The 2nd Avenue Elevated

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2nd Avenue El train at 34th Street, December 1937. Ed Watson/Arthur Lonto Collection, collection of Joe Testagrose.


A word on the construction of the Second Avenue Elevated Line: Of the four els built in Manhattan, the Second Avenue Line was the last to be constructed. Mayor Wickham and the Rapid Transit Commission fixed the route. The Metropolitan Elevated Railway Company (formerly the Gilbert Elevated Railway Company) began to construct the Second Ave. Line, the work actually being undertaken by Mills and Ambrose, the foundation contractors. The iron manufacturers were Edge Moor Iron Company and Clarke, Reeves & Company. Work began at the corner of Allen and Division streets on February 24, 1879. It wasn't long after this that the Manhattan Railway Company took over construction. They took over the sub-contracts from the previous companies and finished the project in the allotted time given them. The first test train ran over the line from South Ferry to Second Avenue and 65th Street on January 15, 1880, and was ready to open the line to the public on March 1, 1880. As it was explained in the above articles, there were a host of problems, but eventually the populace found the line adequate and running smoothly. There were subsequent changes to accommodate the riding public, like additional tracks, more stations, wooden platforms replaced with iron structures and other improvements.

Both the Third Avenue Line and the Second Avenue Line were using Chatham Square as a transfer point. On June 19, 1882, Third Avenue trains were allowed to operate to South Ferry without grade crossings, and also continued on to City Hall Station. An overhead bridge was finally constructed and opened on September 25, 1882 connecting the Chatham Square Station on the north side with the Chatham Sq. Sta. On the south side. This bridge permitted free transfer between the lines. They finally got it right.

Fares were collected by conductors on the trains, but this became impractical as ridership increased and this method of fare collection was abolished by Jan. 20, 1879. Cancelling boxes were introduced in 1880 whereby passengers deposited their tickets into these contraptions before entering the trains. After riding the trains for a nickel (all-day fare was established in October 1886), the passengers could then drop their tickets in a ticket box as they exited the station.

The New York Tribune, Tuesday, March 2nd, 1880

The New York Tribune, Tuesday, March 2nd, 1880. STEAM IN SECOND AVENUE - The fourth rapid transit line open. Running trains on the Chatham Square branch and the Second Avenue elevated road. - Scenes along the line and at the transfer station.

The Second Avenue Elevated Railroad was opened to the public yesterday, as was also the branch from Chatham Square to the City Hall. The first trains started promptly at 5:30 a. m. and afterward ran every three minutes during commission hours. Throughthe day trains were run about every five minutes. Travel over the road was heavy. Many persons living a considerable distance above the upper end walked to Sixty-fifth-st. in order to ride on the new road.

On the west side of Second-avenue, between Sixty-fifth and Sixty-sixth-sts., there is a large wooden structure for coal and a switch track for engines.

A large number of locomotive engines and cars were in readiness on the middle track, which extends from Sixty-fifth-st. to Fifty-ninth-st., in order to make up trains as often as the travel required. The cars were mostly those that have been used on the Third Avenue line, but some of them were like the Sixth Avenue rolling stock. The trains ran smoothly over the road, but the new rails seemed to cause more noise than even the Third or Sixth Avenue Road.

At several different places along the line the track is very high. Between Thirty-fourth-st, and Forty-second-st, the tops of the cars are seen above the roofs of the houses. The track apparently descends after a few blocks to the level of the first- story windows.

The curves were all made slowly and smoothly yesterday. At Twenty-third st. and Second-ave the curve was particularly sharp. The station is between the curves at First and Second-aves. The stations along the line are not yet completed, and only the iron framework is in position. Little wooden structures are now provided for the ticket agents. Many mechanics are engaged finishing the work.

Large placards are posted in each station forbidding the workmen to cross the tracks. The station at Thirty-fourth-st., will not be finished for some time, and the trains will not stop here for the present.

The City Hall Branch, which has been closed since early last Summer, is now part of the Third Avenue route to Harlem. There are thus two separate lines of elevated road, which approach each other at Chatham-square, but do not cross each other. To provide for the transfer of passengers from one road to the other a high bridge connecting the two has been constructed. Passengers coming down-town on Third-ave, are able to reach the Battery by crossing the bridge and taking the down-train on the Second Avenue Line. By the same means passengers going up-town from City Hall who desire to go by the Second Avenue Line are able to make the transfer. A new station has also been built adjoining the old one of the Third Avenue Line from which extra trains are to be dispatched during the busy hours of the day, for the accommodation of those going up-town from Chatham-square.

The transfer of passengers yesterday was attended with considerable confusion. The arrangement of stations of the two lines, which becomes plain enough after being studied out , at first sight appears perplexing on account of the numerous gates, passage-ways and flights of stairs. It appeared to be a puzzle, especially to women many of whom were only able to find their way over the bridge after repeated directions from the gatemen. The wooden stairs leading to the bridge, temporarily constructed until the iron ones should be finished, soon proved too narrow. Passengers meeting on them were compelled to squeeze past each other in single file or wait at the foot until the coast was clear. Workmen were engaged last night remedying this difficulty by making the stairs wider.

The platform of the station is not close enough to the track, and consequently there is a considerable space between it and the cars. A person at night might easily step into the open space and be seriously injured.

With reference to the working of the junction, the chief engineer of the Third Avenue Line said last evening to a TRIBUNE reporter:

"There seemed considerable of a hitch to-day, but I think it was largely attributable to the fact that many of the passengers, instead of passing on stopped to see how the tracks had been arranged and to watch the transfers. A great many transfers are made necessary because a large proportion of the passengers coming down Third-ave desire to go to the Battery, and most of those coming up from the Battery wish to take cars on Third-ave."

The ticket agent at the City Hall station stated last evening that the traffic over the City Hall Branch was much heavier yesterday than it was on an average day before the branch had been closed. After midnight no trains will be run on the Second Avenue Line or the City Hall Branch. The Third-ave. trains after that hour will run to the South Ferry Station at the Battery until 5 o'clock in the morning. At that time the regular order of running on both roads will be resumed. On Sundays also traffic will be suspended on the Second Avenue Line and the City Hall branch; but the trains on Third-ave. will run to the Battery as heretofore.

The New York Sun, Tuesday March 2, 1880

The New York Sun, Tuesday March 2, 1880. THE UNCOMPROMISING OPENING OF THE SECOND AVENUE RAILROAD - The Jam on the Narrow Bridge at the Chatham Square Junction. - Stairways and Stations in an Unfinished Condition, and Confusion Everywhere. - Scenes on the Line.

The Second Avenue elevated railroad was thrown open yesterday morning, in a condition of incompleteness that surprised its patrons, in view of the length of time employed in preparation and the resources at command for its construction. All beyond the mere building of the track had evidently been left to the incompetent, and everything was done in a hurry.

By the new arrangement the southern terminus of the Second Avenue elevated road between 5:30 A. M. and midnight, is at South Ferry; that of the Third Avenue line at the City Hall.

For the supposed convenience of the public, a bridge over the Third Avenue upward-bound and the Second Avenue downward-bound tracks, connects the two depots at Chatham Square. The company's order restricts exchanges nominally to "trains of the other line bound in the same direction," but there does not seem to have been as yet any effective system adopted to prevent anyone exchanging at Chatham Square for any direction. Consequently, that bridge must be crossed by passengers from below there on the Second Avenue line going up Third Avenue, by passengers from below on the Second Avenue line going to the City Hall, by passengers from above on the Second Avenue line going to the City Hall, by passengers from above on the Second Avenue line going up Third Avenue, by passengers from City Hall going to the stations below on the Second Avenue line or above on that line, by passengers from above on the Third Avenue line going to South Ferry or up to some First or Second Avenue station; and to these must be added all passengers by the Second Avenue line either from below or above, who wish to get off at Chatham square, and passengers who wish to take the Second Avenue line at Chatham square, for there is as yet no stairway from the Second Avenue depot at this point to the street. The bridge over which this immense multitude is expected to pass is about twenty-four feet long by apparently ten in width and is reached at each end by a steep flight of nineteen wooden steps....

That this passage was entirely inadequate was demonstrated in a few minutes after the exchanges began yesterday morning.

It was in the early commission hours, and the throngs forcing their way in opposite directions up and down these narrow stairways were so dense that it took half an hour of violent effort to cross from one train to another. Sometimes for several minutes the crowd would be so wedged that movement became impossible. .... But as the morning's crowding and annoying had been, that of the evening commission hours were worse.

The stairways had not been wide enough for the requirements upon them in even those mid-day hours when travel is lightest. Only wide enough for one full grown man to pass up or down at a time, they were at 5 o'clock besieged by hundreds not only of stout men, but of women some of whom carried infants, children, mechanics with boxes of tools, person holding boxes, travelers with valises going to the railway depot. Not only was the bridge covered by a dense mass unable to move, and the narrow stairways jammed full of people who could go neither backward nor forward, but they were packed upon the northern end of the Second Avenue depot platform and the southern end the Third Avenue depot platform hundreds of exasperated, perspiring, struggling men and women. Pickpockets got into the crowd and made a thriving business while the jam lasted, a score of men losing valuable watches, and many, both men and women being robbed of pocketbooks. Dresses were torn, buttons ripped off,....hats mashed, ribs savagely elbowed, and fights threatened.

Every now and then men would jump down on the tracks and make a dash to cross the track from one platform to the other and narrowly risking their lives every time they did so, but several burly employees of the roads occupied the debatable ground, and drove them all back. Had there been stairs from the Second Avenue depot down to the street the matter would not have been so bad, but there were none.

At 6 o'clock Superintendent Stewart got a Third Avenue down-bound train switched off to the South Ferry; holding the upward- bound trains from the City Hall in check until they passed and the switch was relocked. At .... it got back having made the run from the South Ferry without a stop, and was started from the Chatham Square station up the Third Avenue line, the Second Avenue downward trains being held on Division Street and the upward trains from the City Hall checked until it got away and the switches were locked. That train's departure.... broke the deadlock then started on the bridge, and gave a chance for the squad of police who had been sent for to form the passengers into lines on the stairway. It was not, however, until long after the commissions hours were past that that crossing the bridge was made without great difficulty, or with a speed more rapidly than at a snail's pace....

Photo Gallery

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Photo locations: Sea Beach Portal, 8th Avenue, Fort Hamilton Parkway, 13th Avenue Overpass, New Utrecht Avenue, 16th Avenue Overpass, 18th Avenue, 20th Avenue, Bay Parkway (22nd Avenue)

See The 3rd Avenue Elevated for South Ferry Station and Chatham Square Station.

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