1917: IRT Expands Into Corona
Predecessor Sets 7 Train’s Tracks
By Theresa Juva
Today, riders on the 7 train come from all over the world.
Before it ambled all the way to Shea Stadium and Main Street, Flushing, the 7 line had a different name as it slowly crept into Northeast Queens during the 1920s.
According to a neighborhood history and report from the urban planning department of Hunter College, Queens was eyed for an elevated train in the early 1900s when the Interborough Rapid Transit Company asked the City if it could expand its Manhattan lines on Second, Third and Ninth Avenues.
Seeing a need for transportation expansion outside Manhattan, the City would only agree to the extensions if lines were added in Queens. The report states: “In order to keep their prospective franchises in Manhattan, the IRT signed a contract in 1912 and agreed to build a few token miles in Queens, providing extensions into Corona and Astoria.”
By 1915, the Corona station was taking shape at Alburtis Avenue, what today is known as 104th Street, and encompassed two city blocks. Unlike contemporary stations that only include benches and platforms, this station featured bathrooms, a waiting room and restaurant.
On April 21, 1917, 5,000 people gathered in Linden Park to celebrate the first run from Corona to Manhattan. A fireworks show and crowd cheers welcomed the train from Grand Central, which took just 16 minutes to arrive. The extension was significant because it caused a shift from trolley to train usage in the area.
The Hunter College report notes that “on Nov. 10, 1919, the New York and Queens Trolley Company rearranged its line, cutting the original Corona trolley route in half.”
The Corona Line had a significant effect on the area and ultimately caused the demise of the trolley: in 1916 there were 3.5 million trolley riders, a number that plunged to 1.4 million by 1918 – a 60 percent decrease.
The popularity of the line led the Corona line’s eventual growth in 1928 to Flushing for which the line is now named.
Without this expansion of the New York City subway system, the neighborhoods in Queens would not be as diverse as they are. Many immigrants who moved out of crowded tenements on the Lower East Side of Manhattan for a better quality of life in Queens actually settled along the route of the train. Today, a high percentage of immigrants to Queens still settle in the northwest section of the borough.
The IRT was also responsible for the urbanization of Queens since it prompted the development of businesses to serve the borough’s increasing population. Now, many of those who live alongside the 7 line also work near it. Some immigrants eventually relocate in pursuit of the more suburban lifestyle that led immigrants living in Manhattan to move to Queens in the early 1900s. They often return, however, for the specialty shops and restaurants of their old neighborhoods.
In 1999, the Queens Council on the Arts successfully nominated “The International Express” for the designation of National Millennium Trail. It was selected as representative of the American immigrant experience by the White House Millennium Council, the United States Department of Transportation and the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.
Indeed, the relationship between transportation, immigrant settlement patterns and commerce, evident along The International Express is a present-day echo of similar, albeit grander-scale, schemes that built our nation, such as the Trans-Continental Railroad. And the immigrants who opened the first Mexican bakery or Indian sari shop, for example, were certainly pioneers of sorts.
The International Express is a living heritage trail. Its route may be set in steel but its destinations are ever-changing. New sites of interest are constantly emerging as new New Yorkers settle alongside it.
A Bridge Not Too Far
By Theresa Juva
The Hellgate Bridge in Astoria.
The completion of Hell Gate Bridge in 1917 gave the structure the title of the world’s longest steel-arch bridge and served as the literal bridge into a new generation of engineering feats that would include the George Washington Bridge and the Verrazano Narrows.
When the idea for a bridge that would link Western Queens to the Bronx emerged in the 1890s, engineers and designers were faced were the challenge of not only building a 3.2-mile roadway above water, but also avoiding state mental hospital building on Ward’s Island below.
Oliver W. Barnes and Alexander Cassatt of the Pennsylvania Railroad and Gustav Lindenthal, a bridge designer, were commissioned to build the bridge and each had their own vision of what the new roadway would accomplish: the men from the Pennsylvania Railroad wanted to bring greater access to other parts of New England while Lindenthal saw it as a chance to take on a monumental feat of engineering. He had already signed on to the Williamsburg Bridge and Queensboro Bridge projects.
One of the significant challenges of the project was not only providing clearance for buildings underneath the bridge, but designing a structure strong enough to withstand the weight of railroad cars. So Lindenthal sought of the help of Othmar Ammann, an engineer who would gain recognition for his work on the George Washington and Verrazano Narrows Bridges.
In 1905, when deciding the final design, the men sifted through several. According to the Hell Gate Bridge entry on www.nycroads.com, “the first design, a ‘crescent arch’ where the upper and lower cords of the arch meet at the anchorages of the bridge, copied the design of Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel’s Garabit Viaduct in France. The design was assailed because it appeared weak in comparison to the great height at center of the arch.”
The chosen design, similar to bridges over the Rhine River in Germany, was a more rigid arch and included more steel than both the Manhattan and Queensboro Bridges; a new kind of “carbon steel” was used to ensure maximum support.
Several changes were made to the design after construction began in 1914, including embedding the train rails with concrete encased in 14 inches of broken-stone ballast. This would act as a sound buffer for the loud clanking of a passing train. The original design featured slated steel girders and piers to be used as support systems under the bridge, but fearing it would be used an escape ladder for patients from the nearby mental hospital, Lindenthal changed it to concrete.
By 1917, the bridge was open for business and the Pennsylvania Railroad train made its first journey across the suspended roadway, making it the first non-stop trip between Washington and Boston.
Today, three of the four original tracks are still in use and are used for Northeast service Amtrak trains and freight trains traveling from the South. In 1996, the bridge got its first paint job since 1916. With the lobbying of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Congress allocated $55 million to renovate what Moynihan called “a great engineering miracle.” The bridge is now the 17th longest main steel arched bridge in the world.