The ancient story of the intruding camel, who begged a shelter for his head in his
master's tent and ultimately crowded in his unshapely body, to his master's great
discomfiture, is paralleled in the history of elevated railways in this city.
The main reason for the adoption of this form of rapid transit was the cheapness with
which it could be supplied. The camel's head was not attractive, but it was easily let in,
and promised an easy removal should such an issue prove desirable.
Fig. 1 shows
what an early form of the original West Side elevated road was like; not the earliest
form, however, for that was of considerably lighter construction. The large engraving
presented below gives a hint of the enormous possibilities of the structure which has
taken possession of so much of the city. As a specimen of bold, clever, and original
engineering it is admirable. Its effect upon the fine avenue it overshadows is quite
another matter. So, too, is its probable influence upon the region it traverses as a site
for dwellings. The utter inadequacy of any cheap structure of slight capacity (such as the
elevated roads were at the start) to meet the wants of a city like New York, and the
fallacy of the assumption that such a rapid transit road was advisable on the score of
economy, were repeatedly enlarged upon by the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN in the early days of the
system; and the result has more than justified the position then taken. During the past
five years, indeed during the past three years, the system has expanded from four or five
miles of roadway of the lightest description, supported by single posts, to ten times as
many miles of massive and costly structure already in operation, and nearly twenty miles
more approaching completion - structures which almost monopolize four of our principal
avenues and large portions of several down-town streets, and represent an investment of
Fig.1.-THE FIRST ELEVATED ROAD,
WITH ITS LINE OF SINGLE POSTS.
THE ELEVATED RAILWAY AT 110TH STREET
AND EIGHTH AVENUE, NEW YORK CITY.
The system which has attained such stupendous results began in an extremely modest way
in 1868, and for several years it was represented by half a mile of experimental road on
Greenwich street. The New York Elevated Railway Company was organized in 1872, and during
the summer of 1873 the road slowly crept up Greenwich street and Ninth avenue as far as
30th street. In 1876 it extended from the Battery to 61st street, and during the
succeeding years it was further extended to Central Park, and to a considerable extent was
made a double track. Though the new road was heavier than the parts of the line first
constructed, the system of single supports was adhered to, and the general character of
the road was sustained. During the early part of the current year the track was extended
to 83d street, and the original track on Greenwich street has recently been replaced by
the heavier structure of the later road.
In 1878 the Gilbert, afterwards known as the Metropolitan road, was completed to 59th
street - a double track occupying the whole of the narrower streets down town and the
middle of the wide Sixth avenue, and surpassing in solidity and cost anything previously
dreamed of in the way of high level road making. The cost of constructing and equipping
the five miles from Morris street to 69th street, with half a mile of road from Sixth
avenue to Ninth avenue, through 53d street, was officially reported in March last as
$10,300,000. During the same year the New York Elevated Railway Company constructed their east side or Third avenue road from the Battery to 129th street,
with branches to City Hall, to 34th Street Ferry, and to the Grand Central Depot at 42d
street, making some nine miles of double track, the character of which is shown in
Fig.2.-VIEW OF THE ROAD
AT COOPER INSTITUTE.
During the year ending Sept. 30, 1878, the New York Elevated Road carried 14,000,000
passengers; during the next six months, owing to the enormous traffic on the Third avenue
branch, there were carried nearly 14,000,000 passengers.
On the 20th of May, 1879, the Metropolitan and the New York Elevated Railways were
leased to the Manhattan Company, thus bringing both roads under one direction. Since that
date the extension of the system has gone on rapidly. On the west side the continuation of
the New York road above 59th street has been merged in that of the Metropolitan, and above
83d street the road is continued in the style of the Metropolitan. Trains are now running
as far as 135th street and Eighth avenue, and in a little while the road will have reached
its northern terminus at 158th street and Harlem River. The splendid (main) illustration above, shows the road as it curves from Ninth avenue and traverses 110th street
eastward to Eighth avenue.
Fig. 3 is a view in the same neighborhood. It is to such
imposing dimensions that the original "cheap and simple" elevated road has
grown. The posts in the foreground are 57 feet in height above the massive iron shoe on
which they rest. This is raised on a tower of masonry rising some twenty feet or more
above the original level of the land (the avenue having been filled in nearly to that
height), and the masonry rests on a foundation of piles driven in to the depth of 40 feet.
The engineering features of this gigantic, though seemingly slight and airy roadway, we
purpose giving in a later issue. It is enough to say here that even those who are most
familiar with high level transit can scarcely help a feeling of awe as the train sweeps
out over the valley in its sinuous course in mid air. From the 110th street curve to 135th
street and beyond, the road is perfectly straight, and the grade slowly descends to the
Fig.3.-PORTION OF THE ROAD
BEYOND CENTRAL PARK
ON POSTS FIFTY-SEVEN FEET HIGH.
Fig. 4 shows the construction of the base of the supports under ordinary
conditions; those in the foreground of our large illustration are much deeper, pyramidal
in form, and, as before mentioned, are supported by a pile foundation. The hollow iron
columns are painted within with a waterproofing compound, and then filled with cement to
exclude moisture and lessen the possible weakening of the structure by internal corrosion.
Fig.4.-BASE OF COLUMN
While this work has been progressing on the west side, the new east side or Second
avenue elevated road has been under construction. The work of erection was begun in the
early part of the current year, and for a large part of the time, 6,000 workmen have been
employed upon it. The chief difficulties encountered were in the construction of the
For a distance of four miles a perfect network of gas, water, and sewer pipes was
encountered, making a special plan necessary for each foundation. The most troublesome
pier of all was that at 108th street, where the center of the pier was directly over a
large sewer which received two large inlets within the area of the foundation, and the
problem was further complicated by the presence of a 30 in. gas main and two croton water
pipes. Though twenty piles were enough to carry the piers under ordinary conditions, it
was necessary at this point to drive 82 piles to get proper bearings, and to use 130 cubic
yards of concrete, a massive cast iron bed plate, and 80,000 bricks.
In all nearly a thousand tons of iron are said to have been required in arching over
pipes in the 2,400 foundations for piers. In making these foundations 60,000 cubic yards
of rock had to be blasted and removed under the most exacting conditions, and 80,000 cubic
yards of earth. Five steam pile drivers were employed in driving 300,000 lineal feet of
piles for foundations in marshy places. The engineer in charge gives the amount of lumber
used in the piers at 800,000 feet board measure, there were required, in addition, 50,000
cubic yards of sand for mortar, 80,000 cubic yards of broken stone for concrete, 70,000
barrels of cement, and 21,000,000 bricks. One contract for iron for the superstructure
called for 80,000,000 pounds.
This road, which is nearly completed, is intended mainly for through passengers, the
local east side traffic to be given to the Third avenue road. The amount of travel on
these elevated roads can be partly estimated from the figures already given. The regular
time on the Third avenue road is 42 minutes from the Battery to Harlem, 81/2 miles,
including stoppages. Trains are run every four minutes, and commonly include four cars.
The time of the Metropolitan (Sixth avenue) line is 20 minutes from Rector street to 58th
street, about five miles. The time to 104th street is 82 minutes, to 135th St. about ten
minutes more, allowing for slackened speed around the 110th street curve. Trains run to
58th street at intervals of two to four minutes, according to the hour; and to 104th
street and beyond at intervals of six minutes. The fare is ten cents, except during two
hours in the morning and two in the evening, when it is five cents. During the
workingmen's hours a passenger may ride on the Metropolitan division, ten miles, for five
cents, in palace cars fitted up in the finest style. Of the favorable and unfavorable
influence of these elevated roads upon property along their routes, and on the convenience
and comfort of living in the city, it is not our purpose here to speak.