Early history of the IRT subway

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The original "H" system

The first regularly operated subway in New York City was built by the city and leased to the Interborough Rapid Transit Company for operation under Contracts 1 and 2 of the Dual Contracts. Until 1918, when the new "H" system that is still operated—with separate East Side and West Side lines—was placed in service, it consisted of a single trunk line below 96th Street with several northern branches. The system had four tracks between Brooklyn Bridge–City Hall and 96th Street, allowing for local and express service on that portion. Under the "H" system, the original line and early extensions are now as follows:


Political cartoon critical of the service of the IRT in 1905. The IRT is labeled as the "Interborough Rattled Transit". Diedrich Knickerbocker, personification of New York City, stands on the platform.

Planning for the system that was built began with the Rapid Transit Act, signed into law on May 22, 1894, which created the Board of Rapid Transit Railroad Commissioners. The act provided that the commission would lay out routes with the consent of property owners and local authorities, either build the system or sell a franchise for its construction, and lease it to a private operating company. A line through Lafayette Street (then Elm Street) to Union Square was considered, but at first a more costly route under lower Broadway was adopted. A legal battle with property owners along the route led to the courts denying permission to build through Broadway in 1896. The Elm Street route was chosen later that year, cutting west to Broadway via 42nd Street. This new plan, formally adopted on January 14, 1897, consisted of a line from City Hall north to Kingsbridge and a branch under Lenox Avenue and to Bronx Park, to have four tracks from City Hall to the junction at 103rd Street. The "awkward alignment...along Forty-Second Street", as the commission put it, was necessitated by objections to using Broadway south of 34th Street. Legal challenges were finally taken care of near the end of 1899.[1]

A contract, later known as Contract 1, was executed on February 21, 1900, between the commission and the Rapid Transit Construction Company, organized by John B. McDonald and funded by August Belmont, for the construction of the subway and a 50-year operating lease from the opening of the line. Ground was broken at City Hall on March 24. A plan for an extension from City Hall to the Long Island Rail Road's Flatbush Avenue terminal station (now known as Atlantic Terminal) in Brooklyn was adopted on January 24, 1901, and Contract 2, giving a lease of only 35 years, was executed between the commission and the Rapid Transit Construction Company on September 11, with construction beginning at State Street in Manhattan on November 8, 1902. Belmont incorporated the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) in April 1902 as the operating company for both contracts; the IRT leased the Manhattan Railway, operator of the four elevated railway lines in Manhattan and the Bronx, on April 1, 1903. Operation of the subway began on October 27, 1904, with the opening of all stations from City Hall to 145th Street on the West Side Branch.[2]

Service was extended to 157th Street on November 12, 1904. The West Side Branch was extended northward to a temporary terminus of 221st Street and Broadway on March 12, 1906.[3] This extension was served by shuttle trains operating between 157th Street and 221st Street.[4] The original system as included in Contract 1 was completed on January 14, 1907, when trains started running across the Harlem Ship Canal on the Broadway Bridge to 225th Street,[3] meaning that 221st Street could be closed. Once the line was extended to 225th Street, the structure of the 221st Street was dismantled and was moved to 230th Street for a new temporary terminus. Service was extended to the temporary terminus at 230th Street on January 27, 1907. An extension of Contract 1 north to 242nd Street at Van Cortlandt Park was approved in 1906[5] and opened on August 1, 1908.[6] (The original plan had been to turn east on 230th Street to just west of Bailey Avenue, at the New York Central Railroad's Kings Bridge station.[7]) When the line was extended to 242nd Street the temporary platforms at 230th Street were dismantled, and were rumored to be brought to 242 Street to serve as the station's side platforms. There were two stations on the line that opened later; 191st Street and 207th Street. The 191st Street station did not open until January 14, 1911 because the elevators and other work had not yet been completed. 207th Street was completed in 1906, but since it was located in a sparsely occupied area, the station was opened in 1907.

The initial segment of the IRT White Plains Road Line opened on November 26, 1904 between East 180th Street and Jackson Avenue. Initially, trains on the line were served by elevated trains from the IRT Second Avenue Line and the IRT Third Avenue Line, with a connection running from the Third Avenue local tracks at Third Avenue and 149th Street to Westchester Avenue and Eagle Avenue. Once the connection to the IRT Lenox Avenue Line opened on July 10, 1905, trains from the newly opened IRT subway ran via the line.[8] Elevated service via this connection was resumed on October 1, 1907 when Second Avenue locals were extended to Freeman Street during rush hours.[9]

The line was then extended to Fulton Street on January 16, 1905,[10] to Wall Street on June 12, 1905,[11] and to Bowling Green and South Ferry on July 10, 1905.[12] In order to complete Contract 2, the subway had to be extended under the East River to reach Brooklyn. The tunnel was named the Joralemon Street Tunnel, which was the first underwater subway tunnel connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn, and it opened on January 9, 1908, extending the subway from Bowling Green to Borough Hall.[13] On May 1, 1908, the construction of Contract 2 was completed when the line was extended from Borough Hall to Atlantic Avenue near the Flatbush Avenue LIRR station.[14] With the opening of the IRT to Brooklyn, ridership fell off on the BRT's elevated and trolley lines over the Brooklyn Bridge as Brooklyn riders chose to use the new subway.[15]

Service pattern[edit]

Express trains began at South Ferry in Manhattan or Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, while local trains typically began at South Ferry or City Hall, both in Manhattan. Local trains to the West Side Branch (242nd Street) ran from City Hall during rush hours and continued south at other times; East side local trains ran between City Hall and 145th Street. All three branches were served by express trains; no local trains used the East Side Branch to West Farms (180th Street).[16] Express trains to 145th Street were later eliminated; all West Farms express trains and rush hours Broadway express trains operated through to Brooklyn.[17] Essentially each branch had a local and an express, with express service to Broadway (242nd Street) and West Farms and local service to Broadway and Lenox Avenue (145th Street).[citation needed]

When the "H" system opened in 1918, all trains from the old system were sent south from Times Square–42nd Street along the new IRT Broadway–Seventh Avenue Line. Local trains (Broadway and Lenox Avenue) were sent to South Ferry, while express trains (Broadway and West Farms) used the new Clark Street Tunnel to Brooklyn. These services became 1 (Broadway express and local), 2 (West Farms express), and 3 (Lenox Avenue local) in 1948. The only major change to these patterns was made in 1959, when all 1 trains became local and all 2 and 3 trains became express.[18][19][20] The portion south of Grand Central–42nd Street became part of the IRT Lexington Avenue Line, and now carries 4 (express), 5 (express), 6 (local), and <6> (local) trains; the short piece under 42nd Street is now the 42nd Street Shuttle.


Station Tracks Opened Notes
Main Branch
Atlantic Avenue 2 May 1, 1908[14]
Nevins Street 2 May 1, 1908[14]
Hoyt Street 2 May 1, 1908[14]
Borough Hall 2 January 9, 1908[12][13]
South Ferry 2 (loops) July 10, 1905[12] Closed February 13, 1977
Bowling Green 2 July 10, 1905[12]
Wall Street 2 June 12, 1905[21]
Fulton Street 2 January 16, 1905[10]
City Hall 1 (loop) October 27, 1904[22] Closed December 31, 1945[23]
Brooklyn Bridge all October 27, 1904[22]
Worth Street local October 27, 1904[22] Closed September 1, 1962[24]
Canal Street local October 27, 1904[22]
Spring Street local October 27, 1904[22]
Bleecker Street local October 27, 1904[22]
Astor Place local October 27, 1904[22]
14th Street–Union Square all October 27, 1904[22]
18th Street local October 27, 1904[22] Closed November 8, 1948[25]
23rd Street local October 27, 1904[22]
28th Street local October 27, 1904[22]
33rd Street local October 27, 1904[22]
Grand Central–42nd Street all October 27, 1904[22]
Times Square local October 27, 1904[22]
50th Street local October 27, 1904[22]
59th Street–Columbus Circle local October 27, 1904[22]
66th Street local October 27, 1904[22]
72nd Street all October 27, 1904[22]
79th Street local October 27, 1904[22]
86th Street local October 27, 1904[22]
91st Street local October 27, 1904[22] Closed February 2, 1959[26]
96th Street all October 27, 1904[22]
West Side Branch
(splits at 96th Street)
103rd Street local October 27, 1904[22]
110th Street local October 27, 1904[22]
116th Street local October 27, 1904[22]
Manhattan Street local October 27, 1904[22]
137th Street local October 27, 1904[22]
145th Street local October 27, 1904[22]
157th Street November 12, 1904[27]
168th Street April 14, 1906[28]
181st Street May 30, 1906[29]
191st Street January 14, 1911[30]
Dyckman Street March 12, 1906[31]
207th Street local 1907[3]
215th Street local March 12, 1906[31]
221st Street local March 12, 1906[31] Closed January 14, 1907
225th Street local January 14, 1907[3]
231st Street local January 27, 1907
238th Street local August 1, 1908[6]
Van Cortlandt Park–242nd Street August 1, 1908[6]
West Side Branch to Lenox Avenue
(splits at 96th Street)
110th Street all November 23, 1904[32]
116th Street all November 23, 1904[32]
125th Street all November 23, 1904[32]
135th Street all November 23, 1904[32]
145th Street all November 23, 1904[32]
West Side Branch to West Farms
(splits from branch to Lenox Avenue at 142nd Street Junction)
Mott Avenue all July 10, 1905[12]
149th Street all July 10, 1905[12] Free transfer to Third Avenue Elevated in same direction
Jackson Avenue local November 26, 1904[12]
Prospect Avenue local November 26, 1904[12]
Intervale Avenue local November 26, 1904[12]
Simpson Street local November 26, 1904[12]
Freeman Street local November 26, 1904[12]
174th Street local November 26, 1904[12]
177th Street local November 26, 1904[12]
180th Street November 26, 1904[12] The only part of the original subway to be completely demolished

See also[edit]

Route map: Bing / Google

KML is from Wikidata


  1. ^ Walker, James Blaine (1918). Fifty Years of Rapid Transit — 1864 to 1917. New York, N.Y.: Law Printing. pp. 139–161. Retrieved November 6, 2016. 
  2. ^ Walker (1918), pp. 162-191.
  3. ^ a b c d "Farthest North in Town by the Interborough — Take a Trip to the New Station, 225th Street West — It's Quite Lke the Country — You Might Be in Dutchess County, but You Are Still In Manhattan Borough — Place Will Bustle Soon". New York Times. January 14, 1907. p. 18. Retrieved November 6, 2016. 
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ Walker, (1918), p. 204.
  6. ^ a b c "Our First Subway Completed At Last — Opening of the Van Cortlandt Extension Finishes System Begun in 1900 — The Job Cost $60,000,000 — A Twenty-Mile Ride from Brooklyn to 242d Street for a Nickel Is Possible Now". New York Times. August 2, 1908. p. 10. Retrieved 6 November 2016. 
  7. ^ Burroughs and Company, the New York City Subway Souvenir, 1904.
  8. ^ "Discuss Subway Signs in 18th St. Station — Engineer Parsons and Mr. Hedley Inspect Advertising Scheme — Bronx Viaduct Works Well — Delays There Only Those of Newness — Lenox Avenue Service Makes Fuss Below Ninety-Sixth Street". New York Times. November 27, 1904. p. 3. Retrieved November 6, 2016. 
  9. ^ Kahn, Alan Paul; May, Jack (1973). Tracks of New York Number 3 Manhattan and Bronx Elevated Railroads 1920. New York City: Electric Railroaders' Association. Retrieved November 6, 2016. 
  10. ^ a b "Subway at Fulton Street Busy". New York Times. January 17, 1905. p. 9. Retrieved 6 November 2016. 
  11. ^ Merritt, A.L. "Ten Years of the Subway (1914) Interborough Bulletin · The Remarkable Story of the Opening and Growth of the World's Greatest and Most Efficient Transportation System". nycsubway.org. nycsubway.org. Retrieved November 6, 2016. 
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "Subway Trains Running From Bronx to Battery — West Farms and South Ferry Stations Open at Midnight — Start Without a Hitch — Bowling Green Station Also Opened — Lenox Avenue Locals Take City Hall Loop Hereafter". New York Times. July 10, 1905. p. 1. Retrieved November 6, 2016. 
  13. ^ a b "Subway to Brooklyn Opened for Traffic — First Regular Passenger Train Went Under the East River Early This Morning — Not a Hitch in the Service — Gov. Hughes and Brooklyn Officials to Join in a Formal Celebration of Event To-day". New York Times. January 9, 1908. p. 1. Retrieved November 6, 2016. 
  14. ^ a b c d "Brooklyn Joyful Over New Subway — Celebrates Opening of Extension with Big Parade and a Flow of Oratory — An Ode to August Belmont — Anonymous Poet Calls Him "the Brownie of the Caisson and Spade" — He Talks on Subways". New York Times. May 2, 1908. p. 1. Retrieved November 6, 2016. 
  15. ^ "Another Centennial–Original Subway Extended To Fulton Street". New York Division Bulletin. New York Division, Electric Railroaders' Association. 48 (1). January 2005. Retrieved August 31, 2016 – via Issu. 
  16. ^ Commerce and Industry Association of New York, Pocket Guide to New York, 1906, pp. 19-26
  17. ^ Brooklyn Daily Eagle Almanac, 1916.
  18. ^ "New Hi-Speed Locals 1959 New York City Transit Authority". Flickr - Photo Sharing!. Retrieved June 15, 2016. 
  19. ^ "Wagner Praises Modernized IRT — Mayor and Transit Authority Are Hailed as West Side Changes Take Effect". New York Times. February 7, 1959. p. 21. Retrieved November 6, 2016. 
  20. ^ Levey, Stanley (January 26, 1959). "Modernized IRT To Bow on Feb. 6 — West Side Line to Eliminate Bottleneck at 96th Street". New York Times. p. 1. Retrieved November6, 2016.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  21. ^ "Subway Trains Run Again This Morning — Through Service Promised for the Rush-Hour Crowds — Tunnel Pumped Out At Last — Big Water Main That Burst Was an Old One, Pressed Into Service Again After a Five-Hour Watch". New York Times. June 13, 1905. p. 1. Retrieved November 6, 2016. 
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab "Our Subway Open, 150,000 Try It — Mayor McClellan Runs the First Official Train — Big Crowds Ride At Night — Average of 25,000 an Hour from 7 P.M. Till Past Midnight — Exercises in the City Hall — William Barclay Parsons, John B. McDonald, August Belmont, Alexander E. Orr, and John Starin Speak — Dinner at Night". New York Times. October 28, 1904. p. 1. Retrieved November 6,2016.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  23. ^ "Historic Station Closed After 41 Years". New York Times. January 1, 1946. p. 22. Retrieved October 26, 2011. 
  24. ^ Grutzner, Charles (September 1, 1962). "New Platform for IRT Locals At Brooklyn Bridge to End Jams — Sharp Curve on Northbound Side Removed — Station Extended to Worth St.". New York Times. p. 42. Retrieved October 26, 2011. 
  25. ^ "IRT Station to be Closed — East Side Subway Trains to End Stops at 18th Street". New York Times. November 6, 1948. p. 29. Retrieved October 26, 2011. 
  26. ^ Aciman, Andre (January 8, 1999). "My Manhattan — Next Stop: Subway's Past". New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved August 26, 2016. 
  27. ^ "Subway on the East Side Will Be Opened Soon — New Switching Station on West Side Nearly Ready, Too — Football Trains On To-Day — Trains to Fulton Street in a Few Weeks Are Promised — Commission's Counsel on the Sign Question". New York Times. November 12, 1904. p. 16. Retrieved November 6, 2016. 
  28. ^ "New Subway Station Open — Also a Short Express Service for Baseball Enthusiasts". New York Times. April 15, 1906. p. 1. Retrieved November 6, 2016. 
  29. ^ "Expresses to 221st Street — Will Run in the Subway Today — New 181st Street Station Ready". New York Times. May 30, 1906. p. 1. Retrieved November 6, 2016. 
  30. ^ "Era of Building Activity Opening for Fort George — New Subway Station at 191st Street and Proposed Underground Road to Fairview Avenue Important Factors in Coming Development — One Block of Apartments Finished". New York Times. January 22, 1911. p. X11. Retrieved November 6, 2016. 
  31. ^ a b c "Trains To Ship Canal — But They Whiz by Washington Heights Stations". New York Times. March 13, 1906. p. 16. Retrieved August 16, 2015. 
  32. ^ a b c d e "East Side Subway Open - Train from 145th Street to Broadway in 9 Minutes and 40 Seconds". New York Times. November 23, 1904. p. 1. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 27, 2016.