THE FAR ROCKAWAY TRAIN STATION THEN AND NOW

by: Stevie S. Stevens

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The rail road first came into (what had just become) the village of Far Rockaway in the year 1869. The transport was then called the "South Side Railroad" and it was an offshoot of a direct line from the town of Valley Stream. Those early trains would stop at a large clearing on the northwest corner of Mott Avenue and Catherine Street (later to be renamed "Central Avenue" or Beach 20th Street). The timeline is a bit unclear but that very parcel of land was donated to the railroad by 1871 as a gift of Benjamin B. Mott, a wealthy, important and influential land owner. The Long Island Rail Road absorbed the smaller "South Side" line in the year 1872 and shortly thereafter, a two-story wooden station building was erected on the train station property. Shortly before the turn of the century, a new and "modern" train station would be erected on that very site — it was a major undertaking. A company calling itself the "Far Rockaway Village Rail Road" began operating "horse cars" or carriages during the summer months to deliver day trippers to the beach ~ a terminal was informally located at the foot of Beach 19th Street. By the year 1898, an electric trolley line began operation ~ carrying passengers from the Far Rockaway Station to western areas in Rockaway Park. The Long Island Rail Road officially electrified its rail lines in the year 1905. By that time, electric trolley cars were also running along the east side of Central Avenue, delivering passengers to South Street (Seagirt Avenue) at the terminus of Catherine (Central Avenue). There was also a major trolley car service utilizing a station at the southwest corner of Cornaga and Beach 19th Street, and this line delivered passengers to the waterfront on Hollywood Avenue (now known as Beach 19th Street). Trolley cars would run along Central Avenue (as well as other sections of Rockaway Beach) until late 1928 when they would be discontinued in favor of gasoline-driven buses. By mid 1910, the Far Rockaway Train Station was host to three groups of railway service — and it also maintained several large indoor repair shops, cleaning booths, and maintenance sheds. By the year 1900, it was decided to build that badly needed "new" passenger terminal and the old wooden two-story building was broken into two parts and moved by horse cart and "dolly" to a new location on the east side of Far Rockaway Boulevard where it served as the very first fire house. By the year 1928, it was recognized that there was a definite need to eliminate many of the smaller railroad crossings on the island and a plan was submitted to "raise the tracks" by constructing an overhead trestle. Those plans were "shelved" in 1929 due to unfortunate economic conditions but the plans were revived during the latter part of the 1930s and contracts were awarded to build concrete overpasses.

The construction work was completed by the year 1941 and the Far Rockaway Station was the last edifice to succumb to demolition — thereafter, the Far Rockaway Station was raised to a second-story level. A major track fire in the Jamaica Bay sections damaged tracks and a drawbridge in that area and the financially distressed Long Island Rail Road was unable to "foot the costs of rebuilding" — it re-routed its trains from Far Rockaway to Rockaway Park and finally, in the year 1955, the cash-strapped Long Island Line sold its interests in peninsula transportation to The City of New York. By May of 1956, the IND line of the NYC Rapid Transit System was carrying passengers to the western sections of Rockaway. The overhead trestle bypassing Mott Avenue was demolished and the property which had once served as the train station and train maintenance area was put on the auction block. The LIRR relocated its Far Rockaway Branch to Nameoke Street in the Redfern section . In 1958, a new subway station serving the IND Subway Line opened on the site of the old tracks at Mott Avenue — one block west of the Beach 21st Street intersection.

Ron Zeil, 2006

The two excellent photographs presented in this article were taken by Ron Ziel, a photo-journalist extraordinaire who has spent most of his life collecting pictures of trains, train stations, and most things related to railroads. Mr. Ziel is a well-respected authority on the topic of steam locomotives and he currently supports an inventory of over 25,000 photographs and has written over 17 feature and picture books as of 2006. We sincerely thank Ron Ziel for his superior work. Valuable photos such as the ones he offers have enabled us to collect and maintain our picture history of the Rockaway peninsula.

Stevie S. Stevens

email: steviesstevens@cs.com

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