Tuesday, July 23, 2024

HISTORY OF THE STEAM RAILWAY IN BROOKLYN: WHY LINES WERE BUILT TO THE BEACHES

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the city of Brooklyn occupied most of the modern Brooklyn center. Brooklyn’s suburbs included Midwood, Bensonhurst and the beachfront neighborhoods of Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach and Coney Island. The proprietors of major hotels at the time, such as the Brighton Beach Hotel and the Sea Beach Palace Hotel, were seeking fresh ways to attract tourists. As a result, they assisted in financing new steam railways to the beach, but since everyone acted independently, the steam railways that arose were separated, centered in the western and southern areas of Brooklyn and were not designed for speedy travel. Find out more information about the first steam railway lines at brooklyn-future.

Sea Beach Line and Coney Island

As a result, all of Brooklyn’s first steam lines served different areas of Coney Island. The initial steam railways were built primarily to serve hotels at the ends of each line, which were owned by the same company as the railways that served them. However, around the turn of the century, the railway had to handle far more passengers than they could have imagined.

The Sea Beach Line commenced operations on July 18, 1877, as a steam railway named the New York and Sea Beach, operating between the Bath junction and 64th Street pier (which is close to where 62nd Street and New Utrecht Avenue cross now). The steam line reached the Sea Beach Palace Hotel on Coney Island on July 17, 1879, and ended at the Sea Beach depot, which was positioned between the West End and Culver depots (between West 8th and West 11th Streets today). Initially, the service was seasonal and lasted only until September 1, 1877. It was put on hold for the 1878 season owing to construction. The owners of NY&SB knew that without the ability to reach the Bay, their line would not be profitable. After several route options were tested and failed, a route similar to the modern one was developed: from Bath Junction, the NY&SB ran parallel to the NY&MB from the south to 8th Ave, then crossed it and ran parallel to it from the north to 64th Street pier.

The Culver Line

On June 19, 1875, the Prospect Park and Coney Island Railroad began operations as a steam railway connecting Prospect Park (9th Avenue and 20th Street) to Gravesend Avenue and Neck Road. It was constructed by Andrew Culver and was given the name Culver Line, which it bears to this day. On July 27, of the same period, the steam line reached Culver Terminal in the West Brighton part of Coney Island, at Cable’s Hotel (later known as Ocean View). Culver Terminal was the predecessor of present Stillwell Avenue, with its initial location on Surf Avenue and West 5th Street, near where Brightwater Towers now stands. The line was originally single-track when it opened, but by April 1878, it had been converted to double-track.

Establishment of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Corporation

On January 19, 1896, the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Corporation (BRT) was established. The BRT was not an operator, it was a holding company formed to acquire the assets of other transit companies. Shortly after registration, the BRT initiated a campaign to purchase all available tram, overpass and steam roadways. By 1900, the BRT had taken over the Sea Beach Railway. In the same year, the Brooklyn Elevated and Union Elevated railways joined to form the Brooklyn Union Elevated Railroad Company. At the time, most Brooklyn railroads had financial difficulties, and the BRT simply absorbed them. By 1900, every Brooklyn line was under BRT management, except the Brooklyn and Rockaway Beach Railroad (the Canarsie Line), which did not fall under the control of the BRT until 1906. 

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