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Metropolis: New York City Water and Transit Infrastructure in Photographs

Over 600 images, primarily original photographs, plus selected published sources, on the themes of traffic, transit and water. The digital collection includes mass transit proposals and projects, dating from 1867; the multi-county Catskill Aqueduct system that still supplies the city's water; and the pioneering Holland Tunnel for vehicular traffic under the Hudson River.

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Ashokan Reservoir. View of down-stream face of Olive Bridge dam. Complete portion of dam at left. Contract 3. September 7, 1911. Digital ID: 435342 Ashokan Reservoir. View of down-stream face of Olive Bridge dam. Complete portion of dam at left. Contract 3. September 7, 1911. Digital ID: 435342

Collection History

This digital presentation draws together several archival collections of photographs, supplemented by published illustrated sources on related subjects, all concerned with the transit and water infrastructure of New York City in the last 150 years.

Background



Broadway Cable Railroad

Photographer C. C. Langill (active ca. 1890) often worked in partnership, as he did here with William Gray on these 55 albumen print photographs documenting the long-gone cable road on Broadway.

Built in 1891, the short-lived Broadway Cable Railroad ran north along Broadway, from Bowling Green at the southern end of Manhattan, uptown to 36th Street. This early form of mass transit operated by means of two giant cables (powered by centrally positioned steam engines), which ran just below street level, pulling the cable cars along the track at a steady 30 miles per hour. Unfortunately, the underground cables-and hence the trains themselves-could not be slowed down at all, even when turning corners; the sharp turn at Union Square (at 14th Street) became known as Dead Man's Curve for hurling passengers around as it navigated the bend. Constant accidents and numerous breakdowns ensured the rapid demise of the Broadway Cable Railroad.

Interborough Rapid Transit

A published book, Interborough rapid transit; the New York subway, its construction and equipment (1904) presents the construction of the first New York City subway system in black-and-white half-tone illustrations of platforms and ornamental tile work (which are currently undergoing systematic renovation), as well as tunnels and structural ironwork. Earlier projections of underground rail systems for New York City supplement this work.

Catskill Aqueduct

New York City's Board of Water Supply began planning for the Catskill water supply system early in the 20th century, and celebrated completion of the first phase of construction in 1917. This ambitious project involved the waters of the Esopus Creek, one of the four watersheds in the Catskills, and expanded to the Ashokan Reservoir and the Catskill Aqueduct. The city's Department of Water Supply, Gas, and Electricity assumed responsibility for its operation and maintenance upon completion. A later expansion of the system concluded in 1928, involved the construction of the Schoharie Reservoir and the Shandaken Tunnel. The photographs presented here range in date from about 1906 to 1915.

The bequest of the papers of William Williams (1862-1947) to the Library is the probable source of the 310 photographs relating to the Catskill water system presented here, although that provenance is not conclusive. (Following his role as head of the immigration station on Ellis Island, Williams was named commissioner of New York City's Board of Water Supply, serving from 1914 to 1917.) His papers came to NYPL as a bequest.

Holland Tunnel

Running under the Hudson River, the twin-tube roadway of the Holland Tunnel (originally the Hudson River Vehicular Tunnel) connects Canal Street in Lower Manhattan with 12th and 14th Streets in Jersey City, New Jersey. The tunnel, built between 1919-1927, takes its name from its designer, civil engineer Clifford M. Holland (1883-1924), who died while directing its construction.

The images presented here comprise the contents of three albums of silver gelatin photographs, which were probably assembled for associates of the New Jersey Interstate Bridge and Tunnel Commission; at an unknown date, these albums were transferred from the Yale University library to The New York Public Library.

Related Resources

Citizens Union Foundation, Inc. of the City of New York. Water-Watchers: A Citizens Guide to New York City Water Supply. (c1987)

Cudahy, Brian J. A Century of Subways: Celebrating 100 years of New York's Underground Railways. (2003)

"An Exhibition Illustrating the History of the Water Supply of the City of New York from 1639 to 1917." Bulletin of the New York Public Library XXI (June 1917): 407-412.

New York (N.Y.). Board of Water Supply. 1,820,000,000 Gallons per Day; 50th Anniversary of the Board of Water Supply. (1955)

NYPL. "Building & Construction: Finding Related Industry and Technologies Resources." (2004) <http://www.nypl.org/research/sibl/science/building/>

_____. "The Subway at 100: General William Barclay Parsons and the Birth of the NYC Subway." (2004) <http://www.nypl.org/research/calendar/exhib/sibl/siblexhibdesc.cfm?id=349>

_____. "I on Infrastructure." (2002-03) <http://www.nypl.org/admin/exhibitions/ioni/index.html>

Sansone, Gene. Evolution of New York City Subways: An Illustrated History of New York City's Transit Cars, 1867-1997. (2002)

Walker, James Blaine. Fifty Years of Rapid Transit, 1864-1917. (1918, repr. 1970)

Library Division(s)

NYPL Digital Gallery provides free and open access to over 800,000 images digitized from primary sources and printed rarities in the vast collections of The New York Public Library, including drawings, illuminated manuscripts, historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints and photographs, illustrated books, printed ephemera, and more.