2004-01-07 / Star Journal

Surprise Street Railway Sale Starts January 1895

Surprise Street Railway Sale Starts January 1895

‘Battle-axe’ from Vincent Seyfried’s “300 Years of Long Island City History.”‘Battle-axe’ from Vincent Seyfried’s “300 Years of Long Island City History.”

Get into a conversation with a long-time Queens resident and you’re likely to discover a subscriber of the Long Island Star-Journal, a daily paper that informed the community about local and world news until it folded in 1968. A banner across the Star-Journal masthead reminded readers that the newspaper’s name came from the merger of the Long Island Daily Star (1876) and the North Shore Daily Journal--The Flushing Journal (1841).

Welcome to January 1895!

One of the most colorful characters of 19th century Queens was in the news in New Year 1895—former mayor of Long Island City Patrick Jerome Gleason. Known as "Battle-Ax" Gleason, he was notorious for his belligerent temperament—he had served jail time for assaulting a reporter—and the flagrant corruption of his mayoral administration. Gleason had started his career in transportation, sometimes clashing with the interests of the rail service operated by the Steinway Company. On January 11, 1895, a Star—Journal headline read, "Rumors that Gleason’s Ramshackle Railway Has Been Transferred to the Steinway syndicate."

"It was reported on the street on Friday that Gleason had sold his railway interests to the Steinway syndicate for $275,000. It has been reported for a long time that the Gleason roads did not pay. The road up Borden Avenue to Calvary Cemetery [in Woodside] was not well patronized. There are not many people who go to Blissville [Sunnyside] unless it is to visit the dead. The Blissville people as a rule do not travel much and when they do they patronize the Greenpoint line in preference to Gleason’s, thus his exchequer has suffered, and again the cars to the cemetery are cold this winter, and the conductors lugubrious on account of the scarcity of pennies and passengers, and a traveler after a survey of one of the cars, is tempted to foot it in preference to riding in an open car, as they had to do on Christmas Day.

Victorian skaters From the Museum of the City of New York.Victorian skaters From the Museum of the City of New York.

"The sale of the railroad interest, if it has been consummated as reported, represents…a franchise for a railroad on Jackson Avenue from the Long Island City line to Flushing. This is really what the Steinway Company has wanted. Gleason obtained right to build a railroad on Jackson Avenue in Newtown of the Highway Commission of that town; the Steinway Company hold the right on Jackson Avenue, Long Island City. Gleason tore up Jackson Avenue o[n] the other side of the [Long Island City] line, ostensibly to build the road, but that was never done, and the only result was much trouble and annoyance to people residing on the road or traveling thereon.

"After much trouble the Steinway [C]ompany managed to circumvent Gleason by running the road along the Newtown road from Dickinson’s corner to Woodside Avenue and thence along Kelly Avenue to Winfield, Newtown, Corona, etc. It is this road that is now completed by the Steinway Company to Winfield, at a fare of only five cents. This extension will prove a precious boon to the community." On January 4, the Star—Journal had already reported, "Winfield has been reached with the trolley and a season of rejoicing is now in full blast by the residents of our enterprising neighboring village." Today the settlement known as Winfield is considered part of Maspeth.

That cold January of 1895 brought winter sports enthusiasts out. "Lovers of skating have been rejoicing for the past two weeks," the Star—Journal reported on January 11. "It is not often that such opportunities are afforded to the pleasure-loving public of Astoria, and skaters have enjoyed themselves immensely. Of the many places where real up to date skating has been witnessed, the pond commonly known as Hoyt’s pond, situated in Woolsey’s woods, has probably received the most attention. Representatives from every part of the city were noticed gliding on steel runners on New Year’s Day, and it seems that everybody from the child to the adult had become suddenly infected with the desire to become an expert."

So cold was the weather that the body of a man who had presumably died from exposure was found on Rockaway Beach completely encased in ice. There was an outbreak of flu, and the winter weather brought other inconveniences. Woodside residents were scolded on January 25, when the Star—Journal reported that "sidewalks are in a terrible condition in many places and it is a wonder that people do not fall and break their necks. Locomotion is often exceedingly difficult, and if a man capsizes on a treacherous piece of ice and falls, hitting his head on the hard ground, he is apt to see stars that were never yet located by astronomers. Clean your sidewalks, all of you!"

Greater Astoria Historical Society Photo Gallery Queensboro Bridge.Greater Astoria Historical Society Photo Gallery Queensboro Bridge.

In Long Island City, on the other hand, "one could walk from one end of Vernon Avenue to the other the day after the recent storm and have a clear sidewalk to walk on." The Star—Journal admitted this was probably not due to superior civic spirit but because of new city ordinances requiring residents to remove snow from their sidewalks. Transportation news caused more excitement in Queens when it became known that construction on the bridge between the borough and Manhattan by way of Blackwell’s Island (Roosevelt Island) was beginning again. The project of linking the boroughs had been talked about since the mid-19th century, but had been plagued by lack of funds. On January 18, the Star—Journal reported that the Pencoyd Bridge and Construction Company of Philadelphia had secured the contract for the ironwork and construction of the new bridge. Percival Roberts of Pencoyd said that there would be only one bridge in the world with a wider span, the Forth Bridge in Scotland.

"A large caisson, 133 feet long and 73 feet wide, was towed down the East River by a tug on Tuesday and anchored on the edge of the river. It will be sunk by stone, the water pumped out, and within the enclosure the excavation for the new East River bridge will be commenced. Across the river on Blackwell’s Island excavations are going forward for the piers and are well under way." After the 1895 phase of construction there would be more delays until the boroughs consolidated in 1898 and the legislation that made Queens and the three other outer boroughs part of Greater New York opened up more funds for the project. The Blackwell’s Island Bridge, now known as the Queensboro Bridge, would open in 1909.

That’s the way it was in January 1895.

Compiled by Clare Doyle, Librarian, Greater Astoria Historical Society.

nstruction of the Queensboro Bridge over Roosevelt Island. From the Greater Astoria Historical Society.nstruction of the Queensboro Bridge over Roosevelt Island. From the Greater Astoria Historical Society.

For more information, contact the Society at 718-728-0700 or visit www.astorialic.org.

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