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Bicycle RR Here Took Spill

Footnotes to Long Island History

Bicycle RR Here Took Spill

by

Thomas R. Bayles


An article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of November 8, 1902, carried an account of the sale of the assets of the Boynton Bicycle railroad at East Patchogue to John Roe Smith.  This marked the end of the colorful enterprise which about 10 years before had aroused great enthusiasm throughout Long Island, and which had stockholders in nearly every village on the Island.

       The scheme was a failure and the stockholders lost the money they invested in it.

       The promoter of the bicycle railroad was Frederick W. Dunton of Jamaica, a nephew of Austin Corbin, president of the Long Island Rail Road for many years. Mr. Dunton became acquainted with Eben M. Boynton, who had invented bicycle railroad systems, and the Jamaica man thought he saw in this new means of transportation a new era of safe, speedy and reliable travel between the villages of eastern Long Island and the cities on the west.

      With his characteristic energy he soon had a two-mile stretch built between Bellport and Patchogue and the location has since been called Dunton. Power was from an electric powerhouse at the end of the line. 

      This railroad consisted of a heavy wooden framework with a single rail at the top and bottom.  The car rested on drivers running on the lower track, and was held in an upright position by the overhead rail.

      Surveys were made all along the South Shore between Bellport and Jamaica, as well as on the north side, and it was promised that in a few months the cigar-shaped bicycle railroad cars, smartly painted and luxuriously upholstered, would be running to and from the cities on the west end.

      According to a prospectus of the company in the possession of the writer, it was organized under the laws of the state of New York as the Kings, Queens and Suffolk company, with a capitalization of $6000,000, in eight percent preferred stock, and $1,000,000 of common stock.

       The first section of the railroad to be built was to have been 20 miles in length and to cost about $500,000 ready to run.  As an investment, the first section of the road promised returns greater than from any security on the market, and we quote the following:

        “Every mile of the road shown upon our map will pay handsomely from the moment of its completion.  The people are waiting with open arms to welcome us and give us their business, and Long Island property is waiting only to be touched by the influence of our railroad to shower golden results upon its owners.”

        “We simply take the bicycle and enlarge it so that instead of carrying one person it carries 40 to 70.  We then place upon the wheels of this bicycle our electric motor and place this bicycle within the embrace of a structure so built that it will hold it, and so hold electricity just as trolley cars do, we drive our light machine at a speed and with safety elsewhere unknown in the world today.  The whole thing is simplicity itself and every boy who sees it understands it.

      “As a rule investments do not go directly to the people, but we shall deal directly with the people and afford them an opportunity to share in the benefits to be derived by the operation.  We know that the investment in shares of the company will return great profit and give great satisfaction.

      “Because the unique conditions of Long Island demand and justify the immediate building of the One Rail system we assert that for years Long Island will be the only territory blessed with this great medium for attracting home seekers and strangers, and will bound forward in population and wealth as no other territory adjoining the great cities can ever do under the influence of steam or other surface roads which penetrate them.”

      Public meetings were held in every village along with illustrated lectures explaining the great advantages of the new system of travel.  The people, including a large number of women, practically fell over themselves in their rush to subscribe for shares in the new enterprise.  Not many made large investments, but there were a great number of small investors. 

      In due time the experimental car “Rocket” came through from New York and attracted great attention, as it was drawn along the South Country road by six yoke of powerful oxen.  These beasts of burden were as much a curiosity as the car itself.  Many of those who watched the car drawn along the road towards Bellport were so impressed with its beauty and possibilities that they rushed off to secure some stock in the company.

       Among those who subscribed to the stock of the company were many prominent Long Island business men who were, with others, carried away with the apparent possibilities of the new method of travel.

      The railroad was a complete failure and the first 20-mile section was never built.  The stockholders received no dividends and lost their investments.  

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