Old New York In Photos #111 – Grand Central Depot 1875

The Original Grand Central Depot 1875

Grand Central Depot 1875 Our 1875 view is looking north on Fourth Avenue to 42nd Street. The street is packed with activity including horse drawn omnibuses, delivery wagons and pedestrians.

This albertype photograph prominently shows the first Grand Central built by railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt. Designed in the Second Empire style by architect John B. Snook, the depot was built between 1869 and 1871.

Grand Central was home to the consolidated railroads that Vanderbilt had control over. Vanderbilt combined the operations of The New York Central and Hudson River Railroad; New York and Harlem Railroad; and New York and New Haven Railroad.

By centralizing the operations to one facility, 102 trains could come and go every day to nearby suburbs and distant cities such as Boston, Montreal and Chicago.

The building stretched three blocks with trains entering and exiting the depot at 45th Street. When it was built there were no tunnels with the trains running at street level.

North of the depot along Fourth Avenue, carts, trucks, wagons, carriages and pedestrians crossed a series of tracks separated by only a few feet from one another. With all the noise in the vicinity confusion reigned. The heavy east-west street activity north of Grand Central caused dozens of accidents, some of them fatal.

The railroad tried placing chains, flagmen and gates at dangerous crossings like 45th Street to alleviate the danger. Cornelius Vanderbilt reluctantly proposed a permanent solution in 1872: put the tracks under the street. His reluctance was based upon the amount of money it would cost him. Property owners along the route claimed the tracks would still ruin them whether the trains ran along an open ditch or covered roadway.

The excavation along Fourth Avenue from 45th to 96th Street took a little more than two years to complete, The tracks were successfully lowered beneath street level making it safe for crosstown travelers. From 45th to 56th Street  the tracks were left as an open cut with bridges and walkways to get crosstown. Above 56th Street the tracks were covered. The railroad’s improvement did not ruin property holders. Values increased and the street was rechristened Park Avenue in 1886.

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