2012-06-27 / Features

The Trains Stopped Running Here 50 Years Ago


Southbound track at White Pot Junction. 
Photo Jim.henderson Southbound track at White Pot Junction. Photo Jim.henderson Past Woodhaven Junction, the Rockaway line went on to Ozone Park. The stop is mentioned in one of the stories of the USA Trilogy by novelist John Dos Passos. From there the Rockaway line continued to Ozone Park. Today there is little of the station platform remaining.

The Ozone Park stop, or what’s left of it, can be observed from the Brooklyn bound A train coming from Lefferts Boulevard just after the 102nd Street stop. Look down from the window out of the right hand side of the car. It’s a mess of weeds and dumped garbage. But there is part of two platforms left from the time when Dos Passos memorialized the station.

For almost a century this Rockaway line— now our neighborhood ghost railroad—served Central and Southern Queens. The southern half of the line was taken over by the New York City Transit Authority as the A train was extended to the Rockaways in 1956. The Rockaway line was originally not part of the LIRR, but was an independent railroad.

What became the Rockaway Beach branch of the LIRR was built as the New York, Woodhaven and Rockaway Railroad Company (NYW&R). The railroad was incorporated in 1877 under the leadership of James M. Oakley. He was a fairly successful Long Island politician. A civil war veteran, he would serve as a state assemblyman, state senator and Suffolk County sheriff. He lost a close race for the U.S. Congress.

Construction of the NYW&R took place in 1880. The line originally went from Glendale to Rockaway Park, according to Stocklobster.com. By 1881, the NYW&R linked up with the Long Island Railroad’s Atlantic Avenue branch at Woodhaven.

Those going on to the Rockaways transferred at Ozone Park. Just a half mile or so beyond Ozone Park, the service continued to Rockaway Park or on to the LIRR’s other branch on the peninsula, which terminated at Far Rockaway. That’s a LIRR branch that takes a less direct route to the Rockaways than did the NYW&R. The LIRR’s Far Rockaway branch continues to operate today.

The NYW&R was originally a vacation railroad. It targeted beachgoers and those who loved fishing in Jamaica Bay.

The NYW&R was one of numerous independent railways that served the Rockaways, Coney Island and Manhattan Beach. But the NYW&R was designed to offer a quicker route to the Rockaway peninsula than ferries or other railroads. Indeed, an 1883 NYW&R advertisement offered a 30 minute ride to the Rockaways. The route included four and half miles across Jamaica Bay.

The ad, which I found in the Brooklyn Library Central Collection, promised, “A most beautiful ride across Jamaica Bay on one of the longest bridges in the world to Rockaway Beach.”

Unfortunately, that was to be one of the recurring problems of the railroad. The wooden bridge had frequent fires and in the wintertime ice floes on Jamaica Bay often interfered with train traffic.

The NYW&R built a narrow gauge railroad and provided its own equipment. All of this added up to financial headaches for Oakley’s group within a decade of the line’s construction.

The railroad soon came “to fiscal embarrassment”, wrote E.B. Hinsdale in History of the Long Island Railroad, 1834-1898.

In 1887, The NYW&R was taken over by a group headed by Austin Corbin, who was a remarkable entrepreneur. He saw the potential of Rockaway and Coney Island as major vacation spots, which they became in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He owned property in Coney Island, including a vacation hotel.

Corbin became a dynamic president of the LIRR, which through much of its first years in the mid 19th century was a troubled line that might have died as did dozens of other lines on the island.

Yet he turned what had been a struggling road that was in receivership into a moneymaker in the 1880s and 1890s. The LIRR became a business that regularly paid dividends. Corbin had visions of turning the LIRR into a great regional railroad, whose business would go beyond Long Island to New England.

Corbin’s early death in 1896 had a profound effect on the development of Long Island. Corbin’s passion was to turn Eastern Long Island into a major port.

See next week for continuation.

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