The Fourth Avenue Subway in Brooklyn (1915)
Public Service Record · Vol. II, No. 6, June 1915.
The Fourth Avenue Subway in Operation.
by James Blaine Walker, Assistant Secretary
Brooklyn, like Gaul, is divided into three parts, Brooklyn, South Brooklyn and the suburbs. Brooklyn was discovered by the Dutch, South Brooklyn by the English, and the suburbs by the Brooklyn Rapid Transit or its predecessors. The Dutch, who settled New Amsterdam, soon invaded Long Island and established a ferry landing on the Long Island shore which they called Breuckelyn. The ferry boats in those days were row boats, and they landed at what is now the foot of Fulton Street, Brooklyn. They were the first transportation line connecting Manhattan with the Long Island shore, and a ferry ticket in those days cost eight stivers, payable either in Dutch coin or Indian wampum. From that period the value of the ferry privilege increased rapidly and it was regarded of such importance that in the first Charter granted by the English Government to New York, after the Dutch had been driven out, the sole privilege of maintaining the Long Island ferry was conferred upon the City. Sail boats succeeded row boats, barges sail boats, and steam boats the barges. The present generation has witnessed the substitution of bridges and tunnels for the old ferry lines.
The boundaries of South Brooklyn would be difficult to establish. It embraces everything south of Brooklyn proper, so that if one knows where the southern boundary of Brooklyn is he can put his finger on the northern boundary of South Brooklyn. At one time, however, it included Brooklyn Heights and subsequently extended from that point down the East River, Upper Bay and the Narrows to the Lower Bay where the shore curves eastward to Coney Island. In 1776 the British troops, embarking from Staten Island, landed in South Brooklyn and marched toward the Heights, where that portion of Washington's army, detached for the purpose of defending the approach to New York, was encamped. Here, in the Battle of Long Island, which was Washington's first defeat, transformed by his masterly retreat into a partial victory, the British temporarily obtained and held possession of Brooklyn. That was 139 years ago. Today Washington's flag waves over a whole continent. Brooklyn is a part of the greatest city under that flag, and the Fourth Avenue subway sends its trains thundering underneath the plain where Americans and British fought in the Battle of Long Island.
South Brooklyn ends in a beautifully situated plateau, which slopes abruptly to the Narrows on the west and more gently toward the Lower Bay on the south. The Government early recognized the apex of this plateau, fronting both west and south, as a commanding site for a battery, hence the establishment of Fort Hamilton, whose frowning bastions. concealing disappearing guns commanding the waterfront, can be seen by anyone approaching New York City on shipboard. For many years the country between Brooklyn and Fort Hamilton was devoted to farms, but gradually the expanding City encroached upon and obliterated them, until today the whole is laid out and well built up in city blocks and streets. Notwithstanding the building of two lines of elevated railroad and several electric trolley railroads, South Brooklyn has outstripped its transportation facilities. The lack of suitable means of travel to and from Manhattan has engaged the attention of citizens and City authorities for many years.
First Steps Taken in 1905. Ten years ago the first official steps were taken to supply the deficiency, when the Board of Rapid Transit Railroad Commissioners on June 1, 1905, adopted the route for the original Fourth Avenue subway. This route was approved by the Board of Estimate and Apportionment on July 1st of the same year. Being unable to get the necessary consents from property owners to the construction of this road, the Rapid Transit Commission applied to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, First Department, which, on June 18, 1906, authorized its construction.
On December 7, 1906, the Board of Estimate and Apportionment recommended that alternate bids be let: First, for construction alone, and second, for construction, equipment and operation. On May 31, 1907, the Rapid Transit Commission requested the Board of Estimate to rescind the above resolution so that bids for construction alone might be asked for, and authorized the Chief Engineer and Counsel to prepare the plans and contracts.
On June 4, 1907, the Board of Estimate and Apportionment rescinded the resolution and authorized the Commission to advertise for bids for construction only.
On June 27, 1907, the Rapid Transit Commission approved the plans and contracts except those for Section 11-A-1, covering that part of the route from Ashland Place and Fulton Street to Fourth Avenue and Sackett Street.
On July 1, 1907, the Public Service Commission succeeded the Rapid Transit Commission, and on July 30th held a public hearing upon the forms of contracts as determined upon by the Rapid Transit Commission. In October and November, 1907, the Public Service Commission approved the plans and contracts with some changes in grades and an increase in the height of the subway. The height was fixed at fifteen feet in the clear. On December 9th the Commission authorized Counsel and Chief Engineer to prepare the contract and plans for Section 11-A-1. These were prepared and a hearing was held upon the form of contract on February 18, 1908. On March 10, 1908, the Commission approved the plans and form of contract and transmitted them to the Board of Estimate and Apportionment. On March 27, 1908, the Board of Estimate and Apportionment approved the form of contract and requested the Public Service Commission to advertise for bids immediately. On March 31st the Commission ordered that invitations to contractors be published as advertisements according to law. The advertisements, beginning early in April, appeared once a week for four weeks, and bids were opened by the Commission on May 8, 1908.
First Contracts Delayed by Debt Limit Litigation. On May 22, 1908, the Commission awarded contracts for all six sections to the lowest bidder for each section, and on May 26, 1908, transmitted the awards for approval to the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, with a requisition for $2,850,000 to start the work.
The aggregate amount of the contracts awarded was about $15,856,000, and Comptroller Metz, holding that the full amount would be charged against the debt limit if the contracts were approved, gave it as his opinion that the City had not sufficient borrowing capacity to justify it in approving the contracts. To test the question, Jefferson M. Levy brought a taxpayer's suit for an injunction to restrain the Board of Estimate and Apportionment from approving the contracts. This injunction was served upon the Board of Estimate June 12, 1908, and continued in force until the latter part of October, 1909, during which time the question of the debt limit was taken up to the Court of Appeals for determination. Soon after the issuance of the injunction, the Supreme Court appointed General Benjamin F. Tracy referee to investigate and determine what the City's margin under the debt limit was as of June 30, 1908. The referee spent several months in the investigation and made his report in April, 1909, holding that the margin of the City's borrowing capacity on the date in question was about $104,000,000. In arriving at this amount, he had purposely excluded contract liabilities of the City where contracts had been signed, but no payments had been made or bonds issued in payment thereon. The report of the referee was appealed to the Appellate Division, which, without going into the merits of the case, approved it pro forma and an appeal was immediately taken to the Court of Appeals. This court handed down its decision in October, 1909. In the main it confirmed the report of the referee, but overruled him in his action excluding contract liabilities upon which no bonds had been issued or payments made, holding that the full amount of such contracts must be computed in figuring the borrowing margin under the debt limit. The decision reduced the borrowing capacity as of June 30, 1908, to about $54,000,000.
As soon as the Court of Appeals' decision was received officially by the City authorities, the injunction restraining the Board of Estimate and Apportionment from acting upon the Fourth Avenue subway contracts was dissolved, and at the meeting on October 29, 1909, the Board of Estimate approved the contracts.
The Public Service Commission immediately notified the contractors to whom the awards had been made in May, 1908, to execute their contracts within the ten days allowed by contract provisions. All contractors signed their contracts within the time limit, and on November 9, 1909, the Commission formally approved and executed the same on behalf of the City. The contract for the first section in Flatbush Avenue Extension was assigned, with the consent of the Commission, by James P. Graham to Smith, Scott and Company, who performed the work.
Construction Begun in 1909. The first work on the subway was done on November 13, 1909, upon one of the sections for which William Bradley was the contractor. The first shovelful of earth was turned by William R. Willcox, then chairman of the Public Service Commission, in the presence of several thousand people. The occasion was made memorable by appropriate ceremonies carried out by a Brooklyn Citizens Committee. The place where this work was done was in Flatbush Avenue Extension between DeKalb Avenue and Willoughby Street.
Shortly after the contracts were awarded, the Commission began negotiations which ended March 19, 1913, in the execution of the Dual System contracts. Under one of these contracts the New York Municipal Railway Corporation was given a lease of the Fourth Avenue subway, its extensions and connections, for forty-nine years upon the terms and conditions laid down in Contract No.4.
In 1912, during the Dual System negotiations, the Conference Committee of the Commission and the Board of Estimate and Apportionment recommended the construction of the extension of the Fourth Avenue subway to 86th Street as a part of the Dual System. On February 15, 1912, this recommendation was approved by the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, and on June 14, 1912, the Commission directed its Chief Engineer and Counsel to prepare plans and contracts for such extension. After public advertising, the Commission on September 16, 1912, awarded the contracts for the construction of the extension (Sections Nos. 1 and 2 of Route No. 11-B) to the Degnon Contracting Company, the lowest bidder for each section. The contracts were delivered October 4, 1912, and the time limit for completion was two years from that date. The work was delayed by various causes, and the Commission upon application of the contractor has granted an extension of time for Section No.1, extending from 43rd to 61st Street, to July 1, 1915, and for Section No.2, extending from 61st to 86th Street, to July 4, 1915. The contractor has completed two tracks as far as 65th Street, where the connection is made with the reconstructed Sea Beach railroad.
Plans Made by Old Commission. Plans for the Fourth Avenue subway were partially made by the engineering department of the Board of Rapid Transit Railroad Commissioners when George S. Rice was Chief Engineer of that Board. It is a coincidence that Mr. Rice, who started this work ten years ago, is now Division Engineer for the Public Service Commission in charge of the Sixth Division, which embraces the Fourth Avenue subway. The plans were drawn under Mr. Rice's direction by Sverre Dahm, then with the Rapid Transit Commission, and now Principal Assistant Engineer, in charge of the Division of Designs of the Public Service Commission. The actual drafting was in charge of Ralph Cranmer and Aaron I. Raisman, Designing Engineers, who also continued their work under the Public Service Commission. Mr. Cranmer died and was succeeded by Mr. Allen. The latter also died in service and was succeeded by Charles Rodenburg, at present Designing Engineer of the Public Service Commission. Charles E. Conover, Designing Engineer, and many others of the Commission's staff have since been engaged on this work.
After the Public Service Commission was organized the plans were redrawn practically by the same force under Henry B. Seaman, then Chief Engineer of the Commission. and the contracts awarded. It was upon Mr. Seaman's recommendation that the big bore subway was decided upon by the Commission. In 1911 Mr. Seaman resigned and Alfred Craven, the present incumbent, was made Chief Engineer. Under Mr. Craven the plans for the extension from 43rd Street to 86th Street were prepared and the contracts awarded.
For engineering supervision the construction work was divided into two parts, one extending from the Manhattan Bridge to Sackett Street and the other from Sackett Street to 43d Street. The first part originally was under Assistant Engineer S. U. Hopkins, assisted by H. J. Alexander, A. E. Clark and H. L. Coyne. The second part was under Assistant Engineer H. L. Oestreich, assisted by A. Lodholz, J. L. Hogan, G. Murgatroyd and C. F. Rohde. In the early part of 1910 both parts were incorporated in the Sixth Division, and Mr. F. C. Noble was placed in charge as Division Engineer. Mr. Hopkins resigned to take a position with the Bradley Contracting Company, Mr. Oestreich died in the harness and Mr. Noble resigned to go into private practice when the work was about completed.
Route of the Subway. From the Manhattan Bridge, which crosses the East River at Canal Street, Manhattan, the Fourth Avenue subway extends through Brooklyn and South Brooklyn to Fourth Avenue and 86th Street, which is within ten blocks of Fort Hamilton. Its trunk line contains four tracks (in places as many as six). The four tracks will enter Manhattan over the Manhattan Bridge. Two of them, on the Manhattan side, connect with the two easterly tracks in the Centre Street Loop subway. The other two continue under Canal Street to a connection with the new subway running up Broadway. For temporary operation the Loop tracks alone will he used, and trains bound for South Brooklyn will leave Manhattan from the Chambers Street station of that subway, in the basement of the new Municipal Building. The other two tracks will not be used until the Broadway subway is ready for operation.
The route of the trunk line is as follows: From the Manhattan Bridge under Flatbush Avenue Extension, Fulton Street, Ashland Place and Fourth Avenue to 86th Street. The four-track construction extends from the bridge to about 64th Street, where two tracks will connect with the reconstructed Sea Beach railroad of the New York Municipal Railway Corporation, and two tracks will continue under the westerly side of Fourth Avenue to 86th Street.