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Reflections 2011
Series 9
March 18
Early E. Hudson Routes (E): Ferries - Fulton St/Jamaica Av - LIRR


After seeing Manhattan’s land routes being limited to the N and NE, we find that the remaining part of the East Hudson area to discuss is Long Island (called locally Brooklyn-Queens-and-Long Island), which has the obvious long-distance travel directionality toward the E. While we didn’t have any ferries to discuss toward the N or NE, going E we’ll discuss a complete set of sails, trails, rails.


In 2011/4 I talked about a wintery afternoon of ferry rides I took recently, first across the Hudson from the Battery Park City Ferry Terminal to Paulus Hook, just to experience that water connection to the historic gateway between the West and Manhattan. I then wrote: “I then took a NY Waterway ferry for eight minutes from Paulus Hook to Pier 11/Wall Street on the East River, to connect to Fulton Landing in Brooklyn, which will be a later story.” It’s time for that story.


Fulton (Ferry) Landing   It was odd to connect from New Jersey first across the Hudson and then directly to the East River, but there’s an historic basis for that, going back to the Native Americans, and other ferrygoers since. But it was even more surprising that it took us only eight minutes to cross the lower end of the Hudson, swing around between Battery Park and Governor’s Island, enter the East River, and pull up to Pier 11 (Photo by Hudconja) (where I’d taken the catamaran to Highlands [2011/5]), just a short block south of Wall Street (Map by Hu Totya) off Gouvernors Lane. Here I waited for my connection across the East River.


Though Native American Lenape, who had inhabited this area, had crossed here first, and then later, colonial boats and sail ferries crossed here as well, it was the inauguration of Robert Fulton’s steam Fulton Ferry in 1814 that revolutionized travel. Until then, Brooklyn Heights and the area that became Downtown Brooklyn had remained sparsely populated. The new steam ferry then began to offer an easy commuting option to and from New York (Manhattan). But later, the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883 saw the decline of all ferries on the East River, and the Fulton Ferry ended service in 1924. It has been in the Times recently that there are big plans for bringing back more ferry services all along the East River, from Downtown to Midtown, connecting with both Brooklyn and Queens, but at the moment, what was available was during rush hours only, so I’d had to schedule carefully to make this work. What I was trying to do was to duplicate the Fulton Ferry that had left from Fulton Street (Manhattan), which is a little more uptown and hugs the Brooklyn Bridge, over to Fulton Landing at the end of Fulton Street (Brooklyn), which also hugs the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s evident that the Brooklyn Bridge was located where it is because the Fulton Ferry’s location was the gateway to Brooklyn and Long Island--or conversely, Brooklyn and Long Island’s gateway to New York (Manhattan). But doing the five-minute crossing at an angle from Wall Street over to Fulton Landing would have to do.


This is the ferry, although this particular one is returning. Fulton Landing is that little white tower area below the Brooklyn Bridge, so you see this is a crossing at an angle. The Manhattan Bridge is behind, and further on the left is the Williamsburg Bridge.


This is Fulton Landing as it would look approaching more historically directly across from Fulton Street (Manhattan) to this historic enclave. The immensity of the Brooklyn Bridge dwarfs everything. Click to enlarge to see the landing stage at the pier. The white barge to the right is the iconic Bargemusic, which has given classical music concerts since 1977. The long, narrow building near the bridge is the pricey River Café, also from 1977, which helped this then dilapidated neighborhood start its revival.


But my culinary interests weren’t so grandiose. Although there are some other nice restaurants in this area, just up the street is Grimaldi’s. It’s an unpretentious pizzeria, but noted on every map of the area. Zagat has rated it number one in New York for pizza. It doesn’t take reservations and is famous for its line waiting to get in. While the above picture shows just a piddling line, I’ve walked past it on a Saturday night where I’ve seen people waiting four abreast on the sidewalk in a line down to the corner. Note in the picture that, typical of everywhere in this neighborhood, you have the Brooklyn Bridge hovering above. Just beyond the bridge is the reviving and artsy area known as DUMBO, for the ridiculous acronym Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. (In 2004/17, I pointed out I’d noticed that some scenes from Scent of a Woman, supposedly filmed in Manhattan, were actually very noticeably filmed in DUMBO.) Since DUMBO does have two bridges hovering overhead, you can get some very interesting views, here the Brooklyn Bridge at the end of a cobblestone street with the Manhattan Bridge overhead. I then took the water taxi back to Wall Street and the free Downtown Shuttle bus home.


Brooklyn Heights as an Impediment   While Greenwich Village in Manhattan is marvelous in its own right, Brooklyn Heights (“BH”) is wonderful and could arguably surpass it in charm. But let’s point out something that’s obvious, but that I’ve never seen anyone point out before. BH has always stood in the way. It was always historically been an impediment to onward movement.


BH is a bluff that runs parallel to the East River, then slopes down gradually inland, reaching farther inland at its south end than at its north. Try to see how the Ratzer map of 1776 tries to show the bluff, the very same bluff down which Washington evacuated his men in the Battle of Long Island/Brooklyn/Brooklyn Heights. The earliest ferry in New Amsterdam in the 1630’s had crossed the lower end of the East River, from Broad Street, next to the Staten Island Ferry to Joralemon Street. But Joralemon (the unnamed street at the bottom of the map, climbs up BH, and this straight route from the core of New York didn’t prove ideal. The Brooklyn pier was then moved some dozen blocks (on today’s map) north to the northern edge of the Heights (this is the crucial point) to what is marked on the Ratzer map as the Brookland [sic] Ferry, which later became Fulton Landing, which had a straight--and level--shoot inland around the Heights. The New York landing was moved some half-dozen blocks north, beyond Wall Street to Maiden Lane, indicated on the map as the Long Island Ferry, which resulted in an angular crossing. Finally, in 1814, the lease on the route was awarded to Robert Fulton’s Fulton Ferry Company, and steamboat service was introduced. The company also moved the Manhattan landing to Manhattan’s Fulton Street that year, three blocks up from Maiden Lane (five blocks up from Wall). The ferry became known as the Fulton Ferry, and later the streets on either side of the river were renamed Fulton as well. Thus, because of the blockage of Brooklyn Heights and its bluff, the primary crossing moved uptown from the center of old New York, to what was then more or less close to the northern edge of the city. I have little doubt that the Lenape had figured out much earlier that north of the bluffs was the place to land as the gateway to Long Island.


While we are looking at 18C maps, I want to show this map of Brooklyn in 1766. I had said that when I saw the 1770 “state” of the Ratzer map at the Brooklyn Historical Society, it showed a lot more in all directions than the 1776 “state” we just looked at again. This 1766 map shows what was missing on the Brooklyn side of that. It’s dated earlier, and is limited to Brooklyn, but I don’t think anyone would doubt that it shows the Ratzer hand, although the Manhattan side is not of the same quality.


First look at the distinctively-shaped Wallabout Bay, which is where the Brooklyn Navy Yard was opened in 1806. The yard is associated with the ironclad Monitor in the Civil War (although it was actually built and launched in nearby Greenpoint); it’s where the USS Maine was built, which precipitated the Spanish-American War; it’s where the USS Missouri was built, on whose deck WWII ended.


We again see the ferry at the north end of the Heights, with Fulton Street running around to the inland side, showing the Heights wider to the south, and Joralemon Street, running into Fulton, as it still does today. Below some names, there is the possibly a trace of a nascent road behind a pier. This is possibly the beginnings of Atlantic Avenue, which today defines the south end of BH, and where South Ferry (below) was located. Across Buttermilk Channel is Governors Island in its original shape. Today it’s about twice this size, extended to the SW, because of landfill coming from the construction of the Lexington Avenue subway. You see all the farmland in Brooklyn--dairy farmers would graze their cattle on Governors Island, and would also transport their milk to Manhattan across the channel. They say that rough waters in Buttermilk Channel gave the strait its name, since they would churn the farmers’ milk to buttermilk. I suspect the story of the naming is probably true, but it was most likely just a farmer’s joke about the waterway.


Further down are two small peninsulas almost meeting each other and encircling a bay. These have been rebuilt and squared off and encircle Atlantic Basin, which is the Brooklyn Passenger Ship Terminal. Today Cunard ships, including the QM2, dock here. And further along, you see the actual point of land giving rise to the name Roode Hoek (modern spelling Rode Hoek), “Red Point” mistranslated today as Red Hook. The waterway is Gowanus Creek, later channelized into the industrial Gowanus Canal, today polluted and listed for cleaning up. Below that, I enjoy seeing “Road to Narrows”.


But important here is to see where on Fulton, near Joralemon, is the village called here “Brookland Parish”, most likely a British (or Ratzer) misunderstanding. It had been named Breukelen (BRÖ.keh.leh) after the suburb of Utrecht in the Netherlands (2004/13), and was eventually anglicized to Brooklyn. The village of Brooklyn is apparently hiding on the leeward side of the Heights. I would guess the original village was purposely situated so as not to be exposed to the winds of the East River, but huddled behind the aptly named Brooklyn Heights.


[AN ASIDE: Lots of places have mottoes. New Hampshire’s is in English: Live Free or Die. Minnesota’s is in French: L’Étoile du Nord (The Star of the North). New York State’s is in Latin: Excelsior (Higher). Want to guess what language Brooklyn’s is in?


[Brooklyn’s motto--no surprise--is in Dutch: Eendraght maeckt maght (modern spelling: Eendracht maakt macht). Eendracht has to look familiar; it was the name of Dirk Hartog’s ship (2010/10), which even gave its name, in the form Eendrachtsland, to part of Western Australia. It means “harmony, concord, unity.” The other two words, “maakt macht” is like “makes might”, but all in all, “Harmony Makes Might” is better translated as “In Unity there is Strength”. It’s a motto historically associated with the Netherlands, and, given that the Flemish speak Dutch, is now the motto of Belgium, whose francophone citizens in Wallonia express it as: L’Union fait la force.]


Shortly out of town, the road split. The relatively local road, Road to Flatbush, ran south through a low point in the glacial moraine to the village of Flatbush, an anglicization of the Dutch name Vlacke bos (modern spelling Vlake bos) “Flat Woodland”. The more interesting long-distance road is the “Road to Jamaica”, which later also went through a low point in the glacial moraine called Jamaica Pass. Note that this road passes through the village of Bedford (the cross street is today Bedford Avenue), which is the basis of today’s neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, whose notable residents have included actress Lena Horne, director Spike Lee, author Frank McCourt (Angela’s Ashes described life here), comedian Chris Rock, and astronomer Carl Sagan.


Brooklyn Heights as a Destination   We’ve seen how development and movement historically went around the shoreline impediment of BH, but now we should look at it as the desirable destination it is and has been for a long time. This is the view of Brooklyn Heights from Manhattan (click to enlarge). There are tall buildings in leafy BH, but others you see are in the Civic Center beyond BH. Its height might not seem impressive--as a matter of fact, you might not at first be able to tell that there are any river bluffs to give it height--until you realize what you’re looking at that’s blocking the bluffs that Washington’s soldiers clambered down. Incredible as it may seem, when the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE, part of I-278) was run through Historic Brooklyn mid-20C, while it relentlessly sliced through many neighborhoods, the only damage the intrusive roadway did to BH was to obscure its river bluffs. What you are looking at above Furman Street at ground level along the riverfront is just like three shelves in a bookcase, a level of BQE traffic going south, above it a level of BQE traffic going north (actually having a roadway like this is rather unique), and on top, the pièce de résistance, running along the middle section of BH the leafy Brooklyn Heights Promenade, actually a riverfront esplanade, which has excellent views back at Manhattan. This earlier picture from Pier 11/Wall Street shows the “shelves” better (click to enlarge), especially to the left.


There are over 600 pre-Civil War houses in BH, one of the largest such groupings in the US, and a large range of architectural styles represented, including some Federal-style houses (these on Willow Street) from the early 19C in the northern part of BH, closer to the ferry landing whence BH expanded and developed. There are also brick Greek Revival and Gothic Revival houses, and Italianate brownstones, so typical of much of historic Brooklyn in general. There are mansions and other impressive buildings along Pierrepont Place (here at Montague Street; NYC historic district street signs [click to enlarge] are always in brown for easy detection) and Pierrepont Street, where the impressive 1881 Queen Anne building of the Brooklyn Historical Society is located.


No visit to BH is complete without a walk on the BH Promenade (Esplanade) (note in the background the Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building), either for a daytime view or night view.


Notable residents of BH have been abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher; authors Walt Whitman, Arthur Miller, Normal Mailer, Truman Capote, Thomas Wolfe, W H Auden, Carson McCullers; actress Mary Tyler Moore.


Since we’ve now brought up the BQE, we should fast forward to the present on this map linked to Citymaps.com to permit those unfamiliar with Brooklyn to see what its layout looks like today, when Downtown Brooklyn has become the third largest central business district in NYC (after Midtown Manhattan and Lower Manhattan) but also to see the changes from 1766. We’ll then go back and fill in a lot of blanks. It’s fun playing Pinter.


Start at the Brooklyn Bridge and notice that Fulton Landing is referred to as just a scenic pier. The first stretch of Fulton Street is now called Old Fulton Street, separated from the rest by Cadman Plaza, built in the 1930’s. In 1967, the next stretch of Fulton Street was renamed Cadman Plaza West (Washington Street became C. P. East). Fulton Street becomes a pedestrian walkway where it passes Borough Hall (ex-Brooklyn City Hall).


The BQE passes through above Furman Street with the Promenade atop. BH widens as it stretches to its southern border at Atlantic Avenue. The major N-S streets are the two H’s, Hicks and Henry, and everyone smiles when they see the names of Cranberry, Orange, and Pineapple Streets.


There are numerous tunnels on the Lower East River (none on the Upper), and we’ll mention just the ones at BH (all named after BH streets), because that was where all the early connectivity between Manhattan and Brooklyn was wanted. Just as on the Hudson, where the 1908 PATH (subway) tunnels beat the PRR’s 1910 Great Connection tunnel by two years, the same thing happened on the East River, where the PRR was beat by two years by the Joralemon Street (subway) Tunnel in 1908. It’s ironic that that first ferry in the 1630’s was to Joralemon Street as well. The assistant engineer here was Clifford Milburn Holland, of Holland (auto) Tunnel fame. It’s the tunnel that brings the Lexington Avenue line (# 4 & 5) from Lower Broadway to Brooklyn with a stop at Borough Hall (at the east edge of BH), just where Joralemon used to meet Fulton. Follow it to where it meets the LIRR at the lower right, and you’ll see that the first subway built from Grand Central connected two rail stations and two city halls.


In 1919 came the Clark Street Tunnel, designed by Holland. It brought the West Side 7th Avenue line (# 2 & 3) here with its Clark Street Station, right in the heart of BH (but also going on to the LIRR). Access to the street is via elevator, not only because the height of BH, but because the tunnel has just come out from under the river and hasn’t had a chance to ascend much.


Those two tunnels were part of the old IRT system, and the following year, in 1920, the rival BMT (Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit) built the Montague Street Tunnel (more later about Montague Street) to bring its N train (no longer the R) to BH and the LIRR. Its first station here is called Court Street, again, at the eastern edge of BH. But the rear exit is to Clinton Street, more in the heart of BH and near the Brooklyn Historical Society (see map) so it has an elevator as well.


In 1933 the then Independent subway system (IND) built the Cranberry Street Tunnel, but its High Street-Brooklyn Bridge (A & C trains) station is over in the Plaza.


Note how Atlantic Avenue divides BH from the neighboring heavily landmarked neighborhoods of Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens, and nearby, Park Slope. Note the NYC Transit Museum that gave that tour of Old City Hall Station.


Follow Atlantic Avenue to Flatbush Avenue to the LIRR’s Atlantic Terminal (ex-“Flatbush Avenue”) and note the tangle of subway lines. Above it is the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) (2008/8; 2010/8) and my High School, Brooklyn Tech (2010/8).


Finally, note that Fulton Street coming away from Borough Hall is now a pedestrian zone, the Fulton Mall, but then regains its name after the old fork into the “Road to Flatbush” and “Road to Jamaica”. But also note how this simple fork has been totally reshaped into a scissors intersection, by extending what was the start of southbound Flatbush Avenue northward under the name of Flatbush Avenue Extension, slicing through blocks and blocks to meet the 1909 Manhattan Bridge. With this extension, it’s hard to visualize the simple forking of the old road into two directions.


There are just a few more points in this larger Citymaps.com map. Note the SW landfill extension to Governor’s Island, plus the 1950 Brooklyn-Battery (auto) Tunnel and, crossing the Gowanus Canal (ex-Creek), Gowanus Expressway that cut off Red Hook from those other neighborhoods that used to be called South Brooklyn (south of OLD Brooklyn, not to be confused with southern Brooklyn).


Notice where Flatbush Avenue passes Grand Army Plaza, the low point in the moraine that attracted it, and then divides Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanical Garden (2008/8) on its way to Flatbush. Further on is Green-Wood Cemetery of 1838, which contains the highest point in Brooklyn (nice harbor views) and where “everyone you’ve ever heard of” is buried. Here’s a short list of the famous names: abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher (see BH); composer Leonard Bernstein; lithographers Nathanial Currier and James Ives; lyricist Fred Ebb (Kander & Ebb; Cabaret, Zorba); composer Duke Ellington; journalist Horace Greeley (Go West, Young Man); sewing machine inventor Elias Howe; grandfather of Winston Churchill Leonard Jerome; Laura Keene (the actress on stage when Lincoln was shot); Samuel F B Morse (code, telegraph); artist Lewis Comfort Tiffany.


Bay Ridge has its Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, Coney Island its boardwalk. Up north note the three local bridges: the 1883 Brooklyn Bridge, the 1903 Williamsburg Bridge (the “Willy”), and finally, the Manhattan Bridge inserted between them in 1909. Then notice how both Fulton Street and Atlantic Avenue run parallel to each other to the former Jamaica Pass opening in the glacial moraine to meet Brooklyn’s Broadway coming from the Willy. Jamaica Pass is now called Broadway Junction in East New York (“E…” shows on the map), first in reference to just the roads merging and then leading east, later to also include the subways, els, and LIRR merging there. On this earlier Battle of LI map, note the openings in the ridges in the moraine through which the Road to Flatbush and the Road to Jamaica (Jamaica Pass) led. Also note via the red arrows that both passes and both roads were used by British and Hessian soldiers to attack American forces in August 1776 after an all-night march, on the rush toward Brooklyn Heights.


[AN ASIDE: As mentioned earlier, the Brooklyn Bridge once carried public transit, including els, but today carries exclusive auto traffic. However, both the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges carry subway lines. (Check these two bridges, and BH subway tunnels here.) It is invigorating to take a subway “in the sky” over a bridge. The Manhattan Bridge has center lanes for cars, then subway lanes, finally bicycle lanes at the edge. Watch this subway crossing the Manhattan Bridge on YouTube with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background.]


Fulton St / Jamaica Av   We’ve discussed Fulton Landing and how its road had of necessity to skirt Brooklyn Heights, but now it’s time to talk more substantially about the road itself. Like other roads, it started out as an ancient Native American trail used for trading skins, furs, and wampum that began in the Great Plains and Ohio River Valley and reached Long Island at what is today Fulton Landing. It cut through Jamaica Pass and proceeded to the Hempstead Plains, which essentially corresponds today to the entire center of Nassau county. This grassland is one of the few natural plains in the East. The trail eventually continued to the East End of Long Island, not on the South Fork to Montauk Point, which is a dead end, but on the North Fork to Orient Point, which has potential connections by water to Connecticut and New England.


Jamaica was settled by the Dutch in 1656 under the name of Rustdorp (Restful Village or Resttown [in the sense of “rest stop”]). When the British took it over in 1664, they adopted the name given by the local Lenape Native Americans living in the area as Jameco. The town had nothing to do with the Caribbean island of Jamaica, but I can’t believe that that the island’s name hasn’t had some influence on changing the O to an A. (It’s a curiosity that today, there’s a sizable Caribbean Jamaican community living in Jamaica, Queens.)


George Washington actually did sleep in Jamaica, in 1770, in a local tavern. Rufus King, a signer of the United States Constitution, moved to Jamaica in 1805. He rebuilt a farmhouse into a manor house, which remains today as the restored King Manor Museum in a park directly on Jamaica Avenue, part of the Historic House Trust of NYC.


By the dates of our early maps, 1766 and 1776, Jamaica had become a trading post for farmers and their produce, and so the Road to Jamaica became a viable destination. From the website of the Richmond Hill Historical Society (Richmond Hill abuts Jamaica Avenue in Queens) I learned that a law was passed in 1803 for a highway to extend from the ferry through Suffolk County. At various times, the road in question had been referred to as the Road to Jamaica, looking eastward, or also Ferry Road, looking westward. It was also referred to as Kings Highway.


In 1809, the Brooklyn, Jamaica and Flatbush Turnpike Company was incorporated, which took charge of the Ferry Road from the ferry to Jamaica, but also with a branch south to Flatbush. At the fork where the two roads split was the first tollgate, and then one branch of the road continued to Flatbush, the other went along what was then called Fulton Avenue, and later the present Jamaica Avenue, to Jamaica.


A couple of decades later, the concepts of a dirt road, a more modern plank road, and a railroad between Brooklyn and Jamaica became intertwined. At a meeting in a tavern, it was voted to be expedient to have a railroad between Brooklyn and Jamaica, and in 1832, the Brooklyn & Jamaica Railroad Company was incorporated, but curiously, only to purchase the stock of the Turnpike Company. The turnpike road remained the property of the railroad company until 1851, when the railroad sold its dirt road to the Jamaica and Brooklyn Plank Road Company, organized in 1850.


[Today we don’t have “wooden streets” such as plank roads, but we do have boardwalks at beaches. They are only for pedestrians, but service vehicles will occasionally use them. Yet it’s hard to picture horses regularly using one, and certainly not cars.]


A new era started for roads, and the plank roads became immensely popular (2006/11). Hemlock, pine or oak planks, 8 ft (2.4 m) long and 3-4 in (7.6-10.2 cm) thick, were laid across the road and perpendicular to it. If laid lengthwise, horses were more liable to slip and the ends could ride up. If laid at an angle, one end would tend to spring up when the weight of the vehicles pressed unbalanced upon the other end. The planks were put in sleepers, and sand was put on the planks. [Coney Island Avenue, the main road south to Coney Island, was once a plank road, and so was Myrtle Avenue, a major street in Downtown Brooklyn.] In 1866, tracks were laid for a horsecar line, and 20 years later it was electrified, the first in the state.


It remains difficult to know how to describe the road in question, since a catch-all name like “Boston Post Road” doesn’t exist. We’ve seen parts of it called, among other things, Fulton Avenue, Fulton Street, Ferry Road, Brooklyn Ferry Road, Jamaica Avenue, Jamaica Turnpike, Brooklyn & Jamaica Turnpike, Brooklyn & Jamaica Plank Road. When Jamaica Avenue crosses into Nassau county, it’s called Jericho Turnpike, after a small town it leads to north of Hicksville. By this time, it’s also picked up the state highway designation of NY25, or Route 25, and has several other local names by the time it reaches Orient Point.


It seems that the primary names near its beginning in Brooklyn, and the oldest, are Fulton Street and Jamaica Avenue, so I’ve used for this oldest of LI roads the composite name “Fulton St / Jamaica Av”. However, this should also be watched carefully. If you recall, Saint Nicholas Avenue in Manhattan followed the old trail to Broadway, at which point Broadway took over the trail. Still, after that junction, what I call a faux continuation of Saint Nicholas Avenue continues to run north parallel to Broadway, this faux version having nothing historical about it. We have the same issue with our current road. Fulton Street runs along the route of the old trail from the ferry to Jamaica Pass / Broadway Junction, at which time, Jamaica Avenue takes over the old trail through East New York. But again, a faux Fulton Street also emerges eastward from that junction and runs parallel to Jamaica Avenue a couple of blocks south, which means the history buff has to be very careful evaluating evidence on maps.


South Ferry + LIRR / Atlantic Avenue   In Manhattan we had two historic roads, and two historic railroads. On Long Island, we have the Fulton St / Jamaica Av historic road running a great distance, while the other route of historic importance, rather unusually, has to be classified as something of a hybrid, simultaneously a railroad and road. The LIRR was laid out to run along a nascent Atlantic Avenue, giving that street some importance, but it was the railroad that went the distance across LI, while Atlantic Avenue as a main road today peters out and barely reaches Jamaica. It was never a colonial road, and without the railroad, might never have reached the length it has. It was historically an adjunct to the railroad--it clung to the railroad and only reached independent importance in places where the railroad tracks have been displaced, with Atlantic Avenue then taking over all the abandoned rail route and not just being adjacent to it.


But it all started with South Ferry. From the beginning, ferry traffic from the center of built-up Manhattan, the Wall Street area, had to be diverted northward somewhat to Fulton Landing because Brooklyn Heights faced Wall Street and was in the way. (Take another look at the 1847 map I said we’d come back to.) So Brooklyn grew north and east of BH, as well as on top of BH, and then finally the growing city reached the area south of BH, and the area from BH south was called South Brooklyn, including Red Hook. Today the term is used rarely, most likely to avoid confusion with southern Brooklyn. (Note Governors Island again on the map, still not expanded to the SW, but already showing the 1798 star-shaped fortress that is today called Fort Jay and the circular fort called Castle Williams, built 1807-1811.)


Note the ferry to Hamilton Avenue to serve Red Hook. Today, the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel exits down Hamilton Avenue onto the Gowanus Expressway and effectively cuts off Red Hook from the rest of what was South Brooklyn, so Red Hook has kept its identity, but the name South Brooklyn has been replaced with smaller neighborhoods called Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, and Carroll Gardens. Still, in the early 18C South Brooklyn was growing, so note the most important development here, the establishment in 1836 of South Ferry.


The name was simple, and very logical. Fulton Ferry at Fulton Landing, serving the north of BH, was sometimes called North Ferry, so this landing with its ferry house was called South Ferry, and at the time (no longer), that was also the name of the adjacent neighborhood. This happens all the time with areas near transportation routes; think of neighborhoods in the Bronx still called Spuyten Duyvil, Kingsbridge, and Williamsbridge--and even the Brooklyn neighborhood of Fulton Ferry near the Fulton Ferry. Which leads us to the very odd situation whereby, although the name South Ferry no longer survives in Brooklyn, where the South Ferry was located, it still survives on the opposite (“wrong”) end of the former ferry line, in Manhattan. The subway stop at the Staten Island Ferry next to Battery Park is still called South Ferry. People don’t realize that that used to be a destination, but apparently just accept that it’s a ferry area that happens to be in the south of Manhattan.


The South Ferry Company established the South Ferry in May 1836 (it merged three years later with the Fulton Ferry Company) in particular to connect Lower Manhattan with the LIRR, which just opened the month before to Jamaica. This from the start indicates the importance of the rail line at this location, over the street. (There is no trace today of South Ferry at the foot of Atlantic Avenue, just where Furman Street comes out from below BH; instead one finds Brooklyn piers 5-6-7, now being converted to parkland with a playground.) And on the historic map we see the LIRR (B&J RR) main line starting at its depot right down on the waterfront by the ferry house running up Atlantic Avenue, but disappearing into the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel for about five blocks between Columbia Street and Boerum Place.


[In 2006/11 “Off to Boston!” we discussed the formation of the LIRR and how it originally was meant to serve Boston from LI via ferry from Greenport near Orient Point to Connecticut, a plan later countered by the New Haven RR, which was able to offer a one-seat ride through Connecticut. We also had BH resident Walt Whitman’s quote lamenting the demise of the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel as Brooklyn’s gateway to LI. The purpose here is not to repeat that, but to concentrate on the routing to Jamaica.]


The above-mentioned 1832 Brooklyn & Jamaica Railroad (B&J RR) completed its line from Brooklyn to Jamaica in 1836 and then immediately leased it to the LIRR as part of its main line. In the beginning, the line didn’t quite reach all the way to the South Ferry waterfront, which resulted in the tunnel’s construction. (Compare the Murray Hill Tunnel in Manhattan.)


The Atlantic Avenue Tunnel (Cobble Hill Tunnel) ran for 767 m (2,517 ft) between Columbia Street, about two blocks from the waterfront, and Boerum Place, about seven. It’s 6.4 m (21 ft) wide and 5.2 m (17 ft) high, and is the oldest railway tunnel beneath a city street in North America. It was built in 1844-5 to lower the steep grade down to the waterfront for the B&J RR, to eliminate a horsecar transfer, and to provide a grade-separated right-of-way. Before the tunnel was built, the closest the railroad came to the waterfront was Clinton Street, five blocks away, from where train cars were then hauled by teams of horses to the Flatbush Avenue area, where steam locomotives were attached. In exchange for building the tunnel, the City of Brooklyn allowed the B&J to run steam locomotives the remaining way to the waterfront. The historic (1841-1955) Brooklyn Eagle newspaper, which once had Walt Whitman as its editor for two years, reported in its 75th Anniversary edition in 1916: A little wood-burning engine, the "Ariel," pulled four cars, looking like stage coaches strung in a row, at what was then the very high speed of twenty-five miles an hour [40 km/h], from South Ferry to Jamaica.


Even after Boston was no longer a destination, the tunnel and the LIRR remained the primary means of access to most of central Long Island from New York (Manhattan) and Brooklyn, which prompted Walt Whitman’s aforementioned comments on its later demise (2006/11). As for that demise, do recall how, because of the soot, smoke and noise, in 1854 New York (Manhattan) restricted the NY & Harlem from sending steam engines south of 42nd Street, and how that influenced the rise of Midtown to the detriment of Downtown Manhattan. During that same time period, in 1851 the City of Brooklyn started restricting steam propulsion within its city limits, and in 1859, despite opposition from the Brooklyn Eagle, a law was passed banning the LIRR from using steam any further west than East New York. Only horsecars could go further west, as in New York (Manhattan). Steam trains could still travel further east to Jamaica and beyond, making ENY a major transfer point. Another requirement was that the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel be closed. The ends of the tunnel were sealed in the fall of 1861. It had been in use for only 17 years.


In 1859 the LIRR turned over its lease on the Brooklyn & Jamaica RR to a new company to run a horsecar service from South Ferry over the top of the tunnel along the B&J tracks to Flatbush Avenue. In compensation, the LIRR chartered as a subsidiary the New York & Jamaica RR, also in 1859, and extended its Jamaica operation to Hunters Point in Long Island City. The new line opened in 1861, with ferry connections, the Hunters Point Ferry, to Midtown Manhattan, thus allowing it to keep its entire operation within Queens and out of Brooklyn territory. (The Hunters Point Ferry had its landing in Manhattan at 34th Street; this is now at 35th Street, where my catamaran stopped.) In its 1916 article, the Brooklyn Eagle reflected back about the move to Hunters Point: The Long Island Railroad thus, under compulsion, left the territory in which there lived fully nine-tenths of the people of Long Island.


In 1877, Brooklyn finally relented, and authorized the LIRR to return to Atlantic Avenue with steam locomotives. The LIRR again leased from its current owner the main line of the former B&J and started steam service out of the new Flatbush Avenue Terminal, but eastbound only, as it remains today. There was no longer any waterfront service to South Ferry, and the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel was forgotten.


Brooklyn never really recovered completely from this debacle, and found itself eclipsed. The names of the former railroads tell it all, B&J versus NY&J. The Hunters Point location was what the Pennsylvania RR connected to in constructing its Grand Connector, and today, the bulk of LIRR service from Jamaica goes into Penn Station in Manhattan, not to Brooklyn, and keep in mind it’s the largest commuter railroad in the US, so that’s a lot of volume. Although Brooklyn does have frequent connecting services out of Jamaica, it still remains essentially a branch line and a secondary terminus. But in a similar way, Lower Manhattan is also not what Midtown is. Remember, the three leading CBDs in the city, in order, are Midtown Manhattan, Lower Manhattan, and Brooklyn. Because of their rejection of steam railroads, both older locations are no longer in the primary positions they once were, especially since the PRR decided to enter Midtown Manhattan, and nothing south of that.


But the Brooklyn terminus is not isolated. As mentioned above, the IRT subway arrived in 1908 to its Atlantic Avenue Station and the BMT’s two services arrived in 1915 and 1920 to its Pacific Street Station. (The first parallel street south of Atlantic Avenue is Pacific Street. [Early on, Atlantic Avenue was Atlantic Street.]) The large, combined subway station today at the LIRR Atlantic Terminal is today called Atlantic Avenue-Pacific Street, which has always sounded to me like someone couldn’t make up his mind about oceans. It has nine subway services, which allows the second most subway transfers in the system after Times Square/42nd Street, which has ten. In 2010 the LIRR facility on Flatbush Avenue near Atlantic was renamed Atlantic Terminal, with a new entry pavilion that improved connections between railroad and subway.


The LIRR line from Brooklyn to Jamaica (and beyond) is today called the Atlantic Branch of the LIRR because of its route along Atlantic Avenue. It once had some four dozen stations between South Ferry and Jamaica, running a local service on outer tracks and a suburban express service on center tracks, but it only stops today at Nostrand Avenue (near Bedford Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant--essentially the old village of Bedford) and East New York (described shortly). From 1903 to 1905 it was grade-separated from Atlantic Avenue, so that today, from Atlantic Terminal to Nostrand Avenue it’s underground, is then on an elevated viaduct above Atlantic Avenue, but descends underground once again before East New York. There, the line rises onto street level at the station, but then descends underground one last time the rest of the way to Jamaica.


East of Jamaica the LIRR still runs at or above ground level, and remnants of Atlantic Avenue, apparently not one to yield easily, appear on and off alongside the line in Nassau County, beyond the city limits. A continuous stretch of Atlantic Avenue of some length runs beside the railway through Floral Park and then again as far east as Carle Place. Remnants no longer called Atlantic Avenue can be found as far east as Hicksville.


The forgotten Atlantic Avenue/Cobble Hill Tunnel, which is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was rediscovered in 1981 by then 18-year-old Robert "Bob" Diamond, who entered from a manhole he located at Atlantic Avenue and Court Street, crawled a distance of 21 m (70 ft) underground through a filled-in section of tunnel less than 60 cm (2 ft) high, and located the bulkhead wall that sealed off the main portion of the tunnel. With assistance, he then broke through the massive concrete bulkhead wall and gained access to the main portion of the tunnel, which is about four stories below street level. He described it as an “unimproved archeological site” and began leading paid tours once a month, two a day. I joined a rather large tour one day during 2010 and it was an amazing experience. One was led to the center of Atlantic Avenue to a manhole that was protected from traffic by the type of barriers used for utility workers. One went down the tight manhole opening on a ladder, then bent down to walk along a path in the sealed-off area at the end of the tunnel. Making one’s way through the huge bulkhead wall, one descends on a makeshift wooden staircase into the tunnel itself (click to inspect construction workmanship). The tour leads to the far end and back. Diamond continues to work to get the tunnel reopened, and possibly to have a modern streetcar line built to run through it. However, tours were suspended at the end of the last year because of the large groups using a narrow access with no other exit. This is the view down Atlantic Avenue as it descends Cobble Hill towards waterfront. The tunnel is directly below here, and the white stone former bank building at the left (today a Trader Joe’s) was the rendezvous point for the tour groups on their way to the manhole, just out of sight to the left. I don’t suppose the tunnel visit could be considered a rail-to-trail venue like the High Line or Walkway Over the Hudson, although it’s tempting to think of it as such.


It should be pointed out that subway and elevated lines run between Downtown Brooklyn and Jamaica along the historic route. One of the subway routes I took between Brooklyn Technical High School and home involved taking the A or C subway line under Fulton Street to Broadway Junction, with a transfer to the elevated J train (the former BMT reached Jamaica in 1918). I would take the J as far as East New York when I lived there, or to Jamaica for a bus connection to Hollis, when I lived there. On very rare occasion I’d take the LIRR from the 1913 Jamaica Station a couple of stops to Hollis for 25 cents. Thus Fulton St/Jamaica Av rail transportation parallels the LIRR/Atlantic Av route just a couple of blocks away.


Today, having relinquished my car, I ride the LIRR regularly. This schematic map shows present lines. I use both Penn Station and Atlantic Terminal (ex-Flatbush Avenue) to go to Jamaica and beyond (note Nostrand Avenue [Bedford] and East New York; also on the gold line, note Hollis). The Hunterspoint Avenue/LIC line runs rarely nowadays, in rush hours, since most trains through Queens go to Penn Station. Only one line (in red) does not go to Jamaica, and I walk from its Broadway Station to visit my nephew. On the blue line, I walk from the Malverne Station to visit my mother, also to go to the dentist. On the green line, I’m picked up at the Merrick Station to visit my sisters, or my niece. I have not yet taken the purple line to Greenport, but will this summer, to make a connection to Boston (!!!) Last summer I used the light blue line to go to Sayville, for Fire Island, and to Montauk and East Hampton, all of which I’ll describe shortly.


Just as the AirTrain Newark serves Newark Airport (2011/4), Kennedy Airport is served by the AirTrain JFK, which I also use regularly, a three-line 13 km (8 mi) self-propelled, driverless people mover on a concrete viaduct running along an expressway median. The main AirTrain route to all terminals, light blue on the following map, is connected to a modern extension of Jamaica Station (click to enlarge). Also note the Hollis Station and Hollis, the rail lines from Brooklyn and Manhattan on the left, Richmond Hill, whose Historical Society I referred to, the J train elevated in brown, the end of which is now underground in Jamaica, and the orange F train, which was my alternate route to high school at Tech.

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