L.I.R.R.’s Birth was not Easy

Footnotes to Long Island History


JAN. 4,1950


Thomas R. Bayles

     The original purpose of the Long Island Rail Road was not to carry commuters. It was built to link New York with New England. Travel to Boston required the use of Commodore Vanderbilt's steamers and the trip took 16 hours back in the 1830's when the LIRR was first conceived. The Old Colony railroad between Providence and Boston, had extended its tracks to Stonington, Conn., and the first sponsors of the Long Island Rail Road had wanted to build a railroad along the Connecticut shore from New York to Stonington, but the hills and rivers of Connecticut were too much for the construction engineers of those days. So it was planned to build a line through Long Island to Greenport, where a ferry connection to Stonington could be made with the Old Colony trains to Boston.

       The first move was the lease by the company of the first railroad on Long Island, the 10- mile Brooklyn and Jamaica railroad, for $33,000 annually. Then the construction of the 85-  mile from Jamaica to Greenport was begun in 1835.The line was built as far as Hicksville and two trains were operated each was daily, which picked up passengers at crossroads along the way for additional revenue.

       A depression nearly caused the collapse of the company, but the state came to the rescue with a loan of $100,000. Construction was resumed and by 1841 the tracks had been extended to Farmingdale, Greenport was reached in the summer of 1844. The new route to Boston was put into use and was hailed with enthusiasm as it reduce the 16-hour water trip by half.

        The forest locomotives were the old wood burners "Ariel," and "Postboy," bought in 1834 form the Brooklyn and Jamaica road. By 1841 the road had a total of 11 locomotives. Bright yellow coaches were used on those first trains to Greenport.

       Traffic increased and the future of the Long Island looked bright, the trouble was in store. Farmers along the line became bitter because sparks from the locomotives set their forests afire, and they also complained that the clatter of wheels, puffing of steam and shrieking of whistles frightened their animals. Besides they said Sunday trains desecrated the Sabbath.

       So the farmers pulled stakes and tore up tracks and situation became so bad that the company sent hand cars ahead of the trains with men in inspect the track and see that it was safe to run over. Peace was finally restored when the officials of the road came out to Suffolk and paid cash for damages.

       More trouble was ahead as a new group of railroad backers had succeeded in building a line and bridging the rivers along the Connecticut shore and the tide of traffic was diverted to that line on the route to Boston. By 1850 the Long Island was forced into receivership.

       By 1865 the railroad was on its way to prosperity again. In that year Oliver Chatlick, a railroad builder, obtained control of the Long Island by quietly buying up a majority of its stock. Under his management several local railroads were merged into two systems by 1875, the North Side and the South Side roads, and were in competition with the original Long Island Rail Road which had built several branches in addition to the line to Greenport.

       Competition brought rate wars that nearly caused the failure of all three systems. The Havermeyer and Popenhausen interest got control of first the Long Island, and then the North and South side systems, but the high cost of local leases brought another receivership.

       In 1880 Austin Corbin, a financier, bough the combined Long Island systems and proceeded to improve them and replace equipment until the Long Island became a leading railroad. During the period of his control, from 1880 to 1896 the Long Island paid dividends.

        The road entered a new phase of its history in 1900, when the Pennsylvania obtained a majority of the stock of the Long Island. The work of electrifying the western part began in 1904 and six sections were opened for service in 1905 and 1906.

       The $ 110,000,000 Pennsylvania station was opened in 1910, after six years of construction, and along with it the Long Island gained the use of four East River tunnels, so commuters  no longer had to cross by ferry at Long Island City.


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