RCC Honors History Project

THE NEW YORK SUN · TUESDAY MARCH 2ND, 1880

Posted by mcelynrh on March 15, 2009

THE UNCOMPROMISING OPENING OF THE SECOND AVENUE RAILROAD
The Jam on the Narrow Bridge at the Chatham Square Junction.
Stairways and Stations in an Unfinished Condition, and Confusion Everywhere.
Scenes on the Line.

The Second Avenue elevated railroad was thrown open yesterday morning, in a condition of incompleteness that surprised its patrons, in view of the length of time employed in preparation and the resources at command for its construction. All beyond the mere building of the track had evidently been left to the incompetent, and everything was done in a hurry.

By the new arrangement the southern terminus of the Second Avenue elevated road between 5:30 A. M. and midnight, is at South Ferry; that of the Third Avenue line at the City Hall.

For the supposed convenience of the public, a bridge over the Third Avenue upward-bound and the Second Avenue downward-bound tracks, connects the two depots at Chatham Square. The company’s order restricts exchanges nominally to “trains of the other line bound in the same direction,” but there does not seem to have been as yet any effective system adopted to prevent anyone exchanging at Chatham Square for any direction. Consequently, that bridge must be crossed by passengers from below there on the Second Avenue line going up Third Avenue, by passengers from below on the Second Avenue line going to the City Hall, by passengers from above on the Second Avenue line going to the City Hall, by passengers from above on the Second Avenue line going up Third Avenue, by passengers from City Hall going to the stations below on the Second Avenue line or above on that line, by passengers from above on the Third Avenue line going to South Ferry or up to some First or Second Avenue station; and to these must be added all passengers by the Second Avenue line either from below or above, who wish to get off at Chatham square, and passengers who wish to take the Second Avenue line at Chatham square, for there is as yet no stairway from the Second Avenue depot at this point to the street. The bridge over which this immense multitude is expected to pass is about twenty-four feet long by apparently ten in width and is reached at each end by a steep flight of nineteen wooden steps….

That this passage was entirely inadequate was demonstrated in a few minutes after the exchanges began yesterday morning.

It was in the early commission hours, and the throngs forcing their way in opposite directions up and down these narrow stairways were so dense that it took half an hour of violent effort to cross from one train to another. Sometimes for several minutes the crowd would be so wedged that movement became impossible. …. But as the morning’s crowding and annoying had been, that of the evening commission hours were worse.

The stairways had not been wide enough for the requirements upon them in even those mid-day hours when travel is lightest. Only wide enough for one full grown man to pass up or down at a time, they were at 5 o’clock besieged by hundreds not only of stout men, but of women some of whom carried infants, children, mechanics with boxes of tools, person holding boxes, travelers with valises going to the railway depot. Not only was the bridge covered by a dense mass unable to move, and the narrow stairways jammed full of people who could go neither backward nor forward, but they were packed upon the northern end of the Second Avenue depot platform and the southern end the Third Avenue depot platform hundreds of exasperated, perspiring, struggling men and women. Pickpockets got into the crowd and made a thriving business while the jam lasted, a score of men losing valuable watches, and many, both men and women being robbed of pocketbooks. Dresses were torn, buttons ripped off,….hats mashed, ribs savagely elbowed, and fights threatened.

Every now and then men would jump down on the tracks and make a dash to cross the track from one platform to the other and narrowly risking their lives every time they did so, but several burly employees of the roads occupied the debatable ground, and drove them all back. Had there been stairs from the Second Avenue depot down to the street the matter would not have been so bad, but there were none.

At 6 o’clock Superintendent Stewart got a Third Avenue down-bound train switched off to the South Ferry; holding the upward- bound trains from the City Hall in check until they passed and the switch was relocked. At …. it got back having made the run from the South Ferry without a stop, and was started from the Chatham Square station up the Third Avenue line, the Second Avenue downward trains being held on Division Street and the upward trains from the City Hall checked until it got away and the switches were locked. That train’s departure…. broke the deadlock then started on the bridge, and gave a chance for the squad of police who had been sent for to form the passengers into lines on the stairway. It was not, however, until long after the commissions hours were past that that crossing the bridge was made without great difficulty, or with a speed more rapidly than at a snail’s pace….

http://www.nycsubway.org/lines/2ndave-el.html

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