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Guide to the William F. Reeves Elevated Railroads Photograph Collection
[1868]-1933
(bulk dates 1878-1906)
 PR 154

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400


© 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Emily Wolff and Jenny Gotwals

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on December 14, 2015
Description is in English.

Descriptive Summary

 
Title: William F. Reeves Elevated Railroads Photograph Collection
Dates: [1868]-1933
Abstract: Collection of photographs documenting the elevated railroads in New York City.
Quantity: 12.05 Linear feet (11 boxes)
Location note: Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections
Call Phrase: PR 154

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Historical Note

The implementation of a rapid transit system in New York City became an increasingly important issue during the 1850s and 1860s as the city spread northward and a growing number of people needed to be transported faster and more efficiently than horse-drawn vehicles would allow. New York's densely populated neighborhoods, the existing pedestrian and vehicle traffic, and Manhattan's long, narrow configuration necessitated a system that would run either above or below ground level. Numerous designs for both types of system were proposed to the state legislature during this time and public demand for rapid transit grew fervent.

In 1867 the city legislature approved a proposal for an experimental elevated cable railroad to be constructed on Greenwich Street between Dey and 29th Streets in Manhattan. Despite litigation brought by the omnibus companies, the elevated system evolved rapidly. By 1880, four steam-powered railroad lines ran through Manhattan, stretching from the Battery to the Harlem River, and carrying more than 175,000 passengers each day. Construction continued into the Bronx, linking the boroughs as the population swelled. The El, as the system was known from its earliest days, transformed the city during the second half of the nineteenth century. As the iron tracks dominated the landscape, the trains accelerated the pace of urban life, and in doing so facilitated a range of economic and social changes.

The elevated system reached it peak in 1921, with ridership reaching 374 million. However, the economic depression of the 1930s, changing political tides, and the expansion of the subway system soon brought about its demise. Service was discontinued on the Sixth Avenue Line in 1938 and the other lines followed shortly thereafter. With the demolition of the Third Avenue Line track in 1956, the era of New York's elevated railroads came to an end.

Sources:

  • Jackson, Kenneth T., ed., Encyclopedia of New York. London and New York: Yale University Press, 1995.
  • Reed, Robert C., The New York Elevated. South Brunswick and New York: A. S. Barnes and Co., 1978.
  • Reeves, William Fullerton, The First Elevated Railroads in Manhattan and the Bronx of the City of New York. New York: New-York Historical Society, 1936.
  • Stelter, Lawrence, By the El: Third Avenue and its El at mid-century. Flushing, New York: H&M Productions, 1995.

Biographical Note

William Fullerton Reeves was born in New York City in 1859. He was raised in the city and attended New York University. In 1880, he went to work as a civil engineer for the Manhattan Railway Company, the company that merged New York's independent elevated railroad lines into a unified system. Reeves continued to serve as an engineer when Manhattan Railway was taken over by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company in 1903. He spent the rest of his career with Interborough Rapid Transit, working on both the elevated railroads and the subway system. He specialized in the legal aspects of engineering and became an authority on contracts and easements. Reeves was a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the National Society of Professional Engineers, and the New York State Society of Professional Engineers, as well as a member of the Salmagundi Club in New York and an Associate Member of The New-York Historical Society.

The history of New York's elevated railroads was of great interest to Reeves. The city's earliest elevated structures were erected when he was a child, and he grew up during an era in which rapid transit was at the forefront of public affairs. He collected photographs, maps, and documents relating to the development of the elevated system. In 1935, he published "Elevated Railroads on Manhattan Island," a two-part article in the January and April volumes of the Quarterly Bulletin of the New-York Historical Society. Both parts were illustrated with images from his collection. The following year, the Society published a revised and augmented version of the article as a limited edition book entitled  The First Elevated Railroads in Manhattan and the Bronx of the City of New York.

Williams Reeves died of a heart attack in his apartment at Hotel des Artistes, 1 West 67th Street, on September 18, 1936.

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Scope and Content Note

The William F. Reeves Elevated Railroad Photograph Collection spans the period from ca. 1868 to 1933 and contains photographic prints of elevated railroads in New York City collected by William F. Reeves. The collection contains 235 photographs including albumen prints, cyanotypes, gelatin silver prints (mostly original early-twentieth century prints with some later copy prints,) and printing-out paper prints. In most cases the photographers have not been identified. The Estate of William F. Reeves donated these images to the New-York Historical Society in 1937 as part of a gift of approximately 300 photographs. The original donation was dispersed into various Print Room collections. The images in this collection were formerly included in the Geographic File (PR 020) and the Subject File (PR 068). The collection is arranged into six series by railroad line: Second Avenue Line; Third Avenue Line; Sixth Avenue Line; Ninth Avenue Line; Bronx Lines; and Miscellaneous Photographs. Although each Manhattan line is designated by the name of a numbered avenue, that avenue was not the only thoroughfare along which it traveled. Miscellaneous photographs include aerial photographs taken from a power plant and coal hoist on 74th Street near the East River.

Photographers represented throughout the collection include: James A. Bostick, N. L. Coe, Herman Cos, George P. Hall & Son, Instantaneous Photo Co., and J. Reid.

Arrangement

Photographs are arranged from south to north on the train route.

The collection is arranged into six series by railroad line:

  1. Series I. Second Avenue Line ([1899]-1906)
  2. Series II. Third Avenue Line (1876-1904)
  3. Series III. Sixth Avenue Line ([1876]-1933)
  4. Series IV. Ninth Avenue Line (1868-1905)
  5. Series V. Bronx Lines (1883-1906)
  6. Series VI. Miscellaneous Photographs (1924, undated)

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Access Points

Subject Names

  • Bostick, James A.
  • Coe, N.L.
  • Hall, George P., 1832-1900
  • Reid, J., photographer

Document Type

  • Albumen prints
  • Cyanotypes
  • Gelatin silver prints
  • Mammoth plate

Subject Organizations

  • Instantaneous Photo View Company
  • Interborough Rapid Transit Company
  • Manhattan Railway Company
  • Suburban Rapid Transit Railway (New York, N.Y.)

Subject Topics

  • Local transit — New York (State) — New York
  • Railroads, Elevated — New York (State) — New York
  • Urban transportation — New York (State) — New York

Subject Places

  • Bronx (New York, N.Y.)
  • Manhattan (New York, N.Y.)

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Administrative Information

Provenance

300 photographs were a gift of the Estate of William F. Reeves, October 11, 1937.

Access Restrictions

Open to qualified researchers.

Photocopying undertaken by staff only. Limited to thirty exposures of stable, unbound material per day. See guidelines in Print Room for details.

Use Restrictions

Permission to reproduce any Print Room holdings through publication must be obtained from:
Rights and Reproductions
The New-York Historical Society
Two West 77th Street
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282
Fax: (212) 579-8794

The copyright law of the United States governs the making of photocopies and protects unpublished materials as well as published materials. Unpublished materials created before January 1, 1978 cannot be quoted in publication without permission of the copyright holder.

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as: William F. Reeves Elevated Railroads Photograph Collection, PR 154, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, The New-York Historical Society.

Related Material at the Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections

The New-York Historical Society holds copies of The First Elevated Railroads in Manhattan and the Bronx of the City of New York in the Library and the Print Room. The Library holds the manuscript for the book as well. Other N-YHS Print Room collections containing images of New York's elevated railroads include but are not limited to the Norvin H. Green Collection of Elevated Railroad Photographs (PR 023), the Subject File (PR 068), the Geographic File (PR 020), and the Architect and Engineer File (PR 003).

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Container List

Series I: Second Avenue Line

Scope and Contents note

Series I. Second Avenue Line is made up of sixteen photographs (ca. 1899-1906) of the elevated line that ran from Chatham Square to 129th Street in Manhattan. The Second Avenue Line was the last of the four Manhattan elevated lines to be constructed, beginning service in 1880. An 1886 mammoth plate albumen print shows the curving tracks at the 129th Street Terminus. Two prints in the series illustrate the relationship between the tracks and buildings, one an 1899 view looking down at the tracks near 42nd Street, the other a 1905 view of the tracks over Allen Street, looking north from Division Street. The latter image is part of a set of ten photographs from 1905 that also show street life under the tracks along Division Street. A 1905 view captures an electric train at the 34th Street station, providing evidence of the system-wide conversion from steam to electricity that occurred 1901-1903. A 1906 image shows a train at the 80th Street Station, the conductor's head appearing out of a window as a man in a bowler hat (who may be William Reeves) watches from the platform.

Photographs are arranged from south to north on the train route. The number of prints in each folder is noted in parentheses.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 1-2 Division Street (9 prints)
1905
Box: 2 Folder : 3 South of 50th Street (3 prints)
[1899]-1905
Box: 2 Folder : 4 North of 50th Street (3 prints)

General note

See also Box 10, Folder 41

1886-1906

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Series II: Third Avenue Line

Scope and Contents note

Series II. Third Avenue Line contains twenty-nine photographs dating from 1876 to 1904. The Third Avenue Line began service in 1878 and ran from South Ferry to the Harlem River in Manhattan. An early-twentieth century copy print of a photograph from 1876 shows a view from a rooftop looking north from 96th Street before the construction of the tracks. Another copy photograph of an image from ca. 1878 shows a group of women and children on a lawn at Whitehall Street with the El behind them. Two mammoth plate albumen prints from 1882 show the City Hall Station and include the Manhattan terminus of the Brooklyn Bridge, still under construction. City Hall Station appears again in an 1884 albumen print. Different sized albumen prints from 1882 show stations at 9th Street and 23rd Street. The tracks and terminal yards at 98th-99th Streets are shown in two mammoth plate prints and one early-twentieth century copy print of a photograph from ca. 1895-1900. Two additional mammoth plate albumen prints that show Third Avenue between 26th and 27th Streets ca. 1890, have stamps and notations that suggest they were used as evidence in legal proceedings. Northern sections of the line are visible in a group of six cyanotypes from about 1898 showing views from 99th Street and the yards at 129th Street used by the Third Avenue and Second Avenue Lines. Three prints from 1900 show the tracks at Third Avenue and 76th Street. Another set of three prints, these from 1904, show improvements, mainly at ground-level, to the station at the Chatham Square, where the Third Avenue Line was linked to the Second Avenue Line. An 1878 photograph shows the original Chatham Square station and the tracks before work on the Second Avenue Line began.

Photographs are arranged from south to north on the train route. The number of prints in each folder is noted in parentheses.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 2 Folder : 5 City Hall Station and south (2 prints)

General note

See also Box 10, Folder 42

1882-1884
Box: 2 Folder : 6 Chatham Square (4 prints)
1878-1904
Box: 2 Folder : 7 City Hall north to 10th Street (3 prints)
1882-1896
Box: 2 Folder : 8 10th Street north to 25th Street (4 prints)
1882
Box: 2 Folder : 9 25th Street north to 50th Street (2 prints)
1890
Box: 2 Folder : 10 50th Street north to 98th Street (4 prints)
1876-1900
Box: 2 Folder : 11 98th to 99th Street Terminal Yards (3 prints)

General note

1882-[1900]
Box: 2 Folder : 12 99th Street Terminal Yards [Cyanotypes] (6 prints)

General note

[1898]

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Series III: Sixth Avenue Line

Scope and Contents note

Series III. Sixth Avenue Line contains 136 photographs that span the period from ca. 1876 to 1933. The Sixth Avenue Line ran from Morris Street to one terminus at 59th Street and also had a branch that turned west at 53rd Street, then headed north on Ninth Avenue to 110th Street where it curved east onto Eighth Avenue and continued north to 155th Street. The Sixth Avenue Line began service to 59th Street in 1878 with the northern section of the route opening the following year.

Images of the line below 59th Street include two 1880s mammoth plate albumen prints of the station at 34th Street, and another of the station at 42nd Street, that depict the decorative architecture of the station buildings. In contrast to the ornate stations, the dark spaces created beneath the tracks are evident in a series of three albumen prints of Sixth Avenue from 42nd Street to 43rd Street. Among the businesses visible is the studio of photographer James A. Bostick, suggesting, perhaps, that he made these images. A set of nine gelatin silver prints from 1899 documents the tracks in lower Manhattan, each one captioned with text describing problematic structural details. Two cyanotype views from 1902 show the tracks at the South Ferry Station, which by that time was the southern hub of the elevated lines. A silver gelatin print, taken by Herman Cos in 1913, shows the stairway to the 50th Street Station.

Above 59th Street, a series of mammoth-plate albumen prints document the construction of the tracks from 97th Street to 112th Street. Two of these, dated February and April 1891, show the same view under the tracks both before and after the paving of Ninth Avenue. Two gelatin silver prints from 1933 show the tracks at 63rd Street. Two early-twentieth century copy prints of photographs from ca. 1876 show early test trains on the tracks between 59th and 60th Streets. The dramatic curve at 110th Street is captured in a series of mammoth-plate albumen prints from 1879. The 100th Street station is shown in cyanotypes from 1903 as well as in a few silver gelatin prints from 1933. The construction of the yards at 155-159th Streets, used by both the Sixth Avenue Line and the Ninth Avenue Line, appears in several cyanotypes dated 1902 and 1903. A 1904 print showing cars at the yards has the notation "Cottington vs. Interborough R. T. Co." on the verso. An album from 1902-1903 holds sixty photographs which document the construction of the Inspection Building at 159th Street.

Photographs are arranged from south to north on the train route. The number of prints in each folder is noted in parentheses.

Subseries I: Below 59th Street

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 3 Folder : 13 South Ferry Terminal (2 prints)
1902
Box: 3 Folder : 14 South Ferry north to 3rd Street (9 prints)
1888-[1899]
Box: 3 Folder : 15 3rd Street north to 10th Street (4 prints)
1877-[1899]
Box: 3 Folder : 16 10th Street north to 40th Street (4 prints)

General note

See also Box 10, Folder 43

1881-1889
Box: 3 Folder : 17 40th Street north to 59th Street (4 prints)

General note

See also Box 10, Folder 43

1888-1913

Subseries II: Above 59th Street

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 3 Folder : 18 59th Street north to 70th Street (7 prints)
[1876]-1933
Box: 3 Folder : 19 70th Street north to 80th Street (2 prints)
1891
Box: 3 Folder : 20 80th Street north to 90th Street (3 prints)
1891-1933
Box: 4 Folder : 21-23 90th Street north to 100th Street (9 prints)

General note

See also Box 10, Folder 44

1891-1905
Box: 5 Folder : 24 100th Street north to 110th Street (4 prints)

General note

See also Box 10, Folder 44

1878-1897
Box: 5 Folder : 25 110th Street Station (6 prints)
1903-1933
Box: 5 Folder : 26 110th Street Curve (3 prints)
1879
Box: 5 Folder : 27 110th Street north to 155th Street (3 prints)
1879-1902
Box: 5 Folder : 28 Terminal and Yards, 155-159th Streets (8 prints)
1902-1904
Box: 6 Folder : 29 Inspection Building, 159th Street (1 album)
1902-1903

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Series IV: Ninth Avenue Line

Scope and Contents note

Series IV. Ninth Avenue Line contains twenty-three prints (ca. 1868 to 1905) of the first elevated railroad line in New York City. Service began in 1869 on a route from Dey Street to 29th Street and eventually the line ran from Battery Park to 59th Street. Images of tracks on Ninth Avenue above 59th Street are included in the collection in Series III, because the route of the Sixth Avenue Line included the stretch of Ninth Avenue from 53rd Street to 110th Street.

Images of the Ninth Avenue Line include a series of albumen prints from 1868-1869 showing the construction of tracks along Greenwich Street. An early-twentieth century copy print of a photograph from 1869 shows the first cable propelled passenger car at the 29th Street Station, with a horse-drawn omnibus below the tracks. The construction of the second elevated structure on Ninth Avenue, built on the West Side of the street, appears in a print from 1876, looking north from West 46th Street. A series of four prints by N. L. Coe from 1898 vividly illustrate the close proximity of the tracks to buildings at the Desbrosses Street Station. An 1891 albumen print preserves the view of the tracks at Greenwich Street and Morris Street where the Ninth Avenue Line merged with the Sixth Avenue Line. Two images from about 1905 show the tracks over Greenwich Street near Dey Street.

Photographs are arranged from south to north on the train route. The number of prints in each folder is noted in parentheses.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 7 Folder : 30 Battery Park north to Vestry Street (10 prints)
1868-1905
Box: 7 Folder : 31 Desbrosses Street Station (5 prints)
1898
Box: 7 Folder : 32 Watts Street north to 14th Street (2 prints)
1869, undated
Box: 7 Folder : 33 14th Street north to 59th Street (5 prints)

General note

See also Box 10, Folder 45

1869-1877

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Series V: Bronx Lines

Scope and Contents note

Series V. Bronx Lines spans the period from ca. 1883 to 1906 and contains eighteen images relating to the elevated trains in the Bronx. Elevated railroad service in the Bronx began in 1886. A set of three images documents the construction of the bridge and tracks built over the Harlem River in 1883-1884. Mammoth plate albumen prints from 1884 by J. Reid show stations and track structures of the Suburban Rapid Transit Company, the company that built the elevated railroads in the Bronx. A series of four prints from about 1906 show the tracks over Third Avenue. A 1903 print by George P. Hall & Son shows a train car elevator at the Bronx Park Yards.

Photographs are arranged from south to north on the train route. The number of prints in each folder is noted in parentheses.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 8 Folder : 34-35 131st Street Bridge north to 179th Street (11 prints)

General note

See also: Box 10, Folder 46

1883-1906
Box: 8 Folder : 36 Third Avenue and 179th Street Yards (5 prints)
1900-1912
Box: 8 Folder : 37 Bronx Park Yards at E. 193rd Street (1 print)
1903

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Series VI: Miscellaneous Photographs

Scope and Contents note

Series VI. includes photographs which are mostly uncaptioned and undated. These are mainly images of railroad trains and equipment, or railway men. One print shows a twentieth-century copy photograph of a plan for an elevated railway, proposed in 1872 by Civil War General Franz Sigel. Another photograph shows several men, including William Reeves, watching as ground was broken in January of 1924 for the removal of the 42nd Street Elevated Spur. There are also a series of mounted photographs showing aerial and street views of the area around 74th Street along the East River in 1905, and several 1904 photographs of excavations in Chatham Square for the elevated railway.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 9 Folder : 38 Plans
undated
Box: 9 Folder : 39 Portraits
1924, undated
Box: 9 Folder : 40 Trains
undated
Box: 11 Folder : 47 Photographs, Chatham Square Excavation
1904
Box: 11 Folder : 48 Photographs taken from coal hoist on 74th Street and Exterior Avenue (now FDR)
1905 October 26
Box: 11 Folder : 49-50 Aerial photographs taken from Powerhouse on 75th Street and Avenue A
1905 October 26
Box: 11 Folder : 51 Photographs, street-level, taken from 71st and 74th Street
1905 October 27
Box: 11 Folder : 52 George P. Hall photograph of old York Street gate, Brooklyn
circa 1900

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Oversize

From Series I.Second Avenue Line

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 10 Folder : 41 129th Street Terminal
1886

From Series II. Third Avenue Line

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 10 Folder : 42 City Hall Station
1882

From Series III. Sixth Avenue Line

Below 59th Street
Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 10 Folder : 43 33rd Street Station (2 prints)
[1889]
Box: 10 Folder : 43 42nd Street Station
[1889]
Above 59th Street
Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 10 Folder : 44 Ninth Avenue between 97th and 98th
1898
Box: 10 Folder : 44 Ninth Avenue between 98th and 99th Streets
1879
Box: 10 Folder : 44 Ninth Avenue and 101st Street
1878-1879

From Series IV. Ninth Avenue Line

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 10 Folder : 45 Ninth Avenue and 42nd Street
1876

From Series V. Bronx Lines

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 10 Folder : 46 Willis Avenue and 132nd Street Bridge
1885

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