The Brighton Beach Railroad, a surface line powered by steam locomotives, began operations on July 2nd of 1878, originating at the southeast boundary of Prospect Park near the intersection of Flatbush & Ocean Avenues. Chugging south through farms and woodland, it stopped only near populated areas on its way to race tracks and hotels by the shore. These stops, mostly just way stations, consisted of little more than large wooden shacks: Parkville (now Newkirk), South Greenfield (Avenue M), Kings Highway, Neck Road, Sheepshead Bay, and the Brighton Beach Hotel. Over the next three decades more stops were added (and the abandoned hotel subtracted): Woodruff (now Parkside), Church Avenue, Beverley Road, Cortelyou Road, Fiske Terrace (Avenue H), Manhattan Terrace (Avenue J), and Avenue U.
Months after opening day the railroad connected to Brooklyn’s “rapid transit” via a path extending from the north end of the Prospect Park station that is now known as the Franklin Shuttle (it first terminated at Franklin & Atlantic Avenues). After the Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883, the path was extended north a couple of blocks to connect with the Fulton Street EL, enabling its customers to board cable cars over the bridge to Park Row. That’s why ads for homes in Victorian Flatbush back in the first two decades of the 20th Century would invariably inform potential customers coming from Manhattan: “Take the Brighton Beach EL.” That ended in 1920 when a tunnel was completed from 7th Avenue in Park Slope, running under Flatbush Avenue to the Prospect Park station, a more direct route than the Franklin Avenue sojourn, requiring no transfers for a ride to or from Manhattan.
In 1900 the Brighton railroad was fully electrified via trolley poles and wires, dramatically increasing its speed. But by 1903, following numerous accidents, fatalities and delays caused by grade crossings in the rapidly developing former farmlands of southern Brooklyn, the New York State legislature was impelled to create the Brooklyn Grade Crossing Commission (BGCC). The Commission would consist of three representatives from the City of New York, and one each from the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) and the Brighton line, officially owned by the Brooklyn Heights Railroad (BHRR) but ultimately controlled by the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (BRT).
Since 1877 the LIRR had run an excursion line, the Manhattan Beach Rail Road (MBRR), that linked ferries in Bay Ridge and Greenpoint & Long Island City to Manhattan Beach on the eastern end of the Coney Island peninsula. However, over the years, with the advent of electrification and more direct routes to the shore provided by trolleys, the MBRR suffered declining ridership. Although passenger service survived until 1924, after the Pennsylvania Railroad took over the LIRR at the turn of the century, freight operations took precedence.
The LIRR had to contend with many grade crossings. But once eliminated, heavy freight could more profitably be moved to and from its new rail float barges at the foot of 65th Street that linked Long Island with the Penn’s continentel rail terminals across the harbor in New Jersey. The most consequential LIRR crossroads were its intersections with the other surface rail lines in southern Brooklyn: the West End (today’s D), Sea Beach (N), Culver (F), and Brighton (B, Q) lines – which is the primary reason why the proposed Interboro passenger line, running along the same route, would be welcomed by today’s east-west travelers. (Sadly, the LIRR built sidings and switches alongside these other railroads for interoperability during the grade crossing elimination project which are now all gone, the land sold off over the years by the cash-strapped Penn/LIRR/MTA — aee Chronolgy below.)
In addition to these railroad intersects, in 1903 the MBRR ran parallel to the Brighton line — only a very short distance to its east — from Avenue H southward to the shore, sharing all the same road crossings on the way.
To allay the fears of the LIRR & BRT, the BGCC quickly devised a funding plan: the City would pay half of the cost (most of it via bonds) and the railroads the rest. The BRT, anxious to please its shareholders, wanted to replace the Brighton line with an elevated railroad from Church Avenue to the water, by far the cheapest way to eliminate grade crossings. But the residents of Flatbush rebelled. The President of the Commission sympathized: he lived in Flatbush. After much back and forth, the BRT relented. If the homeowners adjoining the right of way would agree to give up two feet of their property for a retaining wall, the BRT would abandon the EL proposal and instead dig a trench wide enough for four tracks, enabling express stations just like the new-fangled IRT subway in Manhattan, and replace the trolley wires with an electrified third rail. Deal!
Meanwhile, the LIRR had already decided to suppress its tracks below ground from Bay Ridge to East Flatbush. The dirt excavated from the BRT and MBRR trenches would serve to build embankments on the Brighton line from Avenue H to Sheepshead Bay, a stretch through land that had yet to be developed.
The Big Dig, Brooklyn style, began on December 28, 1905, at Glenwood Road on the west side of the Brighton right of way, with steam-powered shoveling behemoths chewing up the earth on a relentless march northward to a point just south of Church Avenue where the tracks had been depressed many years before. On the east side, amazingly enough, the BRT continued to run surface trains for its customers. And eight months later, the train operations were transferred to the trench while the steam shovels got busy on the east side. Incredibly, the work was completed within 18 months, including the build-out of new stations at every stop, with not a single injured rider. However, the notoriously cheap BRT was sued by its contractor, which led me to a century-old appellate brief containing a treasure trove of photos attached as exhibits. Thanks, attorney dudes! Here’s the first of many.
Well, enough gab. Let’s look at the photos and images, moving north to south.
Prospect Park Station
For more on the Malbone Street disaster which bankrupted the BRT, you can read my 2002 take on the incident. Although 20 years old, it remains as stupid today as it was then.
Dean Alvord, the developer of Prospect Park South (PPS) in 1899, was influential in establishing this stop, on the eastern border of his planned “suburb in the City.” Alvord was married to a descendant of Alexander Hamilton and he was also a distant relative of Aaron Burr. Other early residents of PPS had similar pedigrees. They no doubt helped to convince the BRT that a stop here would be a grand idea, given the acres of new homes springing up west of the railroad.
Below are 1901 photos of the Beverley Road BRT station and its vicinity, looking south to the curve that leads to Cortelyou Road. The sign on the left reads: “PROSPECT PARK SOUTH-HOUSES FOR SALE-Or Built to Suit-For $7,000 Up With Plot-Lots Are Fully Restricted-DEAN ALVORD-220 Broadway or On Premises.”
The original “station” was a shack. It was condemned in 1901 and a new building erected that Fall. Presumably the photo above commemorates the appearance of the new enlarged shack which went unnoticed by the half dozen major Brooklyn newspapers of the time. The new building had a short life: it was torn down in 1906 as the steam shovels approached.
In 1905 the BRT wanted to discontinue the station as it prepared for the grade elimination project, so close was it to the pre-existing Cortelyou Road station. Of course, the major consideration, as always, was money. It was one thing to build a shack on one side of a two-track railroad from which a worker could flag a train down. But quite another to build a real station house straddling four new tracks in a trench 16 feet below. But the powerful Flatbush lobby prevailed and the Beverley stop remained.
Tune in next week for pics of Cortelyou, Newkirk and Avenue H from 1900 to 1907.
Tune in a week thereafter for pics of Avenue J, Avenue M, Kings Highway, Neck Road, Avenue U and Sheepshear Bay Road from 1900 to 1907.
Beverley Road CHRONOLOGY
1896 “Beverley Road” used by developer T. B. Ackerson in announcing a property sale in what would eventually be called Beverley Square East & West — the area just south of Beverley Road.
1897 Nov – Avenue B officially renamed Beverley Road by Kings County Board of Aldermen.
1899 Mar 2 – First reference to a station at Avenue B or Beverley Road – Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
1899 May 14 – Alvord has a special arrangement with BRT to bring customers to Beverley Road.
1899 Sep 22 – First Alvord ad: “Stop at Beverley Road” (but no station).
1901 Jun – Beverley Road station to be rebuilt after predecessor shack condemned.
1907 – Present station opens following completion of grade crossing elimination project.
1920 – Underground Beverly Road station opens 14 blocks east at Nostrand Avenue on the IRT line but note the missing “E” in Beverley.
2004 – Beverley Road Station Added to National Register of Historic Places (https://www.nationalregisterofhistoricplaces.com/NY/Kings/state.html)
1860: Brooklyn City Railroad – a horse drawn omnibus – joins the village of Flatbush to the City of Brooklyn, eliminating the stagecoach along Flatbush Avenue.
1870 March New York & Hempstead Plains RR – Charter granted for line from Hempstead to Jamaica to Flatbush to New Utrecht and Bay Ridge at 65th Street.
1876 September New York, Bay Ridge & Jamaica Railroad – New RR assesses value of land to be taken, Jamaica to Flatbush to Bay Ridge at 65th Street. Its terminal will be at Flatbush & Atlantic Avenue.
1877 Manhattan Beach Railroad Company (Austin Corbin) builds rail from Hunter’s Point to Bay Ridge Line, then from Avenue I (Manhattan Crossing Near Ocean Ave) to Manhattan Beach. New York Bay Ridge & Jamaica RR (1876) becomes Brooklyn Coney Island Rockaway RR (Bay Ridge Line) and then LIRR in 1882. In 1900 Pennsylvania RR takes over the LIRR and in 1901 the line is renamed the New York & Manhattan Beach Railroad Co.
1877 March NY Bay Ridge & Jamaica RR – Track laying opposed at Culver junction by Prospect Park & Coney Island RR along Gravesend Ave. Andrew Culver laid tracks from his terminal at 9th Ave & 20th Street to Coney Island along Gravesend Avenue. The Corbin RR heading west reached Gravesend Avenue near Foster Avenue at the same time as Culver was laying tracks heading south and a dispute breaks out over right of way.
1877 June Kings County Central RR from Flatbush Ave & Malbone to 1200 ft east of where NY Bay Ridge & Jamaica RR crosses Flatbush (the new line to be leased to NY Bay Ridge & Jamaica RR for 99 years). RR was built by Electus Litchfield & Austin Corbin, who built the Manhattan Beach RR. Line quickly fails due to lack of ridership.
1877 June Another steam locomotive railroad path is to be built by a new company, the Brooklyn Flatbush & Coney Island Railroad, formed by the consolidation of the Brooklyn, Coney Island Park & Concourse RR (John A. Lott, President) and the Coney Island & East River RR (John H. Burtis, Pres.) Expected to cost $400,000 for operation by the Summer of 1878, it will run from Atlantic Ave near Classon Ave. Rails depressed in City of Brooklyn and a portion of Flatbush (bridges over trenches dug at Degraw, Douglass, President, Union, Carroll, Eastern Pkwy, Ocean Ave, Franklin Ave, Clarkson Ave, Crooke Ave, Church Ave, Caton Ave.) Starts at Altantic between Franklin & Classon, running to Washington Ave, then down to Malbone Street near the Willink entrance to Prospect Park, then a direct line between E 16th & E 17th St to Coney Island near George Engeman’s Ocean Hotel. Company will build new “Brighton Hotel” hotel at its Coney terminus. Tunis Bergen, Henry Polhemus also on the Board.
1877 Winter – 1878 April Brooklyn Flatbush & Coney Island RR constructed. Popularly known as the Brighton Beach RR – built in conjunction with Brighton Beach Hotel from origination at Atlantic Ave between Franklin & Classon Aves, thence to Willink entrance to Park (today’s Prospect Park station) and then on the surface and through open cuts and tunnels to Coney Island. Lays two tracks from Prospect Park to Brighton Beach (along what is now Brighton subway line). It operates on the surface until it tunnels under the Bay Ridge line at Avenue H and then reemerges to the surface, parallel to the tracks of the Manhattan Beach Railway. There are three stops: Parkville (now Newkirk Plaza), Kings Highway, and Brighton Beach Hotel.
1878 Mar 8 Andrew Culver Sued by Brooklyn Coney Island Rockaway RR (Bay Ridge Line) to enjoin laying tracks at Gravesend Crossing
1878 Jun 23 Trial run from Flatbush & Malbone to Brighton Beach of Brooklyn Flatbush Coney Island RR
1878 Jul 2 Inaugural run of the Brooklyn Flatbush Coney Island RR from Prospect Park to Brighton Beach (link to LIRR tracks from Prospect Park to Flatbush & Atlantic Ave. won’t be finished until August).
1878 Aug 3 Administratrix appointed in the estate of John B. Vanderbaide, killed by the “John A. Lott Locomotive” in a trial run of the Brooklyn Flatbush Coney Island RR in June.
1879 June 7 Woman is struck by the John A. Lott Locomotive (carrying 4 cars) of the Brooklyn Flatbush & Coney Island RR on Atlantic Ave near St James Pl on its way to Flatbush depot from Bedford Ave.
1882 LIRR takes over New York, Bay Ridge & Jamaica Railroad.
1886 Brooklyn Flatbush Coney Island RR reorganized; insolvent in 1890. Becomes Brooklyn & Brighton Beach Railroad Co. and changes terminus from Franklin & Atlantic to Franklin & Fulton. After Malbone wreck of 1918 becomes bankrupt and emerges as BMT which NYC takes over in 1940.
1896 Jan 1 Boundaries of Kings County and City of Brooklyn become coterminous.
1898 The mistake of ’98 – the City of Brooklyn votes to become a borough of the City of New York.
1899 The Brooklyn Rapid Transit Co (BRT) which also operates the Brooklyn Union Elevated RR Co., which owned the elevated rail line at Franklin Ave & Fulton Street, where the Brighton line originated, as well as an elevated link over the Brooklyn Bridge to Park Row, buys the Brooklyn Flatbush & Coney Island RR and begins electrifying rails, eliminating steam locomotives. The line becomes so popular, the frequent trains passing along the surface line from Prospect Park to Brighton start to impede the flow of traffic and increase pedestrian accidents.
1901 Pennsylvania RR takes over LIRR after building piers in Greenville, south of Jersey City. Plans to expand car floats from Bay Ridge to Greenville. Will also build Connecting RR to link the Manhattan Beach RR to Hells Gate and path to Bronx, New England. Also to build tunnel under East River at Hunter’s Point Terminal to link to a terminal at 34th Street
1903 May Brooklyn Grade Crossing Commission created by legislative act, splitting cost between NYC and the railroads: Brooklyn Heights RR (BRT) and Penn RR/LIRR.
1904 Aug 1 Grade Crossing elimination begins on LIRR.
1904 Grade Commission decides the Brighton railroad should be depressed from a point 300 feet south of Church Avenue to a point 450 feet south of Avenue G (Glenwood Road) – a total of 6,400 feet. Thereafter the Brighton line would be carried on an embankment to Neptune Avenue, running at grade about 880 feet, for a total distance to the sea from Avenue G of 18,800 feet, or 3.7 miles. The depression of the Bay Ridge line of the Manhattan Beach RR was over a path that was 10.4 miles from the Brooklyn county line to Bay Ridge encompassing 41 grade crossings. And from the Manhattan Beach Junction to Manhattan Beach, 3.7 miles, with 10 crossings.
1905 Coney Island Plank Road Company moves its electric trolly tracks to the center of Coney Island Avenue.
1905 Dec LIRR leases to the BRT trackage south from Ave H to Sheepshead Bay to allow Brighton line to use their tracks while elevating line onto an embankment. Moreover, MBRR agrees to move their right of way closer to BRT so they can share the same embankment and unify their abutments over the crossing streets.
1908 Jul 1 Grade Crossing elimination ends in Brooklyn.
1918 Nov 1 Malbone Street disaster results in bankruptcy of the BRT and after reorganization, the emergence of the BMT which, along with the IRT and IND is taken over by NYC in 1940 to form the Transit Authority.
1965 New York State buys the LIRR from the bankrupt Pennsylvania RR.
1968 The City and State merge the LIRR and other commuter rails with the Transit Authority to form the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), now the largest public transit authority in the United States.
(Timeline above based on reading a lot of stuff but I might have dozed off here and there while compiling it, so if I messed up, sue me.)