As a solution to Manhattan’s rapid population growth and street congestion in the late 1800s, railroad companies decided to better serve their passengers by elevating the trains above ground. Originally, four elevated lines ran the length of Manhattan, but after complaints about the trains blocking light and emitting extremely loud noise, they suffered from a decrease in ridership. The elevated trains that ran along Second, Sixth and Ninth Avenues were all demolished between 1939 and 1942. The one line that stood its ground for a bit longer was the Third Avenue El, which was constructed between 1875 and 1878 and ran from South Ferry to Chatham Square before closing for good in 1955.
The El train before service was closed in 1955; Daybreak Express (1953) by Bryan Bosworth
The Third Avenue El began operating in August 1878, providing steam-powered service from South Ferry to the Grand Central Depot. The line later extended to 133rd Street in the Bronx. Demolition of the Third Ave El began in 1950 and all stations in Manhattan were closed by 1955. The Bronx section of the line remained open until 1973.
These videos from the 1950s showcase the Third Ave El’s final days of operation, the last elevated line to operate in Manhattan. After building mostly subterranean subways, that weren’t visible eyesores, many felt the elevated lines were obsolete.
Photo of the El running past Cooper Union courtesy of Sid Kaplan
As 6sqft previously discovered, Bronx-native Sid Kaplan used a camera to capture the dismantling of the Third Avenue El line in 1955 when he was only 17-years-old. After over sixty years, those photographs were put on display in the New York Transit Museum. Kaplan told the Times he had no intention behind the photos “except that I knew that if I didn’t take pictures of it, it’s going to be gone and I’m not going to get another chance.”
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