The Manhattan Bridge

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The Manhattan Bridge
Posted by daveklepper on Saturday, November 21, 2020 8:02 PM

The following is an excerpt from the in-preperation book by Jack May on Third Avenue Railways - Third Avenue Transit:

Jack
 
            The Manhattan Bridge was the fourth East River crossing, running from Canal Street and the Bowery in Manhattan to Flatbush Avenue Extension and Nassau Street in Brooklyn.  Located between the Brooklyn and Williamsburg bridges, the bi-level structure was the last of the East River crossings to be built with tracks for public transportation.  In fact, it had the most tracks of all the bridges—eight—of which four are still used for rapid transit trains.
 
            When the bridge was opened on December 31, 1909, only the vehicle roadway on the lower level was ready for traffic and consequently there was no rail service on the structure.  The situation remained the same until 1912, as two companies vied for the rights to run streetcars over the bridge.
 
            The Manhattan Bridge Three Cent Line, an independent company, was incorporated on December 30, 1909, just one day before the bridge opened.  It received a franchise to run from the Long Island Railroad terminal at Flatbush Avenue and Ashland Place in Brooklyn to the Desbrosses Street ferry on the Hudson River in Manhattan.  The company planned to operate using overhead trolley in Brooklyn and underground conduit on the bridge and across Manhattan.
 
            The existing traction interests in Manhattan and Brooklyn, desiring to thwart the new company, organized the Brooklyn and North River Railroad to operate a streetcar line along the same route.  The B&NR, jointly owned by the Third Avenue Railway (25 percent), New York Railways (25 percent), the Coney Island and Brooklyn Railroad (25 percent) and the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (25 percent, split equally among two subsidiaries, the Brooklyn Heights Railroad and the Nassau Electric Railroad), was incorporated on January 2, 1912.
 
            Two pairs of tracks, equipped with third rail, on either side of the lower level of the bridge, were to be used by the BRT’s new Fourth Avenue subway.  However, it soon became evident that the completion of the rapid transit line was several years away and so the City approved the temporary erection of trolley wire over the southern pair of tracks for street railway operation.
 
            There was continual litigation between the Three Cent Line and the Brooklyn and North River.  At one point after the B&NR began to electrify the tracks with trolley wire the Three Cent Line secured an injunction stopping the work and then completed the job itself.  On the day the Three Cent Line planned to inaugurate service, September 1, 1912, the B&NR had the power shut off, an interruption which lasted only three days.  When it was laying its rails on Flatbush Avenue Extension, the Three Cent Line was forced to go to court to secure the right to cross the tracks of the various Brooklyn trolley companies that shared in the ownership of the B&NR, and it never was able to obtain trackage rights over either the Third Avenue or New York Railways in Manhattan.
 
            The Three Cent Line had received its franchise from the City on July 10, 1912, but the Brooklyn and North River went via a different route, obtaining a permit from the Department of Bridges five days later.  The two companies received permission to operate over the bridge from the New York State Public Service Commission on July 12 and August 14, 1912, respectively.  The Department specified that only one of the B&NR parent companies could operate across the structure and the owners chose the Third Avenue for the task
 
On the Manhattan side of the bridge the tracks were extended through holes in the south wall of the approach to the portal of BRT’s future Centre Street Loop to a three-track loop at Bayard Street and the Bowery.  The loop, which was electrified with overhead wire, was connected by double track to Third Avenue conduit-equipped rails on the Bowery.  On September 4, 1912 the Three Cent Line began revenue trolley service across the bridge between the Bayard/Bowery terminal and a single-track loop at its Brooklyn plaza, between Nassau and Jay Streets, which was alongside a small yard.  The company’s fleet consisted of 13 single-truck cars, which had been built by Laclede in 1892 for the inauguration of cable car service on Third Avenue (see Chapter 3).  The cars had been electrified in 1899 and started being retired during the early 1900s.  Some became work cars and others were sold for scrap, and it is believed that the 13 Three Cent Line cars may have been purchased from a middleman, who had bought them for either resale or scrap value.  The Three Cent Line purchased twelve brand new double-truck cars to modernize its operations in 1913 and 14.
 
On November 13, 1913 the first Third Avenue car, with dignitaries aboard, crossed the bridge from Manhattan to the Brooklyn end of the bridge aboard a storage battery car, and on the next day local revenue service was inaugurated utilizing the same tracks and same terminals as the Three Cent Line.  Two days later, on November 16th, the Third Avenue extended the battery cars to downtown Brooklyn, running from Bowery and Bayard Streets in Manhattan to Gold and Fulton Streets in the outer borough, using a double-track connection to Coney Island and Brooklyn Railroad trackage on Jay, Willoughby and Gold Streets.  According to the Brooklyn Eagle there was fierce competition between the two carriers for local service passengers, with the B&NR trying to use double-truck trolley pole-equipped closed cars on its bridge shuttles, but they had a tendency to derail rounding the loop, and probably were quickly replaced by additional battery units.  The cars used for the service were among the 50 single-truck battery units the Third Avenue had Brill manufacture in 1911 (No. 1152-1201), which were new, but rather slow. 
 
            Meanwhile the Three Cent Line built a carhouse on Gold Street in Brooklyn and on December 14, 1912, extended its operations along Flatbush Avenue Extension to Fulton Street, where a crossover in the center of the street served as the line’s terminal.
 
            Before the B&NR could extend its line to the Desbrosses Street ferry, a great deal of work at ground level, and below, had to be performed.  Since the tracks across the lower level of the bridge were going to be used by BRT subway trains, there was no point of installing conduit there, so a temporary plow pit was built at the Bayard Street terminal to allow the streetcars to change the source of their power from underground conduit to overhead wire and vice versa.  (This was one of several Third Avenue plow pits in the borough of Manhattan--operational details are described in chapter 10.)  Curves were put in connecting the Third Avenue’s trackage on the Bowery with the Dry Dock’s rails on Canal Street in July 1912.  Conduit was installed under Canal Street from the Bowery to Centre Street, where it connected with New York Railways’ electrified Canal Street Crosstown line.  In May 1912, while this work was being performed, the Dry Dock’s Canal and Grand Street Ferry horsecar line (formerly the Grand and Cortlandt Street line), whose western end operated along Canal Street at that point, was cut back to Canal and Forsyth Streets, one short block east of the Bowery and away from all that activity.
 
            On February 9, 1913, Third Avenue streetcars replaced the storage battery units and began operating from Hudson and Watts Streets in Manhattan to Fulton and Gold Streets in Brooklyn via Hudson Street, Canal Street, the Bowery (to the plow pit), the Manhattan Bridge, Jay Street, Willoughby Street and Gold Street.  Thus storage battery operation of the line lasted for a mere 85 days.  Hudson and Watts was used as a temporary terminal until curves could be installed at Canal and Vestry Streets connecting the New York Railways trackage with the Dry Dock’s Grand Street line.  The Board of Estimate approved the connection on April 24, 1913 and the work was completed a month later.  On June 6, 1913 the line was extended to the Desbrosses Street ferry via Vestry, Greenwich and Desbrosses Streets.  Brooklyn-bound cars used Washington instead of Greenwich.  Rolling stock for the now all-electric line came from Third Avenue’s Brill-built (1908) 701-850 series of double-truck closed cars, equipped with both trolley poles and plows.
 
            Later in the year, on December 11, 1913, the line was rerouted onto the Three Cent Line trackage on Flatbush Avenue Extension from the bridge to Fulton Street.  As mentioned earlier, those tracks had been placed in service by the Three Cent Line on December 14, 1912, thus for only a little over a year the two companies used different routes between the bridge and Fulton Street.  Fulton Street and Flatbush Avenue now became the B&NR’s permanent eastern terminal.  On the same date the Third Avenue turned the line over to the Brooklyn and North River, which became its official operator, just as the Third Avenue Bridge Company was the operator of the Queensboro Bridge line.
 
            In terms of finance there were several parallels between the two bridge companies.  Both used Third Avenue cars and were so organized as to operate at a deficit, at least on paper.  This was because the subsidiaries’ contracts with their parent company specified that all fares collected on trackage other than the bridges would be kept by the company owning the rails.  In the case of the B&NR, that included the Dry Dock and New York Railways.  Furthermore, the contract with the City for operation over the Manhattan Bridge was just as onerous as the one for the Queensboro Bridge.  Signed on September 9, 1913, the ten-year agreement called for a $15,000 payment up front, yearly payments of $4,000 or three percent of the gross receipts (whichever was higher) for the first five years and $7,000 or five percent per year thereafter.  In addition, the company was charged five cents for each car making a round trip.  The contract also specified that passengers traveling only from one end of the bridge to the other be charged three cents (or two tickets for five cents), while all others would have to pay five cents.  The five-cent fare also entitled B&NR passengers to a free transfer to or from cars of all the parent companies.  Re-transfers were not allowed, however, so passengers from other lines in Manhattan could go only as far as Fulton Street in Brooklyn and passengers from connecting lines in Brooklyn could go only as far as Desbrosses Street on a single five-cent fare.
 
            This put the B&NR at a competitive disadvantage with respect to the Three Cent Line with respect to those passengers riding along Flatbush Avenue Extension that did not transfer to connecting lines or ride west of the Bowery, as they had to pay five cents instead of the three charged by its competitor.  In fact there was litigation over that as apparently the B&NR had let its passengers ride for only three cents until the PSC ordered it to charge five in 1916, and discontinue its local service from one end of the bridge to the other, which was accomplished just prior to New Year’s Day, 1917.  Despite these setbacks one could still say that the B&NR had a three-cent competitive advantage over its rival--for passengers riding west of the Bowery and those wanting to continue their trips on connecting carlines in either borough (but not both).
 
            In 1914, with the BMT Fourth Avenue subway nearing its opening date, it was time for the City to complete the upper level of the bridge and provide a new right-of-way for the two streetcar lines.  Originally, the southern tracks on the upper level were to be part of a loop for BRT elevated trains, connecting with the Centre Street subway and the tracks on the Brooklyn Bridge, for the purpose of relieving overcrowding at the el’s Park Row terminal.  However, the plan was dropped when civic groups successfully opposed the erection of elevated tracks on Flatbush Avenue Extension.  The Three Cent Line, realizing it could not operate across Manhattan, received permission to use overhead trolley on a permanent basis and was assigned the right-of-way on the south side of the upper level.  Ramps were built to connect the tracks on the surface at both ends of the bridge to both sides of its upper level.  Conduit track was installed for the B&NR on the north side of the upper level and its plow pit was moved from Manhattan to the end of the ramp leading to the surface of Flatbush Avenue Extension, between Nassau and Concord Streets, just short of the where the tracks of the two companies merged.  Since the south side tracks were not yet finished, temporary wires were strung above the north side tracks for the Three Cent Line.  The B&NR began using these tracks on May 23, 1915 and the Three Cent Line one day later.
 

            The Three Cent Line was finally moved to its own tracks on the south side of the upper level on December 12, 1915, but the wire was not removed from the B&NR’s upper level tracks until January 15, 1916.  Rapid transit service over the south side of the lower level, connecting the Fourth Avenue subway in Brooklyn with the Centre Street line in Manhattan began on June 22, 1915, which was just a month after the streetcars were moved to the upper level.  On September 4, 1917 the fourth and last pair of tracks went into service.  The north side of the lower level became the BMT’s most important link to Manhattan, connecting its network in the southern part of Brooklyn with its trunk line on Broadway, bypassing the financial district.  (On November 26, 1967, service from the north side tracks  was routed into the new Chrystie Street subway, connecting with the IND Sixth Avenue line; the south side tracks were then connected to the BMT Broadway subway, resulting in the severing of the connection to the BMT Centre Street line.)

 
 
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Posted by Flintlock76 on Saturday, November 21, 2020 9:39 PM

Thanks David!  The only thing missing is a picture.  I'll take care of that right now.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manhattan_Bridge#/media/File:Manhattan_Bridge_by_David_Shankbone.jpg

Beautiful bridge.  Hard to believe it dates from 1909.  They built 'em good back then!

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Posted by daveklepper on Sunday, November 22, 2020 3:21 AM

The picture can be posted, since David Shankbone authotizes its use for non-commercial purposes if credit is given.  Even commercial purposes are allowed, if congitions are observed. 

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Posted by Overmod on Sunday, November 22, 2020 8:12 AM

daveklepper
Hudson and Watts was used as a temporary terminal until curves could be installed at Canal and Vestry Streets connecting the New York Railways trackage with the Dry Dock’s Grand Street line.  The Board of Estimate approved the connection on April 24, 1913 and the work was completed a month later.  On June 6, 1913 the line was extended to the Desbrosses Street ferry via Vestry, Greenwich and Desbrosses Streets.

I'm pretty sure this should be "Vesey" not "Vestry".  Hopefully if so this can be corrected in galley before publication.

Maps, and diagrams of the bridges, perhaps repeated inline with the text, will almost be necessary to make sense if some of this to the reader, for example in understanding "overcrowding at Park Row".  While most true enthusiasts will understand this, anyone reading this as a first taste of NYC transit probably won't, and even footnote references to other works to 'get the context' would start to address this.

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Posted by timz on Sunday, November 22, 2020 10:01 AM

Vestry St still exists, a block south of Desbrosses St. No reason to think Vesey St was involved.

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Posted by Overmod on Sunday, November 22, 2020 3:18 PM

The only part of Vestry St. I was familiar with has Hudson River views, which threw me off.  It does not help that Trinity, of which I was a parishioner, is responsible for naming both those streets.

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Posted by daveklepper on Monday, November 23, 2020 3:45 AM

Jack May is known for his accuracy, and of course the book will have maps, charts, and photos, matching the excellence of his work with Joe Bromley on the excellent Toronto Transportation Commission book.

But Overmod. did you know that Larry King, Jerry Marshall, and I redid the Trinity Church sound system sometime in the early 1980's. using as much as possible of the earlier Dave Demarest - Ed Seeley system.  We got the job because of the success at St. Thomas 5th Ave, continuous use for 50 years by November 2021.

Given the, flood, Trinity probably has a replacement,  and I was very unhappy about the destruction of the fine Aeolian Skinner organ

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Posted by Overmod on Monday, November 23, 2020 1:06 PM

I had no idea you'd done either.  I was almost married in St. Thomas (and probably in retrospect should have been!) so that is good work too.

daveklepper
Given the flood, Trinity probably has a replacement,  and I was very unhappy about the destruction of the fine Aeolian Skinner organ
I try not to think about it.

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Posted by daveklepper on Tuesday, November 24, 2020 6:15 AM

Both Larry King, Trinity Church's Music Director & Organist, and my partner Larry King were involved in my work.

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Posted by daveklepper on Wednesday, November 25, 2020 6:57 AM

Jack May has told me that Brooklyn and North River, the Third Avenue conduit opersation on the north pair of tracks. quit in 1919, and Manhattan 3-Cent line. suth pair wired, in 1929.  Wicki says upper auto roadway in 1920, which would be the north upper-level. and we can presume the south upper-level in 1930.

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