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Railroad Sights of Long Island: Riverhead and Greenport

Railroad Museum of Long Island in Riverhead:

Although Riverhead can be considered the virtual end of Long Island, it was only the beginning of the originally intended intermodal rail-and-sea link’s traverse of the North Fork toward the eventual cross-sound ferry connection.

Taking its earliest-settlement name of “Head of the River” or “River Head,” the ultimately designated, single-word “Riverhead,” the ninth of Suffolk County’s ten towns, was created out of the west end of Southold on March 13, 1792.

Thus separate and autonomous, it was injected with growth with the arrival of the railroad and the very station, built on July 29, 1844 and serving the South Ferry, Brooklyn, to Greenport line, was constructed on present-day Railroad Avenue. Despite its through-purpose, it channeled its own disembarking passenger to stage coaches, which brought them to Quogue and other south island destinations.

Eastbound trains served the town on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, while westbound ones, back to Brooklyn, did so on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

Mercantile, milling, and manufacturing, its prevalent commercial undertakings, catered to a 1,600-strong population in 1875, the community boasting two grist mills, offices, 20 stores, three hotels, and six churches.

Replacing the original train depot, which was transformed into a home for railroad workers, a wood-framed one, designed by Charles Hallett and featuring scalloped trim and elaborate finials, was built west of Griffing Avenue between 1869 and 1870. This was subsequently replaced with a third, this time incorporating brick in its construction, on June 2, 1910.

“In the early 1900s, the east was a place of prosperous potato farms in summer and deep snows in winter,” wrote Ron Ziel and George H. Foster in their book, “Steel Rails to the Sunrise: The Long Island Railroad” (Ameron House, 1965, p. 158).

“From the time of its realization that the original reason for its existence had vanished with the building of the New Haven Railroad to Boston (fifty years earlier), the LIRR has played a major role in developing the areas way out east,” they continued (p. 158). “… Business and civic organizations all over the island joined with prominent citizens, newspapers, and the railroad to promote travel and settlements on Long Island.”

That development, however, was hardly rapid and when rails were later replaced by roads, the Long Island Railroad’s re-invented, intermodal transportation purpose had vanished, leaving the bulk of its passengers to commute to Manhattan during the mass morning exodus.

Indeed, by 1963, main line service east of Riverhead had been reduced to a single daily passenger and thrice-weekly freight run, using the track originally laid for the rail-to-sea link in the mid-19th century.

Today’s high-level concrete platform, which does not bear a single shoeprint on certain days and in certain seasons, was constructed between 1996 and 1997, but for rail enthusiasts, some of its history has been preserved at the Railroad Museum of Long Island across from it.

“The history of Long Island can be traced in steel rails, which cross its varied landscape-from dark tunnels under New York City to the farms and sand dunes of the East End,” according to its website. “The Railroad Museum of Long Island strives to illustrate this history through interpretive displays from its archive of photographs and artifacts, and through the preservation and restoration of vintage railroad equipment at its two locations in Riverhead and Greenport, New York.”

The former, consisting of a 70-foot parcel of land now owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, but leased to the museum, once sported a pump house, a water tower, and a turntable that was no longer dimensionally compatible with the larger, more powerful locomotives appearing during World War II. Cornerstone of the complex today is a building hailing from 1885 and used by the Corwin and Vail Lumber Yard, yet now serving as the museum’s visitor center with a Lionel model railroad layout sporting Long Island Railroad coaches in various liveries, a cardboard and balsa wood replica of the Riverhead depot, which commemorates its 100th anniversary, and a gift shop.

Across from it is the Lionel Visitors Center, featuring a multiple-track layout with a Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus display, a water tower that identifies the city as “Lionelville,” and 72 push-button activated accessories from turning wind turbines to lighted control towers.

Outside are two other model railroads: the G-scale Freeman Railroad and the complex-circumnavigating and rideable, 1964-1965 World’s Fair train.

Built by the Alan Herschel Company, the 16-gauge train itself was an integral part of the fair’s Long Island Railroad Pavilion, after which it was used by Grumman Aerospace at its Calverton company picnic, before being used by the village of Patchogue and finally being donated to the museum.

Since restored, its engine and three cars, wearing World’s Fair livery and advertising, “Ride the Log Island. Travel easy, your steel thruway to Fair Gateway,” run on 670 feet of track, usually departing every half hour and making three circuits. Rides are included with admission.

The crossing shanty next to it, which was originally located in Innwood, Queens, and protected guards from the weather, facilitated the manual lowering and raising of gates when trains passed to hinder pedestrian and vehicular movement. Riverhead reverted to an automatic system in the early -1950s.

The Railroad Museum of Long Island’s steam and diesel locomotives and passenger and freight cars are varied and historically significant. Although a few are displayed outside the gift shop, most are located across Griffing Avenue, parallel to currently active LIRR tracks and across from the present Riverhead Station.

The players in the 1955 End of Steam Ceremony are on display here, although in varying stages of restoration.

Time, distance, and technology separated the steam locomotives from their passenger coaches more than half a century ago, but the museum reunited some of them and they now stand only a few yards from each other, albeit in static, but restoring states.

As one of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Class G-5 “ten wheelers,” engine #39, for example, was constructed in its Juniata shops in 1923, yet its robust capabilities, expressed by its characteristics, ideally provisioned it for daily, demanding commuter line service: a 237,000-pound gross weight, a 2,178-hp cylinder capability, a 205-psi boiler pressure, a 41,328-pound tractive effort, and speeds between 70 and 85 mph.

Primarily serving the Oyster Bay branch, it was the last steam engine to travel to Greenport, in June of 1955.

Releasing its railway car to the arms of an RS-3 diesel locomotive, number 1556, during the End of Steam handoff in Hicksville, it relinquished an era. That engine, a 1,600-hp Class AGP-16msc, provisioned with multiple unit speed control and built by the American Locomotive Company, subsequently served the Long Island Railroad system for 22 years, whereafter it was purchased by the Gettysburg and Maryland Midland Railroad, and was finally acquired by the museum.

Interesting, but not necessarily related to Long Island history, is the recently acquired Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal Railroad (BEDT) locomotive, featuring a 0-6-0 wheel configuration. Constructed by H. K. Porter in 1923 for the Astoria Power and Light Company, it passed to several hands, including those of the Fleischman’s Yeast Company in Peekskill, New York; the Rail and Locomotive Company in Alabama; and finally, as of 1938, the Brooklyn East Terminal District Railway itself, which numbered it 16 and provided car float (barge) service from Brooklyn’s waterfront to several Class 1 railways in Manhattan, the Bronx, and New Jersey.

As the last steam engine to operate both east of the Mississippi River and in New York City, it was not retired until October of 1963, or eight years after the Long Island Railroad discontinued its own use of this technology.

Passenger cars are also well represented by the museum.

Double-decker coach #200, for example, sporting its Tuscan red paint scheme, was the first such aluminum, dual-level car. A joint project between the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA), the 120-passenger experimental prototype, built in 1932, was an attempt to increase capacity without creating excessively long trains, and, because of its non-standard status, appeared without control stands or traction motors. Designated Class T-62s in production form, they accommodated 132.

A later, more ubiquitous passenger car was the P72, of which there are two on display, sporting the Long Island Railroad’s earlier Nordic blue and platinum mist paint scheme. Numbered 2923 and 2924, they were part of a 1954 order for 25 locomotive-pulled, 120-passenger commuter cars manufactured by Pullman Standard at its Osgood Bradley factory in Worcester, Massachusetts, initially appearing with battery lighting and steam heating, but subsequently retrofitted with under-car diesel generator sets that supplied power for these utilities. Providing yeoman service for 44 years, they were not retired until 1999.

The significance of the museum’s pair is that they both partook of the October 8, 1955 End of Steam ceremony in Hicksville: car 2924 was pulled by engine 39 and accommodated a Boy Scout troop from Brooklyn, while car 2923 was similarly pulled by engine 35, but originated in the East End.

Uncoupled, the former was reattached to diesel engine 1556, departing for Jamaica, while the latter joined forces with 1555, leaving for Riverhead. Virtually arm-in-arm, the pair of now car-devoid locomotives rode into the steam era’s sunset, checking into their Morris Park retirement home.

Another significant pair of cars is the museum’s two M1s displayed on the same track.

With 85-foot lengths, 10.6-foot widths, and 122-passenger capacities, these light-weight, multiple-unit commuter cars, constructed of stainless steel with rounded, fiberglass end caps, featured four 160-hp General Electric 1255 A2 traction motors and automatic, quarter-point sliding leaf doors. They had a four-foot, 8.5-inch track gauge and offered a maximum, 240-foot curve radius for coupled units, and served as the threshold to the electrified era for the Long Island Railroad, as expressed by the public relations brochure entitled, “A New Generation in Rail Travel: Meet the Metropolitan,” which promised that “a new era in commuter transportation is launched on the Long Island Railroad.”

“The sleek, stainless steel Metropolitan represents a new generation in suburban rail service,” it stated. “It ushers in a totally new look on the Long Island Rail Road, the nation’s largest commuter rail system.”

Explaining the motivation behind the design, it said, “The (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) determined that ‘more of the same’ to meeting equipment (needs and) expectations of the Long Island Rail Road (was not an option).

“An outstanding group of experts was approached by MTA to work out the detailed car specifications, which resulted in the birth of the Metropolitan.

“This joint operation was guided by MTA and its own technical staff, working in close cooperation with the experienced operational personnel at the Long Island Rail Road. This effort produced, in record time, the specifications for a dramatically changed, newly engineered rail passenger car that would stand at the forefront of the nation’s commuter lines… “

A firm order for 620 M1 Metropolitans and 150 options, then the largest single North American one for electric multiple unit cars, was placed with Budd, and deliveries took place between 1968 and 1973.

Necessitating a power increase from 650 to 750 volts DC, drawn by a contact shoe-third rail connection, the type entered service in an eight-car configuration on December 30, 1968 from Brooklyn to Penn Station, blurring the lines between the commuter railroad characteristic engine-and-coach complement and the autonomous subway concept.

“The Metropolitan trains are arranged in two-car units, completely equipped for independent operations… ,” the public relations brochure explained. “One car in each unit contains batteries and a motor alternator. The other houses the air compressor. The Metropolitan is the first such multiple unit commuter train in operation.”

The brochure also emphasized its advancement.

“America’s fastest, most modern commuter rail car is packed with innovation and modern features, designed to provide high levels of service and comfort to the LIRR rider.”

Progressively replaced in the early-21st century by the succeeding M7 cars ordered from Bombardier of Canada, the first of which was delivered in 2002, it partook of its own “Farewell to the M1s” ceremony, hosted by the Sunrise Trail Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, four years later, on November 4.

No freight train or railroad museum would be complete without a caboose. The bay window one on display at the Railroad Museum of Long Island, numbered C-68, served as the conductor’s office, the safety lookout point at the end of the car chain, and the crew living area when runs precluded return to home stations for the night.

Railroad Museum of Long Island in Greenport:

Twenty-three road miles to the east is Greenport, the Railroad Museum of Long Island’s other location and the end of the line. But when the Long Island Railroad was conceived, it was just the beginning of it-in terms of purpose and point of intermodal connection, where the torch was passed from train to steamer for the cross-sound journey. Technology eventually conquered the southern Connecticut rail route to Boston and destroyed the fledgling concern’s raison d’être.

Nevertheless, although the museum’s other facility is poor in rolling stock, it is rich in history.

Settled by New Haven colonists in 1648, it capitalized on its East End, water-accessible location, evolving into a shipping and ship building center, with small vessels transporting produce to Connecticut and larger ones serving New York and New England. Whaling began in 1790.

Because its harbor was envisioned as a terminus and transfer point, it equally attracted track.

“Greenport was the place that caused the Long Island Railroad to be built,” according to historian Frederick A. Kramer. “With a splendid harbor opening onto Gardiner’s Bay, packet ships for the mainland connection to Boston were to put in alongside whalers and local fishing boats.”

Although Greenport opened its rail-port doors on July 29, 1844, the first official trip-and first segment of the advertised “through route to Boston”-did not occur until the following month, on August 10, with the train departing Brooklyn at 08:00 and arriving at 12:00, at which point passengers transferred to the railroad-owned steamship, “Cleopatra, (part of its $400,000 investment in boats and dock facilities) for the two-hour crossing to Stonington, Connecticut, and then completion of the journey, again by rail, to Boston on the Norwich and Worcester.

Although fire consumed the original wooden depot and platform that had opened on July 27, 1844, a quarter of a century later a second, designed by Charles Hallett, rose on the north side of the double tracks in October of 1870, transforming Greenport into a railroad center with a freight house, a turntable, a shipping dock, and a storage yard, which served as the departure point for Pullman cars destined for cities as far west as Pittsburgh.

Although the North Fork in general and the area surrounding it in particular still cultivated potatoes and cauliflower, this once-remote farmland was reduced to hours in distance and re-dimensioned in purpose, attracting people, who developed commerce and industry.

Unsuccessfully competing with the New Haven and Hartford Railroad and then trying to rely on inter-island traffic after its original plan had been scuttled, it was still able to transport its crops to markets in the west and the railroad-owned fleet of steamers provided access to Block Island, Montauk on the South Fork, and New London in Connecticut.

In order to facilitate what remained of Long Island rail travel, yet provide protection against the seaside area’s characteristic salty air, a third, Victorian-style depot was built in 1892, incorporating red brick construction and decorative features, such as a hip roof, relief patterns, wrought iron crests, and finials. Along with the concurrently opened freight house, which itself featured a truck bay, sliding doors, a surrounding wooden deck, and a four-step entrance from Fourth Street, it joined the other facilities in what had developed into an extensive rail yard and included a four-stall engine house, a water tank, a coaling area, and maintenance structures.

East End train service, as expected, dwindled, with a daily round-trip between Amagansett and Greenport made by a small, 4-4-0 steam locomotive pulling a combine (passenger and baggage) car and a full coach. It left at 10:00 and made intermediate stops in Eastport and Manorville. Because it followed a semi-circular track routing, the loss-recording run, carrying mail, express, and a handful of souls, was alternatively called the “Scoot” and the “Cape Town Train.”

After a layover in Greenport, it retraced its steps, re-departing at 14:00.

But the advent of the automobile and the damper of the Depression hastened its discontinuation in February of 1931.

“(Today) the two station buildings, combined with the historic turntable and the section shed, comprise the largest and most complete representation of railroad-related buildings and structures to survive in a single and specific historic area of Long Island,” according to the Railroad Museum of Long Island’s website.

One of them, the original freight house, houses the museum itself.

Of significance are two HO-gauge model railroad layouts, depicting Greenport during the 1950s and today. The commonality between the two is the integral role its docks, harbor, and seaside location have always played in its history.

Another important aspect was the parlor car service the Long Island Railroad operated between the 1940s and 1980s, providing an opulent and popular mode of travel for New Yorkers vacationing on the East End or just making weekend getaways, and displays feature its comfortable seating, cutlery, and china. That to Montauk, on the South Fork, was dubbed the “Cannonball” and to Greenport itself the “Shelter Island Express.”

An earlier-era railroad atmosphere is created by artifacts and implements once considered “modern,” such as a manual typewriter, a hand-cranked telephone, a hose wagon, a water cooler, flagmen’s and conductor’s signal lamps, and depot ticket windows.

Remnants of the Bliss Tower, which were formerly located in the Blissville section of Queens, illustrate how facilities such as these were placed at the points of track interlocking, enabling operators to make visual contact with approaching trains and appropriately activate, via manual means, crossover switches, which in essence served as the locomotives” steering mechanisms.

Controlling traffic from Long Island City along the Montauk branch, for instance, these towers constituted integral intersection infrastructures for a century until automation eliminated their need.

A few cars are on display outside on track accessed by the freight depot’s surrounding wooden deck.

The former Long Island Railroad W-83 wedge snowplow, for example, was attached ahead of one or more locomotives and pushed at speeds as high as 35 mph, clearing the track of snow. Because of its teeth-like paint scheme, the museum’s example, which is the only such LIRR unit remaining, was nicknamed “jaws.”

The number 14 caboose behind it, built by the American Car and Foundry Company in 1927, was part of the railroad’s last order for wooden ones and served the entire route system, including branches that no longer exist.

After its retirement in the 1960s, it passed to several secondary hands, including those of the Branford Electric Railway, the Valley Railroad in Essex, Connecticut, and finally the museum, returning to home Long Island soil on May 17, 1997.

Beyond the museum’s rolling stock displays and across from the triple, still-active Long Island Railroad track is Greenport’s 80-foot-long turntable, last used by steam locomotive #39 on June 5, 1955 and one of only three remaining. It is the only pneumatically-operated one.

Envisioned as one day being repurposed for steam powered excursion trains between the museum’s Riverhead and Greenport locations, it would enable passengers to cover the North Fork by rail and ply the original track almost two centuries after it had been laid.

To the left of the turntable is the high-level concrete platform constructed between 1997 and 1998 and, at most, fields two weekday LIRR operations. To the left of it is the original 1897 station building, which closed 70 years later, but now houses the East End Seaport Museum.

Finally, the current harbor-stretching pier replaced the one that once supported the tracks leading to the Stonington-bound steamboats, the Long Island Railroad’s original purpose.

Source by Robert Waldvogel

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