayette, and Houston, desperately looking for the entrance to the uptown 6.  According to the New York Times, the Broadway-Lafayette station is the sole example of a one-way transfer, making it unique amongst the 468 stations in MTA’s system. For examples of other transfer oddities and issues in the NYC subway system go  here.

MTA New York City Subway Map via http://www.mta.info.

In this map, you can see the small hump between Spring and Bleecker, indicating that the subway tracks did not connect. The exact reason for this is unknown, but there were many contributing factors including the fact that the Broadway-Lafayette and Bleecker Street stations were under control of the competing Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) and the Independent Subway (IND). The city consolidated the IRT, IND, and the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit (BMT) subway companies  in 1940 and constructed the downtown transfer shortly thereafter in 1947. The uptown transfer was further delayed because the platforms for the 6 train did not face each other. (The New York Times has a lovely graphic of the construction here.)  The project to ameliorate this problem began in 2005; after seven years and  a lot of money the humps and oddities have been smoothed over to make a more streamlined system…at least at this station. For the approximately 11,000 people who transfer here daily, it’s a long time coming.

In celebration of the opening we  put together a collection of images that show the construction and evolution of the  New York City subways.

The groundbreaking ceremony near the Broadway-Lafayette station:

First actual work at Bleecker and Greene Streets. ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York.

Workers in the tunnels:

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

Mayor George B. McClellan taking the first ceremonial trip (the New York Times gives a very detailed account here):

Edward Levick. Mayor McClellan on first subway trip. 1904. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.13549.

The first PATH trains to New Jersey opened in 1908:

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Subway, Hudson Tubes. ca. 1908. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.14608.

The underground construction process has remained haunting  and intriguing through the years:

Pierre P. Pullis | G. W. Pullis. Subway tunnel construction at Lexington Avenue and 97th Street. 1913. Museum of the City of New York. 2000.52.51.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Subways, Fourteenth Street Cut for Subway, #1. 1921. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.17085.

A worker doing above-ground work on the B, D, F, and M line. Even though the clothes, equipment and backdrop have radically changed from the earlier images of the first subway workers , the work remains much the same:

Andrew Herman. Federal Arts Project. 6th Avenue Subway Construction, 26th Street. ca. 1937. Museum of the City of New York. 43.131.13.14.

From the elegance of the very first, and now abandoned, City Hall station to the comfort of the El station and finally to the utilitarian designs of the present Canal Street station the evolution of subways stations is a topic in and of itself:

Ed Spiro. Change booth area, City Hall Station. 1972. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.13576.

Arnold Eagle. Interior of an unidentified station of the Third Avenue El. 1948. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.9042.

Subway station. ca. 1980. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.13587.

We’re intrigued to see what happens next to our subways.

Child between two subway cars. ca. 1965. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.14313.

Click on this links to view more images of subway scenes and tunnels from the Museum’s collections. These images are all available in various sizes as museum quality archival prints. If you see something you want to hang on your wall, email us at reproductions@mcny.org

The Curse of the Roeblings? The Construction of the Brooklyn Bridge

Samuel H. (Samuel Herman) Gottscho (1875-1971). Lower New York from foot of Manhattan Bridge. ca. 1930. museum of the City of New York. 88.1.5.12.

The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the most iconic symbols of New York. Try imagining the skyline without the looming Gothic towers. Now try to imagine no bridges over the East River to connect the separate cities of Brooklyn and Manhattan and having to rely on overcrowded, unreliable, and generally unsafe ferries. This was the reality of 1850s New York.  Yet the Brooklyn Bridge almost didn’t happen. Amid rumors of curses on the designer’s family, corruption, and death came amazing technological innovations and people doing incredible things.

The idea of putting a bridge across the East River wasn’t a new idea even in 1850. Plans were discussed, made, and scrapped regularly with strident opposition on basically every element, including the very big question of whether it was even possible to traverse the East River.  And, if it was, then at 1,600 feet across, it’d be the longest span of bridge in the world at that time.

To say that German immigrant John A. Roebling was born to meet this challenge would be a gross overstatement and cliche, but in this case it seems to work. He had created new forms of steel cables that aided his designs of technically brilliant bridges in Cincinnati and Niagara Falls.  In 1867, his plans for the “East River and Brooklyn Bridge” (its previous official name) were accepted by the Tammany Hall-controlled New York Bridge Company and he was named Chief Engineer.

John M. August Will (1834-1910). Sketch of View of Bridge from Sand St. Brooklyn. 1873. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.1986.

But, on June 28, 1869, as John A. Roebling was measuring possible locations for the towers of the bridge near the Fulton Ferry, a boat hit his foot and crushed his toes. Within a month, he died of tetanus.  His son and partner, 32 year-old Washington Roebling, overcame his grief and took over his father’s position as the Chief Engineer, determined to finish what they had started. This would not be the last tragedy or death that would befall the Roebling family, or the construction of the bridge.

Under Washington Roebling’s supervision the construction began in earnest on January 2, 1870. The first step was building caissons, which are watertight structures with a series of airlocks to provide dry underwater space for workers to dig the foundation into solid rock.  Roebling and his men worked in conditions described by Master Mechanic E.F. Farrington: ” The temperature in the caissons was about 80 [degrees], and the workmen, with half-naked bodies, seen in dim, uncertain light brought vividly to life Dante’s ‘Inferno’.”  But beyond bringing to life poetic masterpieces, there were far more real problems to contend with – fires and explosions plagued the caissons as did the deadly “caisson disease” now known as “the bends” or more technically, decompression sickness.  During the construction of the bridge, over one hundred men contracted and were killed or severely debilitated by caisson disease, including Washington Roebling.

S. A. (Silas A.) Holmes (1819 or 20-1886). New York Caisson nearly down. 1872. Museum of the City of New York. 57.15.4.

In early 1872,  after working 12 straight hours in the caisson, Roebling rose to the surface from the compressed air too quickly and according to some reports, promptly passed out. This began his lifelong battle with the disease that would cause him pain, partial paralysis, temporary loss of his voice and sight, and all sorts of other terrible symptoms that led him to be an invalid for rest of the construction of the bridge and most of his life, forcing him to become bedridden, threatening his position as Chief Engineer.

However, all was not lost.  Using a telescope from the bedroom window of his house on 106 Columbia Street in Brooklyn, Washington would give notes and directions to his wife Emily to take to the engineers on the bridge. Emily had taught herself the math and science to help her husband throughout the project, and now she was using her knowledge to oversee construction while also speaking to distributors, politicians, and all levels of workers, making so many important decisions that it was not long before some begin to think of her as the de facto Chief Engineer, going so far as to believe she was the true intelligence behind the bridge’s design and completion. Indeed, even the New York Times gave her credit right after the bridge opened (and keep in mind, this was at the height of the Gilded Age, when it was still debated if women could even actually learn).

But another 11 years passed as the bridge inched  slowly toward completion. There was fraud with sub par material, political and public outcry about the bridge being constantly delayed, and constant newspaper columns complaining about it going over budget. (For an 1878 article titled “Are We Wasting Money?”  that suggests that destroying the towers of the bridge would really be, in fact, the best way to proceed, click here.).  Adding to the drama was a last minute move by Mayor Seth Low to dismiss Washington Roebling from his position as Chief Engineer, due to his inability to personally oversee the construction. The motion came to down to narrow vote, 10-7, keeping Roebling as Chief Engineer.  The construction continued, under supervision of Roebling and his wife.

Unknown. Brooklyn Bridge under Construction. 1875. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.8424.

C.W. Pach. 1878. Showing Foot Bridge [of East River Bridge] and Anchor Bars (in part). Museum of the City of the New York. 57.15.16.

Unknown. Brooklyn Bridge under construction. ca. 1880. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.8384

S. A. (Silas A.) Holmes (1819 or 20-1886). New York and Brooklyn Bridge. ca. 1883. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.14280.

J. A. LeRoy. Construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. ca. 1880. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.8439.

Unknown. 1881. Men walking on cables during the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.8463.

Unknown. Construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. ca. 1880. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.8412

16 years after the first plans were drawn, 15 million dollars ($340,000,000 in today’s money) spent, and 27 lives lost, the Brooklyn Bridge finally and officially opened on May 24th, 1883. On the first day alone, over 50,000 people crossed the bridge on foot. Emily Roebling was the first person to cross the bridge in a carriage, carrying a rooster, symbolizing victory,  in her lap. Washington Roebling reportedly never set foot on the bridge he created.

View more images of the Brooklyn Bridge from the Museum’s collections by clicking here. These images are all available in various sizes as museum quality archival prints. If you see something you want to hang on your wall, email us at reproductions@mcny.org.

Bird’s-Eye View of the Great New York and Brooklyn Bridge and Grand Display of Fireworks on the Opening Night. 1883. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.1752.

Construction of the 74th Street Power Station

For the past two weeks I’ve had the pleasure of digitizing our photographs of the construction of the 74th Street Power Station located on the East River between 74th and 75th Streets. Most power plants in New York City at the turn of the 20th century were located on either the Hudson or the East River because they used the river water as a coolant.

Photographer unknown. 74th St. Power Station Looking North. June 17, 1902. Museum of the City of New York Photography Collection. F2012.53.308A

This power station, designed by George H. Pegram, is still in use today and I was blown away by its beauty.  The Manhattan Elevated Railway Company broke ground in 1899 on the 200 x 500 foot power house and it was fully operational by 1902. It began its life as a coal-powered plant designed to supply electricity to the elevated trains of New York City, which were in the process of being converted from coal to electricity. The city at the time was badly in need of relief from the soot and pollution from the coal-powered steam engines. By 1904 “the power for the operation of all trains on the Manhattan Railway Division [was] generated at one power station located near the centre of the system on the East River, between 74th and 75th Streets.”  The New York Electrical Handbook, by the American Institute of Electrical Engineers

Photographer unknown. Trench Looking East. May 31st 1900. Museum of the City of New York Photography Collection. F2012.53.170E

Photographer Unknown. 74th St. Power Station Looking East. October 11th 1900. Museum of the City of New York Photography Collection. F2012.53.211A

The main towers were the first part of the building to be completed, in October, 1900.

Photographer unknown. 74 St. Power Station from East River. Museum of the City of New York Photography Collection. F2012.53.228A

You can see here that from February to June 1901 the engine room was almost fully completed.

Photographer unknown. 74th St Power Station Looking East. February 21, 1901. Museum of the City of New York Photography Collection. F2012.53.243A

Photographer unknown. 74th St Power Station Looking East. June 20, 1901. Museum of the City of New York Photography Collection. F2012.53.267B

According to the IEEE Global History website regarding the history of railway power stations of New York City: “Originally, the power house was equipped with eight huge Allis-Corliss reciprocating steam engines, each rated at 10,000 horsepower maximum. Each engine drove directly a Westinghouse three-phase, 11,000 volt, 25-cycle alternator rated for 7500 kilowatts.” At the time these eight Westinghouse alternators were the largest ever built!

Photographer unknown. 74th St Power Station Looking West. February 20.1902. Museum of the City of New York Photography Collection. F2012.53.315B

Here is the completed engine room with those impressive steam engines cranking away.

Photographer unknown. 74th St Power Station Engine Room at Night. Museum of the City of New York Photography Collection. F2012.53.321C

I especially loved the photographs of the men who built this amazing example of engineering and construction.

Photographer unknown. 74th St Power Station Looking West. August 1, 1901. Museum of the City of New York Photography Collection. F2012.53.275D

Photographer unknown. 74th St Power Station Looking West. March 20, 1902. Museum of the City of New York Photography Collection. F2012.53.297A

Photographer unknown. 74th St Power Station Looking North. February 6, 1902. Museum of the City of New York Photography Collection. F2012.53.286C

Photographer unknown. 74th St Power Station Looking West. August 22, 1901. Museum of the City of New York Photography Collection. F2012.53.279B

Though the 74th Street Power Station is still in use today, it is no longer coal powered. In 1959 the plant was taken over by the Consolidated Edison Company and it continued to supply coal power to substations in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens. In 1999 new boilers and gas turbine generators replaced steam ones and the station continues to contribute to the city’s electric power grid.  For more information about this and all power stations in New York, you can read the IEEE Global History Network’s page on the Railway Power Stations of New York City.