Preserving

Long Island's

Rich Railroading

Heritage

4th Street at the Tracks  • Greenport, NY 11944 • 631-477-0439

Griffing Avenue at the Tracks • Riverhead, NY 11901• 631-727-7920

info@rmli.us

GREENPORT SITE

According to noted railroad and transportation authority, Frederick A. Kramer, “Greenport was the place that caused the Long Island Railroad to be built . . . . 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.”


The dream of many, shared by Mr. Kramer, only came partially true.  When the Long Island Railroad was chartered in 1834, it was intended to be a vital link in the rail-boat-rail connection between New York City and Boston.  The engineers of the mid 1800’s agreed that the hills and rivers of Connecticut and Rhode Island were virtually impassible for a railroad line to be constructed on the mainland and their thoughts turned to Long Island, with its flat terrain, as a viable alternative.  A railroad was to be built from Brooklyn in the west to Greenport in the east, with a steamboat ferry to Stonington, Connecticut and a connecting train to Boston.


The 94 miles of trackage between Brooklyn and Greenport opened service on July 27, 1844 amid much flourish.  The spirit was short-lived, however, as the much-heralded rail-link never materialized.  This proved to be a blessing in disguise, because the railroad, unable to fill its initial purpose, caused something else to occur:  the rapid development of commerce, farming and industry on Long Island.  It seemed that almost overnight, small towns began to develop along the railroad’s right-of-way.  People fell in love with the Island and quickly settled there.  Farmers now had a means to transport their produce to market.  Businesses thrived and, due to the railroad, Long Island was on the way to becoming a major center of commerce and tourism.


Greenport itself, being the eastern terminus of this original main line of the Long Island Railroad, was a major force in the commercial development of Long Island, promoting villages along the right-of-way and building population centers.  North Fork farmers, at one point producing about one-third of the nation’s cauliflower and potatoes, utilized trains dispatched out of Greenport to take their bounty to markets in the west.  Tourists boarded steamers from Connecticut and arrived in Greenport to spend their summers vacationing on Long Island’s scenic and desirable east end.  The railroad made access to New York City easy and in like turn, city folks used this convenient means of transportation to visit Greenport, the bustling center of fishing, oystering and boat building.  Steamboats owned by the Long Island Railroad operated almost daily from the railroad dock to New London, Block Island, Montauk and Sag Harbor.




the “Railroad Dock,” Greenport Yard


The Greenport Fair of 1849 also served to heighten tourism and, along with the railroad, was responsible for the development of thriving commercial and retail establishments on Greenport’s Main and Front Streets.


A permanent railroad station was now called for and construction commenced on a permanent passenger station and freight depot to handle the growing passenger and commodity traffic in the village.  The handsome structures of similar design were built in the treasured Victorian style of the day.  They were of specialized construction, however, as typical wooden buildings would soon fall victim to the harsh salt-laden air characteristic of any harbor village.  Red brick was used throughout for the outer walls with distinctive relief patterns artistically fashioned around the doors and windows.  Each building was complemented with a hip roof with a break in the descending roofline above the overhangs.  The roof was supported by crossbeams of 2 x 12 lumber and trusses, which remain intact to this day.  The outside roofline contained finials at each end, which were enhanced by a stylish wrought iron crest.  Under the eaves, the roof supports incorporated a unique trefoil design of leaf-like shapes in the brackets.  The freight building included wooden decking on all sides with a bay for trucks and a four-step pedestrian access on the Forth Street side.  To facilitate the loading and unloading, massive wooden sliding doors were constructed and supported from overhead on steel tracks.  These remain virtually intact to this day.





currently, East End Seaport & Maritime Museum


The two station buildings opened with much celebration in 1892 with Greenport’s first Cornet Band providing the entertainment.  The new pride of Greenport soon became the center of the community where townsfolk could not only wait for trains, but meet their friends and share their daily experiences.  It was a center of comings and goings.  In the years to follow, the station also served as a post office of sorts.  Being that there was no parcel post service before 1913, shipments destined for the citizens and businesses of Greenport were consigned to the Long Island Railroad for delivery.  The express business flourished at the Greenport station until the post office made the decision to accept packages on January 1, 1913.


The Greenport Station, as well as the many other stations of the era, housed a separate Railway Express Agency office.  REA handled shipments at Greenport until September 20, 1967.  The original office remains intact within the station structure as well as the original furnishings of the interior:  ticket office, ticket window, passenger waiting room, rest rooms and even the solid hardwood benches complete with original “LIRR” marking die bossed into the polished wooden surfaces.  All of these accoutrements will be featured in the Railroad Museum.




currently, Railroad Museum of Long Island




The years have taken their toll on the buildings, however.  On the passenger station, the original roof overhang was cut back by one-third by the railroad in the early 1970’s in a futile and somewhat half-thinking effort to curb the wood rot problem caused by years of neglect and exposure to the salt air.  Once restoration is started, perhaps to restore the roof to its original magnificent appearance, new technology, waterproofing techniques and urethane formulations could prevent this problem from recurring.  The freight building too, has suffered over the years.  The wooden decking surrounding the building has since decayed and is virtually non-existent.  It could easily be replaced, working from numerous drawings and photographs in our possession.  The good news is that, with the exception of the western wall, which was removed in recent times, and replaced with a garage door to allow for the storage of busses, the brickwork and woodwork of the interior remains intact and can be restored with little effort.  The roof is in excellent condition with no leaks apparent.  Even the original massive sliding doors remain to his day.


The early 1900’s saw the railroad activity in Greenport at its height.  In addition to the numerous scheduled trains including the famous “Cannon Ball”, extra weekend and summer trains often had to be made up outside of the timetable to accommodate the crowds arriving on the boats from New London, Orient and Shelter Island.  Since its inception in October 1886, the Montauk Steamboat Company ran boats between Manhattan and Greenport.  The LIRR, facing its competition, bought the company in 1898 and continued to provide both “rail and sail” accommodations to its passengers.  The railroad, aware of its convenient access to marine transport at its Greenport terminus, also used its dock facilities to bring in shiploads of wooden railroad ties from mills in New England.  In fact, most of the ties used on the railroad in that time were brought to Long Island in this way.


In later years, other facilities for the railroad were constructed in the growing Greenport rail yard.  In addition to the numerous structures used for housing the road’s maintenance-of-way, clerical and operations staff, a four-stall engine house was built together with a turntable utilized for turning the giant steam locomotives for their trip back to Brooklyn and Jamaica.  A coaling area and water tank were also built to cater to the appetites of these great locomotives.  The roundhouse, used until 1921 for maintenance, as well as the water tank and coal bins have long since vanished.  The turntable, sans its approach tracks, still remains together with an original building, saved from the wrecking ball by Greenport Mayor, George Hubbard.  This shelter served as a section shack for the track gangs and yard crews and at one point, served as a “block operator’s” cabin for the men responsible for controlling railroad operations at the eastern terminus of the main line.  This structure is in excellent condition and little work will be needed to restore it to its original appearance.




Maintenance of Way Cabin, (moved to Moore’s Lane Power Station)






It should be pointed out that the Greenport passenger station and freight building are the only two matching structures still in existence; that is being of similar style and construction in one location.  The turntable at Greenport is only one of three remaining on the Island, and the only pneumatic (air) powered turntable remaining.  The other two, one in the Morris Park yards at Jamaica and the other in Oyster Bay were electrically powered.  One of the original steam engines used to turn the Greenport turntable, (LIRR G5s #39), is in fairly good shape and can be restored to full operation.  It is conceivable that the turntable indeed be operated today by air compressed from the very steam locomotive that once sat atop it!  A connection from the locomotive to the turntable would be made and the compressed air generated by the locomotive would actually provide the power to move the turntable bridge.


The railroad turntable itself was a stroke of genius.  It provided, in a small area, means to reverse the direction of the locomotive at the end of the line.  Instead of constructing a space-consuming “turning loop” of track or a “wye” arrangement, the turntable, in a very small area, could perform the same function.  It consists of a circular pit and a pivoting bridge from an approach track.  The operator would then set the bridge in motion.  The locomotive could then be turned completely and exit on the same track on which it entered or be routed to any number of auxiliary tracks leading, for example, to one of the four stalls in the engine house, the track for the coaling facility or a holding siding.  The turntable bridge pivoted in the center and was supported on its ends by wheels resting on a circular “pit-rail” similar to the rail found on a standard railroad track.






restoration & maintenance by Eagle Scout (and Troop) Anthony Breese

and Twin Forks Chapter ~ National Railway Historical Society


Although turntables varied in length, (to accommodate even the largest locomotives), and method of operation, their function was the same:  to turn a locomotive in a minimum of space.  The turntable in Greenport is currently undergoing extensive restoration.  The bridge has been completely overhauled and painted.  Inspection of the pit rail has been made and it has been found to be in good condition.  Work shall soon begin on the masonry of the pit wall, providing reinforcement, where necessary.  New ties and rail will be ultimately installed to make the turntable functional again.


To recap, here are some significant points:


  1. 1.The passenger and freight stations are the only surviving structures of their style.  The only other building of its type was built in Queens, but has since been destroyed.


  1. 2.They are two of only a small handful of original stations constructed before 1900 that still remain on Long Island.


  1. 3.The turntable is the only pneumatic (air) powered turntable remaining on Long Island.


  1. 4.The turntable is one of three still in existence.


  1. 5.Greenport is the terminus of the main line of the Long Island Railroad and served as a hub for the shipping, whaling and fishing industry as well as the starting point for Long Island’s famous potato and cauliflower trains.


  1. 6.LIRR G5s Steam Locomotive #39 was the last steam locomotive to head a regular passenger train into Greenport on June 5, 1955.


  1. 7.LIRR G5s Steam Locomotive #39 was the last steam locomotive to be turned on the Greenport turntable.


  1. 8.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 on Long Island.


  1. 9.The buildings and turntable can be completely restored using today’s research restoration techniques and modern technology.


  1. 10.The historic nature of the railroad yard and structures directly relates to the historic nature of the Village of Greenport itself and the surrounding area.  The ultimate preservation and restoration of these facilities would be in concert with the preservation of the unique historic quality of the village.


  1. 11.The proposed Railroad Museum and operation of railroad excursion service would serve to strengthen the economy of the Village of Greenport through increased tourism without generating large amounts of automobile traffic.


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by Gail Horton

Updated by Don Fisher

Installation of the 1930’s Era Pelon Crossover Seat

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