Early History of the LIRR

The history of what is now the LIRR begins on April 25, 1832 when the Brooklyn and Jamaica RR Company was incorporated and started building its ten-mile long route from the East River in Brooklyn along Atlantic Ave. to Jamaica. Two years later, on April 24, 1834 the Long Island Rail Road Company was formed.

Thanks to "Big John, Fan of the Sunrise Trail", we have a scan of the act which incorporated the LIRR.

(Yes, as you can see, as originally incorporated, it is officially two words "Rail Road" and not "Railroad"; however later, when the LIRR was owned by the Pennsylvania RR it was called the Long Island Railroad Company. For the last 35 or so years, under the MTA, it has been usually referred to as the Long Island Rail Road)

Also from "Big John" are the official bylaws of the Company from 1835. Click on the smaller images after the cover for the text of the bylaws.

 

The original purpose of the LIRR was to create a rail/ferry/rail connection from New York to Boston. The route was to be via rail to LI's North Fork then by boat to Stonington, Connecticut where it would continue by rail through Providence and Boston. At that time, engineers had considered it impossible to build a totally overland route through the hills of southern Connecticut. On April 18, 1836 the B&J was completed and immediately was leased by the LIRR, which started laying its own rails east from Jamaica.

Unfortunately, the needs of Long Island itself were ignored and the route chosen was through the vast, level, but mostly unpopulated plains of the center of Long Island, midway between the small, but thriving villages dotting the north and south shores. By 1837 they reached Hicksville, 1841 Farmingdale, 1842 Deer Park, and 1844 Medford. At about the same time, rails were being laid westward from Greenport and on July 27, 1844 the first three trains made the run from Brooklyn to Greenport in an amazing 3-1/2 hours. Click HERE for an article from the Brooklyn Eagle from July 2, 1844.

These ads also appeared in the Brooklyn Eagle in July, 1844

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Things went very well for the LIRR for several years, but, in 1850 the "impossible" rail route through Connecticut was built and the LIRR's main reason for existence disappeared. What followed was years of bankruptcies and receiverships. Eventually the LIRR realized that the only way the railroad would survive would be to focus on local passenger service and build additional lines off the main line to be closer to the Island's inhabitants.

Only one such branch, from Mineola to Hempstead, had been built by 1850. This branch was completed in 1839 and turned south immediately east of Mineola and, in Hempstead, ran down the middle of Main St. with its terminal between Centre and Fulton Sts. (scan of the ticket shown was contributed by "Big John, fan of the Sunrise Trail". It reads "This commutation ticket entitles Isaac Kirby (Big John's wife's great grandfather!) only to one trip each way daily on the Long Island rail road between Hempstead Branch and Hunter's Point from April 1, 1862 to Sept. 30, 1862")

Here is the schedule of fares in effect as of April 1, 1851 (again thanks to "Big John")

In 1854, the LIRR started building from Hicksville north to Syosset but their progress was much too slow. By the late 1860's several competitive railroad companies sprung up and began building their own routes to fill the void. Many of these companies were sold or leased to the LIRR almost as soon as their rails were laid, but several survived on their own for a few years. Among these were the New York and Flushing RR (1859, originally the Flushing RR in 1852) , the South Side RR of LI (1867), the Flushing and North Side RR (1869) and the Central RR of LI (1869).

Meanwhile, the LIRR had switched its main western terminus from Brooklyn to Hunters Point in 1860, since the City of Brooklyn (note that Brooklyn, as well as Queens and Richmond, would not become part of NYC until 1898) would no longer allow the use of steam engines along Atlantic Ave. west of East New York. Eventually, steam returned to Brooklyn in the 1870's, but by that time it was too late - the line was cut back from the East River ferry terminal to Flatbush Ave., and Brooklyn has remained a secondary terminus to this day.

The new line to Hunter's Point proceeded west from Jamaica, crossed the NY and Flushing at Winfield, turned northwest through Woodside, then turned southwest towards Hunter's Point. Eastward from Jamaica, a line was built in 1872 to Springfield Junction (where it crossed the South Side) and on to Far Rockaway. Another line (called the White Line for the color of its passenger cars) was also built in 1873 from Winfield to Flushing.

Other new lines for the LIRR included Mineola to Glen Head (1864), Glen Cove (1868) and Locust Valley (1875), as well as the extension of the line from Hicksville to Syosset to Huntington (1867), Northport (1867) and Port Jefferson (1873). In addition a line was built from Manor (now Manorville) on the Main Line southward to Eastport then eastward to the Hamptons and Sag Harbor (1870).

For several years, the various railroads coexisted with each other but eventually the overcompetition would cause all to fail. There were three railroads serving Flushing (the LIRR's White Line, the Flushing and North Side and the NY and Flushing), three serving Hempstead (the LIRR, the Central and the South Side) and two serving the Rockaways (the LIRR and the South Side). The first to fail was the South Side, which was taken over by Conrad Poppenhusen of the Flushing and North Side in 1874. Then in 1876, the LIRR itself was bought out by Poppenhusen. At that time, the LIRR's White Line was abandoned, as was the South Side's Bushwick line. In addition, the LIRR and South Side lines were connected at Springfield Junction (near the present Laurelton station) and the three separate terminals at Hunter's Point were consolidated. Also in 1878 the following lines were abandoned: the former Central line from Flushing to Creedmoor, the South Side's line from Valley Stream to Hempstead and the former LIRR line from Garden City to Hempstead (the Central's Garden City to Hempstead remained). However, despite all the consolidation and cessation of competition, the LIRR went into receivership in 1879.

In 1880, the LIRR was taken over by Austin Corbin and under him, the railroad prospered and expanded to more-or-less its greatest limits: Patchogue to Eastport (1881), Locust Valley to Oyster Bay (1889), Bridgehampton to Montauk (1895), Port Jefferson to Wading River (1895), Great Neck to Port Washington (1898). In addition, in 1882 the LIRR took over the NY, Brooklyn and Manhattan Beach RR, which had been built in 1876 and part of which presently forms the LIRR's Bay Ridge branch, used for freight only, from Bay Ridge to Fresh Pond, with a now-abandoned spur to Manhattan Beach. In 1893, the remaining Garden City to Hempstead line was repositioned to its present ROW and a new line was built from Valley Stream (the present West Hempstead branch) which connected to it just north of the present Country Life Press station.

In July, 1901 the LIRR took control of the NY & Rockaway Beach RR, which ran from Glendale Junction to Rockaway Park over a long trestle over Jamaica Bay. In 1910, the final portion of this line, from White Pot Junction in Rego Park to Glendale Junction was built.

By 1901, the LIRR had been bought by the Pennsylvania Railroad. The history of the LIRR, under PRR ownership, will be continued on the Pennsy Era page.

Early Stations of the LIRR

If you would like to make any additions or have any corrections, please let ME know.

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