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Earle Baldwin

Manhattan's Lost Streetcars

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[float=right]0738538841.jpg[/float]On April 25, 1831, America's first streetcar company, the New York and Harlem Railroad, was granted a charter by New York City to begin operations on Manhattan Island. Initially created to provide service between the island's southern area and Harlem to the north, the system was expanded in subsequent years to serve a much larger territory. Originally opting for steam power, the railroad was forced to employ horses to pull its cars as city government did not want steam locomotives running on downtown streets.

 

The creation of the New York and Harlem Railroad was the first step in building what was to become one of the truly great urban street railway networks. By the early part of the Twentieth Century, approximately 470 miles of trackage blanketed Manhattan. Service was provided by cars belonging to no fewer than two dozen independent companies. More than one million passengers rode the trolleys on a daily basis. Companies such as the Metropolitan Street Railway, the Green Lines, the Manhattan Bridge Three Cent Line and the Brooklyn and North River were essential elements of everyday life in the big city. Despite the importance of the streetcar to New York City's economic growth, during the ensuing years, a variety of factors not the least of which was corrupt politics sealed its fate. Quite regrettably, the grand era of Manhattan streetcar operation closed in 1957 with the abandonment of the Queensboro Bridge Railway in 1957.

 

"Manhattan's Lost Streetcars" is a 128 page softcover book published in 2005 by Arcadia Publishing as part of its "Images of Rail Series." Authored by Stephen L. Meyers, the book traces the history of the streetcar in Manhattan from its inception to its unfortunate conclusion. A plethora of black and white photographs, a number of which were taken before the end of the Nineteenth Century, vividly illustrate the variety of equipment which served the transportation needs of New Yorkers over the years. These images are accompanied by informative text providing a detailed chronological account of streetcar operation in Manhattan. The reader cannot help but wonder how different transportation in the city might be today had this magnificent system been maintained intact. Clearly, the thought of modern light rail vehicles gliding silently along routes once traveled by grinding single truck trolleys is intriguing. Alas, the system is gone but it certainly is fun to imagine a scenario in which it is still with us!

 

Priced at $19.99, "Manhattan's Lost Streetcars" provides a satisfying look at the transportation network which shaped the city's traffic patterns and enabled it to become the international center of commerce into which it eventually evolved. The book should be considered essential reading for any enthusiast with an interest in New York City public transportation and trolley fans in general. My best advice is to hurry down to your local bookstore and pick up a copy. You won't be disappointed.

 

Best regards,

 

Earle

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Queensboro Bridge catered to many trolley lines until the post-War era. The strange structure at 59th and 2nd, at the foot of the bridge, was a former entrance to the underground trolley tracks.

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