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How We Got to Coney Island: The Development of Mass Transportation in Brooklyn and Kings County

How We Got to Coney Island: The Development of Mass Transportation in Brooklyn and Kings County

Brian J. Cudahy
Copyright Date: 2002
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 346
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  • Book Info
    How We Got to Coney Island: The Development of Mass Transportation in Brooklyn and Kings County
    Book Description:

    How We Got to Coney Island is the definitive history of mass transportation in Brooklyn. Covering 150 years of extraordinary growth, Cudahy tells the complete story of the trolleys, street cars, steamboats, and railways that helped create New York's largest borough---and the remarkable system that grew to connect the world's most famous seaside resort with Brooklyn, New York City across the river, and, ultimately, the rest of the world. Includes tables, charts, photographs, and maps.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4685-4
    Subjects: Transportation Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xii)
    George M. Smerk

    What mental picture arises when one thinks of Coney Island? Persons not from the New York area will probably think first of photographs of the beach crowded with thousands of people on a warm summer afternoon. Another image is that of the Steeple-chase amusement park. The images are not incorrect, but they are incomplete. Today, the image of Coney Island from the air is of a residential place, much like the vast expanse of Brooklyn, north to downtown Brooklyn, Prospect Park, and the green of the many cemeteries. Actions have consequences, and transportation actions for the nineteenth and twentieth centuries...

    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. 1 A Primer on Coney Island and Brooklyn
    (pp. 3-23)

    To establish some geographic terms of reference for the largely historical narrative that follows, let us take a brief look at the lay of the land in Coney Island today. And what could possibly be a more appropriate way to explore Coney Island in the early years of the twenty-first century than by taking an imaginary ride in a hot air balloon from the eastern to the western end of the island? Never mind such minor details as whether prevailing winds would cooperate in allowing such an endeavor to happen. We are talking here about Coney Island, a place where...

  6. 2 Street Railways (1854–1890)
    (pp. 24-48)

    Few municipalities in the world ever enjoyed as close an association with street railways as Brooklyn once did. The National League baseball team that currently plays its home games in Los Angeles and whose white uniform shirts have “Dodgers” written across them in blue script letters was so named because the team was once based in Brooklyn, a place whose denizens were forever “dodging” the trolley cars that seemed to run up and down every major Brooklyn thoroughfare.¹ Street railways played an important role in transporting people to Coney Island over the years, although they served wider Brooklyn markets, as...

  7. 3 Iron Piers and Iron Steamboats (1845–1918)
    (pp. 49-66)

    Thanks to the distinctive geography of western Long Island, the shortest distance between New York City and Coney Island is a water route rather than a land route. Prior to the construction of railway lines across Kings County in the 1860s and afterward, travel by water was also the fastest and the easiest route. In the mid-nineteenth century when Coney Island was becoming an attractive seasonal destination for New Yorkers anxious to escape the heat of the city for a few relaxing hours, steamboats emerged as an obvious and convenient way to reach the oceanfront. Other than private liveries operating...

  8. 4 Excursion Railways (1864–1890)
    (pp. 67-103)

    As Coney Island grew in popularity as a seasonal seaside resort, five steam railways were constructed in Kings County in the 1860s and the 1870s to carry passengers there from the southern limits of the city of Brooklyn or from steamboat and ferry connections with Manhattan. The rights-of-way used by four of the five excursion railways remain in operation in the twenty-first century as elements of the subway network of New York City Transit; the fifth was abandoned in the early decades of the twentieth century. In addition to the five excursion railways that provided service to and from Coney...

  9. 5 Elevated Railways (1880–1890)
    (pp. 104-123)

    Elevated railways operating along structures built over busy urban thoroughfares played an important role in the development of local transport in Brooklyn and Kings County during the final two decades of the nineteenth century. Two Brooklyn elevated lines of the 1880s were eventually linked with excursion railways that had provided transportation to and from Coney Island since the 1860s, and the elevated railway companies played a prominent role when various passenger railway operations in Kings County merged into the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company at the turn of the twentieth century. From an economic perspective, however, elevated railways in Brooklyn were...

  10. 6 Merger, Consolidation, and the Emergence of the BRT (1890–1900)
    (pp. 124-189)

    In the history of public transportation in Brooklyn and Kings County, from Colonial times to the present day, no decade was as transformational or as important as the 1890s. When the 1890s began, Brooklyn was served by a number of independent street railway companies whose principal motive power was the horse; elevated railways with trains hauled by steam locomotives were struggling with financing that was anything but sound; and travel to and from Coney Island was dominated by independent excursion railways operating from the periphery of Brooklyn to the shore. By decade’s end, the street railways, the elevated lines, and...

  11. 7 Subways and the Nickel Empire (1900–1940)
    (pp. 190-249)

    The amalgamation of a variety of Kings County transport properties under the aegis of a unified Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (BRT) as the nineteenth century became the twentieth brought measured improvement in travel to and from Coney Island. Now electrified rapid transit service was available to the seashore from downtown Brooklyn—even from Manhattan—thanks to through service over excursion railways and elevated lines. After taking over the elevated and excursion railways at the turn of the twentieth century, the BRT continued to make improvements in its system, including the completion of electrification efforts, the design and acquisition of new...

  12. 8 Coney Island at War (1940–1945)
    (pp. 250-265)

    It was during the years leading up to the Second World War that a singularly controversial public figure, Robert Moses, began to exert an influence on the subsequent growth and development of New York. While many unhesitatingly blame him for the downfall of Coney Island, a more balanced analysis would suggest that his contributions were at worst benign, perhaps even a bit constructive.

    It was in his role as park commissioner of the City of New York that Moses proposed, in 1937, some serious alterations to Coney Island.¹ Because the width of the beach between the boardwalk and high tide...

  13. 9 After VJ Day (1945–2000)
    (pp. 266-286)

    In comparison with earlier eras, the years between the end of the Second World War and the beginning of the twenty-first century saw rather limited change to the style of transportation that served Coney Island. This is not to say that things were completely static over this interval with respect to Coney Island transportation, and Coney Island itself saw a near total alteration of its nature and identity during these years. Urban transportation in the world at large experienced anything but stability after the Second World War; the private automobile grew in popularity and systems of public transport experienced steady...

  14. Appendix A: BRT and BMT Rail Passenger Cars, 1900–1940
    (pp. 287-292)
  15. Appendix B: Rail and Steamboat Schedules, Summer 1880
    (pp. 293-298)
    (pp. 299-326)
    (pp. 327-332)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 333-346)