The West Side Cowboys and the railway cars that killed 436 people before 1906

Posted On Mon, February 27, 2017 By

Posted On Mon, February 27, 2017 By In History, Transportation

West Side Cowboy on Death Avenue, via Kalmbach Publishing Co.

The now-defunct elevated train lines of Manhattan are well known today thanks to their reincarnation as the High Line. But before this raised structure was put in place, the west side was home to a deadly train system appropriately referred to by locals as “The Butcher.” The full-size railway line ran from 1846 to 1941 between 10th and 11th Avenues without barriers, fences or platforms, earning the route the nickname “Death Avenue” before it was taken out of operation for causing more than 430 fatalities–deaths that not even true western cowboys could stop.

Death Avenue in 1910 by George Grantham Bain, via Library of Congress


A view of the congestion caused by the trains, via Kalmbach Publishing Co.

The line circled back on 11th Avenue and included an additional east side train running on Fourth Avenue. Barreling down Death Avenue amongst the city’s bustling foot traffic, cabs, and early motorcars, the block-long trains killed and mangled pedestrians by the dozens, sparking well-deserved public upset over its 95-year lifespan.

The trains were operated by the Hudson River Railroad, and while the outcries from citizens were mostly ignored, at one point the company hired actual cowboys (shipped in from the West), to help manage the situation. The cowboys’ main objective was to ride their horses in front of the trains while waving a red flag to warn pedestrians of the oncoming trains. Unfortunately, the “West Side Cowboys” were unable to prevent all fatalities and local protest continued: In 1894 a man named Willie Lennon, who lost his leg to the trains, set a fire on the tracks; and in 1908 Seth Los Hanscamp, a seven-year-old boy, was killed by the train, inspiring a protest march of 500.

In 1929 the city, state, and New York Central Railroad reached an agreement, known as the West Side Improvement Project, to finally take action and build the aforementioned elevated railroad. A small somber plaque is located on the brick wall of a bar called Death Avenue on 10th Avenue and 29th Street in remembrance of those who lost their lives to the train.

RELATED:

Tags : ,

MOST RECENT ARTICLES

  • Park Slope co-op with custom bookshelves reaching 18 feet asks $1.65M

    Park Slope co-op with custom bookshelves reaching 18 feet asks $1.65M

    A renovation for this Park Slope co-op left it in lovely condition. The lofty floorplan–which boasts 18-foot ceilings–was taken full ...
  • Weekly highlights: Top picks from the 6sqft staff

    Weekly highlights: Top picks from the 6sqft staff

    Swale floating park returns this spring with a new look Kushner Cos. vision for 666 Fifth Avenue has Zaha Hadid ...
  • Stackable furniture line from Debra Folz Design makes storage stylish

    Stackable furniture line from Debra Folz Design makes storage stylish

    There are all types of stackable furniture out there, and while many of them function perfectly well, they’re not always ...
  • This $4M Riverdale mansion, known as the Esmeralda, was built in 1899 and still impresses today

    This $4M Riverdale mansion, known as the Esmeralda, was built in 1899 and still impresses today

    The historic mansions of Riverdale never fail to impress, and this gem is no exception. Built in 1899 and known ...
  • Renzo Piano’s 565 Broome Street on the rise; the world of Hamilton at Green-Wood Cemetery

    Renzo Piano’s 565 Broome Street on the rise; the world of Hamilton at Green-Wood Cemetery

    After launching sales in September, Renzo Piano’s two-towered 565 Broome Street is finally on the rise. [CityRealty] The quest to ...
  • FREE RENT: This week’s roundup of NYC’s rental concessions

    FREE RENT: This week’s roundup of NYC’s rental concessions

    Upper West Side Beaux Arts Beauty ‘The Willard’ Offering Two Months Free, 1-Bedrooms From $2,996/Month [link] Live at LIC’s Hayden: ...
  • 432 Park would have generated $30M for affordable housing with de Blasio’s mansion tax

    432 Park would have generated $30M for affordable housing with de Blasio’s mansion tax

    Outside of 432 Park Avenue, Mayor de Blasio held a press conference on Thursday to discuss his mansion tax. The ...
  • City reveals garment district rezoning plans, citing incentives to move makers to Sunset Park

    City reveals garment district rezoning plans, citing incentives to move makers to Sunset Park

    At a Manhattan community board meeting Wednesday evening, city officials told garment industry representatives of plans to remove Midtown‘s manufacturing ...
  • The Urban Lens: Behind the counter and into the caves at Murray’s Cheese

    The Urban Lens: Behind the counter and into the caves at Murray’s Cheese

    6sqft’s ongoing series The Urban Lens invites photographers to share work exploring a theme or a place within New York City. ...
  • New renderings revealed for NYCHA’s raised earth Red Hook Houses by KPF

    New renderings revealed for NYCHA’s raised earth Red Hook Houses by KPF

    When Superstorm Sandy hit the community of Red Hook, thousands of residents were left without power and basic necessities for ...
  • Judge once again stops work at Pier 55 over environmental concerns

    Judge once again stops work at Pier 55 over environmental concerns

    If you thought the roller coaster that is Pier 55 was over since construction began in November, you may not want ...
  • Amtrak will provide additional weekend service between Boston and New York

    Amtrak will provide additional weekend service between Boston and New York

    Amtrak will soon offer more weekend service options between Boston and New York, the railroad company announced Thursday. Those who ...

SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTERS

Thank you, your sign-up request was successful!
This email address is already subscribed, thank you!
Please provide a valid email address.
Please complete the CAPTCHA.
Oops. Something went wrong. Please try again later.