Interesting Facts About Our Subway (1904)
The New York Times · Friday, October 28th, 1904
Chronology of the Great Underground System.
TEST TUNNEL BUILT IN 1868.
First Rapid Transit Commission Named by Mayor Grant--- Hewitt's Plan Approved.
After forty years of varying fortunes the city of New York at last has her first underground railroad, which is the beginning, rather than the ultimate realization, of adequate rapid transit facilities. The chronology of the movements that finally resulted in the adoption of the Subway as a basis for the solution of the transit problem, is as follows:
1865: With the general recognition of the fact that the existing horse-car lines were but crude beginnings of a transit system, there began a long series of visionary schemes for a rapid transit railroad. For years, however, real rapid transit was a mere dream, and no practical plan was put forward.
1868: Under a charter granted to the New York City Central Underground Company, Alfred E. Beach built a test section of tunnel 350 feet long under Broadway, between Warren Street and Park Place.
1872: The New York City Rapid Transit Company was incorporated by Commodore Vanderbilt, to build a sub-surface railroad. The plan was abandoned.
1875: An act authorizing the appointment of a Rapid Transit Commission, on the petition of fifty householders in this county passed the Legislature.
1884: Mayor Abram S. Hewitt first urged municipal ownership of subways, but his bill failed to pass.
1889: Mayor Grant's measure for the appointment of a commission was defeated.
1890: The first Rapid Transit Commission was named by Mayor Grant on April 9, under the old act of 1875, with August Belmont, Orlando B. Potter, William Steinway, Woodbury Langdon, and John H. Starin as members. A steam railroad, running on a viaduct from the Brooklyn Bridge to Astor Place and in a subway from there to Forty-second Street, was what the board recommended.
1891: On Jan. 21 the Senate passed a new Rapid Transit bill, giving the Grant board power to lay out a route and grant a franchise. The measure later passed the Assembly, and was signed by Gov. Hill. On May 27 the commission announced a plan for a subway under Broadway from the Battery to One Hundred and Sixty-ninth Street.
1892: The Supreme Court, having appointed an investigating commission after a majority of the Broadway property owners had refused to indorse the plan, supported the board and recommended certain additional extensions. The board, however, was unable to get any responsible bids for the contract.
1893: The Manhattan Railway's many propositions to build more elevated lines were rejected, and there were continual squabbles in the commission, on which Mr. Starin was succeeded by David F. Porter.
1894: Abram S. Hewitt's plan to build a road with the city's credit was approved by the Chamber of Commerce in resolutions which stated precisely the conditions under which the present subway finally was built. The bill recommended to the Legislature was passed with slight amendments, and on the board named under its terms were the Mayor, Controller, and President of the Chamber of Commerce as ex-officio members, and Messrs. Alexander E. Orr, Seth Low, John Claflin, William H. Steinway, and John H. Starin. William Barclay Parsons, who had been chief engineer for the old board, held the same position in the new one. The law was ratified at the polls. After Mr. Parsons had presented plans and the property owners had failed to approve them, the Supreme Court gave what seemed to be a severe blow to rapid transit by saying that the city must not try to raise the required $50,000,000 at that time, as the Constitutional debt limit provision was against it.
1895: There were frequent public hearings on underground railroad plans.
1896: Woodbury Langdon, George L. Rives, and Charles Stewart Smith succeeded Messrs. Inman, Low, and Steinway.
1897: Chief Engineer Parsons presented the plans under which the Manhattan-Bronx subway finally has been built.
1898: Despite objections from the Van Wyck administration, the commission held hearings and tried to get bids.
1899: The bid of the Metropolitan Railway system, headed by the late W.C. Whitney, was rejected. It was announced that the debt limit obstacle had been removed by the increased valuation of taxable property. The Tammany officials changed their tack and decided to help the board, on which John Claflin was succeeded by Alexander E. Orr, after Mr. Orr had been succeeded by Morris K. Jesup as President of the Chamber of Commerce.
1900: Bids for the Subway were opened on Jan. 15, and John B. McDonald's proposition to do the building for $35,000,000 with $2,700,000 extra for stations and terminals, was successful. The only rival bidder was Andrew Onderdonk. When Mr. McDonald made ready to furnish financial security it was found that he had not sufficient capital, but he enlisted the aid of August Belmont, who formed the Rapid Transit Subway Construction Company to back the enterprise. On Feb. 21 the contract was signed. It was drawn up by Edward M. Shepard and A.B. Boardman, the commission's counsel. Early in March the first actual work was done in Washington Heights, and on March 24, Mayor Van Wyck formally broke ground in front of the City Hall.
1901: Work on the tunnel was pushed forward, and the streets along the route were torn up almost continuously from the Battery to Harlem. John Claflin succeeded George L. Rives on the commission.
1902: The Interborough Rapid Transit Company was organized by Mr. Belmont and his associates to operate the underground road, and Mr. McDonald assigned the lease part of his contract to the new corporation. The contract for the Brooklyn extension was given to the construction company for $8,000,000.
1904: The first subway was formally opened on Oct. 27 from City Hall to One Hundred and Forty-fifth Street and Broadway. The company announced that it would open the east side branch as far as the Harlem River on Nov. 3, and that the rest of the Manhattan-Bronx system would be ready in the Spring. The personnel of the Rapid Transit Commission has not changed in 1904, but George L. Rives has succeeded Edward M. Shepard as counsel.
Few Accidents in Subway.
Only three very serious accidents have marked the building of the Manhattan-Bronx Subway in the last four years and seven months. The first was the dynamite explosion on Jan. 27, 1902, in the storage shed opposite the Murray Hill Hotel, when 6 persons were killed, 125 injured, and property damage done amounting to about $300,000. On March 21 following the tunnel caved in under the east side of Park Avenue, between Thirty-seventh and Thirty-eight Streets, causing such damage to the residences on the block that Mr. Belmont later bought almost all the property at a cost of about $1,000,000. The third catastrophe was the cave-in north of Fort George on Oct. 24, 1903, when 10 men were killed.
Although there were numerous minor accidents and individual accidents to laborers, the total of deaths due to the Subway work has been very small for a work of such magnitude. There is no accurate record on the subject. Among the accidents to individuals was the falling of a loose boulder on Major Ira A. Shaler, who died from his injuries. He was the sub-contractor for the Park Avenue section.
The Rapid Transit Subway was designed and superintended in every detail of its construction by William Barclay Parsons, who, as the commission's Chief Engineer, had autocratic power over the contractor.
The contractor who did the work is John B. McDonald, builder of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad tunnel under Baltimore, the Jerome Park reservoir, and many other works of world-wide renown. After making the successful bid he was unable to get the required financial support until he enlisted the aid of August Belmont, who organized the Rapid Transit Construction Company to back the enterprise. After that the company figured as the receiver of building funds from the city, while Mr. McDonald's official title in the concern was "Contractor of the Company."
The signing of the main contract was followed by the sub-letting of the work in fifteen sections. The contractors to whom Mr. McDonald and his company let the jobs were as follows:
Sections 1 and 2, Post Office to Great Jones and Marion Streets, Degnon-McLean Contracting Company.
Section 3, Great Jones Street to Thirty-third Street and Fourth Avenue, Holbrook, Cabot & Daly.
Section 4, Thirty-third Street to Forty-first Street, Ira A. Shaler (estate of Ira A. Shaler.)
Section 5A, Forty-first Street and Park Avenue to Forty-seventh Street and Broadway, Degnon-McLean Contracting Company.
Section 5B, Forty-seventh to Sixtieth Street, Naughton & Co.
Sections GA and GB, Sixtieth to One Hundred and Fourth Street, William Bradley.
East Side Branch.
Sections 7 and 8, One Hundred and Third Street and Broadway to One Hundred and Thirty-fifth Street and Lenox Avenue, Farrell, Hopper & Co.
Section 9A, One Hundred and Thirty-fifth Street and Lenox Avenue, under the Harlem River, to Gerard Avenue and One Hundred and Forty-ninth Street, McMullen & McBean.
Section 9B, Gerard to Brook Avenue, John C. Rodgers.
Section 10, elevated viaduct, Brook Avenue to Bronx Park, steel structure to Terry & Tench Construction Company; foundations to E. P. Roberts.
West Side Branch.
Section 11, One Hundred and Fourth Street and Broadway to One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street and Broadway, John Shields.
Section 12, elevated viaduct across Manhattan Valley from One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street to One Hundred and Thirty-third Street, steel structure to Terry & Tench Construction Company, foundations to E. P. Roberts.
Sections 13 and 14, One Hundred and Thirty-third Street and Broadway to Hillside Avenue, McCabe Brothers.
Section 15, elevated viaduct, Hillside to Bailey Avenue, steel structure to Terry & Tench Construction Company, foundations to E. P. Roberts.
Each of these sub-contractors had an engineer and big staff of assistants. Each job was a gigantic task in itself. All of those who worked along the line, from Chief Engineer S. L. F. Deyo of the main contracting company down to the lowest sub-engineer, or the smallest sub-contractor, were under the commission's Chief Engineer Mr. Parsons. whose principal assistant has been George S. Rice, the Deputy Chief Engineer.