Gary Owen’s S.I.R.T. South Beach Line Page

 

 

 

Ok. So you are wondering what this page is about? I’ve always been a bit of a rail fan. One of my favorite pastimes is to follow defunct railroad beds. Strange? Probably, but I find it fascinating, so that’s that. Whenever our family would drive through the Verrazano Bridge toll plaza, my older brother, Mike, would point out an old railroad bed that lay abandoned alongside the highway. One time during the 1980s, he and I actually followed the entire right of way (ROW). We didn’t take any photos, which we regret. In 2003, I began collecting photos of what was once known as the Staten Island Rapid Transit (S.I.R.T.). As my collection began to take fruition, I noticed I did not have many photos of the South Beach branch. This, of course, put me on a quest and since then, I have scoured every nook and cranny in search of S.I.R.T. photos. Anyway, here is my tribute to that little railroad spur that was just a bit more than 4 miles long

 

 

 

 

So let’s see what we have.

Once upon a long ago, there were three SIRT passenger lines:

 

South Shore: St. George to Tottenville

(still in use)

 

North Shore: St. George to Arlington / Port Ivory

(closed 3/31/53)

 

East Shore (South Beach): St. George to Wentworth Avenue

(closed 3/31/53)

 

 

 

 

At the St. George terminus, each line had it’s own respective set of tracks. The South Beach line used tracks 1 through 4, whereas 5 through 9 were used for trains to Tottenville and tracks 10 through 12 for Arlington / Port Ivory. We can blame the smelly bus companies and their reduced fares for the closing of both the North Shore and South Beach lines. In fact, buses ruined everything for the trolleys and trains of Staten Island. At midnight on Tuesday, March 31, 1953, the last passenger trains on the North Shore and South Beach branches ended their runs. This left only the Tottenville line in service. It still serves Staten Island residents today and at certain times is quite the cozy ride.

 

I asked S.I.R.T. enthusiast Ed Bommer how the public reacted to the closing of both the South Beach and North Shore lines and what it was like during the final days of service:

 

The SIRT East Shore (South Beach) and North Shore passenger service went out with a whimper. No uproar or loud complaints. It was rather expected by the public. I also have some documentation that the B&O/SIRT wanted to drop ALL passenger service in 1953. But the city- in settling the issue- allowed the North and East shore service dropped but not Tottenville service.

 

The close of service was well advertised in advance. SIRT trains had printed notices about the discontinuance pasted on car windows and at stations from January 1, 1953. The Staten Island Advance kept everyone informed as well. The trains kept to their schedules up to midnight of the very last day (Tuesday, March 31, 1953).

 

The following AM, SIRT maintenance crews chained off all the station entrances and locked the waiting rooms. They later put steel fences across the station steps and entries, then removed the station signs.

 

Train rider ship on those sub-divisions had been low since WW II ended, except for the AM and PM rush hours.  I can remember being the only mid-day passenger between Port Richmond and Harbor Road more than once! I used to go and visit my grandmother and mow my aunt's yard on Saturdays.

 

Bus fare at the time was 7 cents. That was cheaper than the train fare at 10 cents. Also back then, a bus ride was reasonably quick, although not as fast as the train.  A lot less traffic on Island streets back then.  Nobody seemed to complain much about the loss of train service.

 

But it did seem odd to me because the City was just finishing a huge, new low income housing project at Arlington. It could have been a potential source of more riders since the nearest bus stops then were for the R107 at Forest Avenue or the R1 at Richmond Terrace, each a mile or so away from the project. The city would not get a bus route close to it until the 1960's

 

To sort of push along the end of the SIRT’s north and east shore services, the City expanded the Island's bus fleet and also the frequency of service on certain routes that paralleled the SIRT.

 

 

 

 

The above article from the Staten Island Advance reads:

 

 

Staten Island Advance Tuesday, March 31, 1953
 
 
The Old Order Passeth - Rails Surrender To Roads
 
 
Once there were many cars on the trains- but that was years ago-
and now there are many cars in the ferry terminal parking lot.
Buses and autos will kill off the SIRT's North Shore and South Beach lines
in a cloud of monoxide tonight at midnight,
when the railroad ends service on those runs in the face
of a steadily mounting loss in passenger traffic.
 
 
Passenger Runs On Two Lines Of SIRT Will End At Midnight
Buses are added on North, East shores:
 
 
Sixty seven years of rapid transit on the island's
north and east shores will come to an end at midnight tonight.
 
 
The SIRT, in conformity with a ruling from the
Public Service Commission, will suspend it's passenger service to
South Beach and Arlington, retaining only it's south shore branch to Tottenville.
 
City buses are in readiness to fill the gap.
Thirteen extra vehicles have been added to the
Richmond terrace and Bay street routes during rush hours
to carry an estimated 1,200 commuters who no longer can use the railroad.
 
The last train to Arlington will leave St. George
at 11:30 PM arriving at the railroad yard 16 minutes later.
At 11:36, the final passenger train to travel over north shore track
will leave the Arlington terminal for St. George pulling in at 11:53.
 
On the east shore, the last train will get underway from St. George at 11:15,
rolling into the Wentworth Avenue station, South Beach at 11:30.
Nine minutes later it will start the final trip to St. George,
arriving five minutes before midnight.
 
The curtailment of passenger service will mean a loss of jobs
to more than 40 SIRT employees. Stations on the two lines
will be closed down and probably razed eventually.
 
The inauguration of extra North Shore and South Beach
bus service will bring Sidney H. Bingham, chairman of
the Board Of Transportation, to St. George early tomorrow morning.
He will check incoming rush-hour buses at the ferry terminal
to determine if service is adequate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trains on the South Beach line carried passengers from the St. George ferry to the amusement parks that once flourished on the east shore. One such place was known as Happy Land. It was Staten Island’s answer to Steeplechase Park, Luna Park and Dreamland in Coney Island, Brooklyn. It must have been breathtaking to see the lights gleaming from these parks while sailing into New York harbor on a clear summer night in the early 1900’s.

 

 

 

 

 

Want to see an actual S.I.R.T. employee Time Table from 1921 and 1922? Click on this link and then click on the image for enlargement:

 

 

1921 & 1922 Time Table

 

 

 

Here’s a north and east shore time table from December 13, 1942. Notice a few changes have occurred.

 

 

 

Front Cover

 

Time Table

 

 

 

The original South Beach right of way stood in place well into the 1990’s. Today, houses stand on most of the line, and a chunk of which was demolished in the early 1960’s to make way for the Verrazano Bridge toll plaza. While that was being built, someone supposedly came up with the idea to create what is now the Lily Pond Avenue overpass, which lines up perfectly with the old railroad right of way. This was done just in case the S.I.R.T. decided to reactivate the line, which, of course, never came to be.

 

Nowadays, Staten Island is suffering from severe traffic on the streets and highways. There is talk of re-opening the North Shore line (which is still basically intact), but there is no chance of rekindling service to South Beach. It really is a shame as the island could use more public trains/light rail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

To make what could easily become a ridiculously long story short, I wanted to create this page to showcase some photographs of the South Beach line during and after service ended. The distance in miles to each station from the St. George ferry terminal has also been included.

 

 

 

Let’s step onboard and check it out!

 

 

 

Clifton Junction

 

 

Clifton Junction (1.7 miles) is located just off

Bay Street near Willow Avenue.

 

 

 

Here are two almost identical views of Clifton junction.

The first photo was taken circa 1940 and

the second sometime during the late 1940’s- early ‘50’s. At first, I believed that the track leading off to the left was the South Beach spur. After looking more closely at the photos, I found that it

begins just behind the oncoming trains. The main

Tottenville line veers off to the right.

 

 

 

 

Facing east, a single SIRT train at

Clifton Junction around 1949 or ‘50.

 

 

 

Another easterly view of

Clifton Junction on September 4, 1929.

 

 

 

Looking at the South Beach spur

from the back of a St. George bound train.

 

 

 

And again but a little bit further…

 

 

 

At left is the abandoned

South Beach spur in 1964.

 

 

 

Just beyond Clifton Junction and a view of the

overhead walk at Lynhurst avenue in October, 1937.

This was actually the setting for the first station

on the South Beach line (as we shall see shortly).

Photograph taken from Chestnut Avenue overpass.

 

 

 

The same scene sixteen years later. It shows a single car approaching Clifton junction and the main line (which can be seen in the background). The Willow Avenue trestle is beyond the telephone pole at right. Notice the surrounding buildings in the previous photo have been razed. I wonder what the two kids on the left were up to. Perhaps they were taking one last look at a passenger train on the South Beach ROW as the picture was

taken on the last day of service: Tuesday, March 31, 1953

 

 

 

An undated aerial view of the area near Clifton Junction.

The SIRT South Beach ROW can be seen at the upper right.

 

 

 

Here we have a 1991 aerial view of Clifton junction. If you look closely to the left of the white-roofed rectangular building toward the middle, you will notice the trestle which runs over Willow Avenue was still in place. A few of the other bridges on the line

were still there as well.

 

 

 

Here’s the same aerial view around 2003.

The Willow Avenue trestle is no longer there.

 

 

 

The Willow Avenue trestle

photographed on September 4, 1929.

 

 

 

A view of Clifton Junction and the

Willow Road trestle looking north (9/10/29).

 

 

 

A view of a passing train on the main line

from the abandoned Willow Avenue trestle (October, 1961).

 

 

 

Facing Clifton Junction towards St. George,

we see the abandoned Willow Avenue trestle in 1964.

 

 

 

 I took these next few photos at Willow Avenue in early 2005. This stanchion and the rest of the spur that connected with the main line were razed in mid-2007.

 

 

 

 

 

We are now pulling into the

first station on the South Beach line….

 

 

Bachmann’s Brewery

 

The Bachmann’s (or “Bachman’s”) station was located between Lynhurst And Chestnut Avenues (2.0 miles).

 

 

 

Not much information on this one but we do know that the Bachmann station was built for the convenience of the employees of Bachmann’s Brewery. At the time, the South Beach ROW had not been built so it was merely a spur which took employees to the brewery itself. This establishment burned down on October 31, 1881.

According to the 1921-22 SIRT time table listed earlier,

the station remained in service. 

Since the brewery was long gone- and the next stop but a mere tenth of a mile distant- when the SIRT eliminated grade crossings, the Bachmann’s Brewery station became redundant.

By late 1937, it was abandoned and razed.

 

 

 

The Bachmann station on September 10, 1929.

 

 

 

This photo was taken facing Clifton Junction from the South Beach bound side of the Bachmann station in September, 1935.

We see the Lynhurst Avenue overhead walk which was still being built.

This overpass was used until the line

closed at midnight on Tuesday, March 31, 1953. 

(Also see “Clifton Junction” photos).

 

 

 

A view of the old wooden Bachmann station from atop the

Ansbacher - Siegle Plant in January, 1937.

The Chestnut avenue overpass is under construction.

 

 

 

A few months later. Chestnut avenue overpass is complete and

the Bachmann station is still in use. Photo taken mid-1937.

 

 

 

SIRT workers constructing a barricade wall at Chestnut Avenue. The soon - to - be - razed Bachmann station looms large in the background. Photo taken in June, 1937.

 

 

 

Facing towards St. George in September, 1937.

Construction continues with the doomed Bachmann station

barely visible just below and beyond the Chestnut Avenue overpass.

 

 

 

 

Just a tenth of mile distant and we pull into….

 

 

Rosebank

 

 

The Rosebank station was located along Tilson Place

between Virginia and St. Mary’s Avenues (2.1 miles). 

 

 

 

St Mary’s Avenue grade crossing and the original wooden

Rosebank station at the extreme right (10/15/36).

 

 

 

A view to the south from the Chestnut Avenue bridge.

The Rosebank station is just ahead.

 

 

 

Here is a 1913 view from the original wooden Rosebank station facing toward South Beach. We can see the Virginia Avenue trestle.

During the grade crossing elimination of the mid-1930’s,

the S.I.R.T. replaced this structure with a new one.

It stood in place after the line closed and was razed around 1999.

The house on the left still stands today.

 

 

 

Now we are standing beyond the Virginia Avenue trestle facing towards Clifton Junction. The Rosebank station is

just past the bridge with the Ansbacher- Siegle

plant beyond it. The plant was razed in 2010.

 

 

 

Two views of the original Rosebank station

on October 15, 1936, shortly before

grade crossing elimination began.

 

 

 

 

Putting on the finishing touches on the

new and improved” Rosebank station (September, 1937).

 

 

 

Eureka! Three photos of the “new and improved”

Rosebank station on November 20,1937!

 

 

 

 

 

A South Beach bound train leaves the Rosebank station.

 

 

 

A St. George bound train approaches

the Rosebank station in 1952. Photo taken from the

now-filled-in Hylan Blvd. overpass.

 

 

 

The same scene around 1964.

 

 

 

The dead Rosebank station in the early 1960’s.

 

 

 

Fellow Staten Islander/musician and S.I.R.T. fan Rob Ross contemplates the ruins of the Rosebank station in 1987.

 

 

 

The other side of the abandoned

Rosebank station facing Clifton Junction in 1987. 

In the distance we can see the Chestnut Avenue overpass

 and the chimney of the Ansbacher- Siegle plant.

 

 

 

The demolition of the Virginia Avenue trestle around 1999.

The house in the earlier photo stands to the left.

 

 

 

At Virginia Avenue looking up Tilson Place in 1936.

The Rosebank station is out of view beyond the ROW on left.

 

 

 

The view in September, 2004.

 

 

 

At Clifton Avenue in Rosebank, there was

a pedestrian underpass “subway” which ran beneath the tracks. Here it is while under construction on June 17, 1937.

 

 

 

The finished “pedestrian subway”. The two structures

behind it are the original Public School 13.

By 1981, both were replaced with one building

which now stands directly on the South Beach ROW. Makes me ill.

 

 

 

Students leaving P.S. 13 and on their way through

the Clifton Avenue underpass. Circa 1937.

 

 

 

This is Pennsylvania avenue in Rosebank. Photo taken 11/30/13. The S.I.R.T. right of way can be seen cutting through the road. As the years passed, Pennsylvania avenue became one of the busiest thoroughfares on Staten Island and was later renamed Hylan boulevard.

The original P.S. 13 stands to the left.

 

 

 

Again, Pennsylvania avenue but this time from

the railroad bed facing St. George in 1916.

In the background stands the tall chimney and the house

from some of the previous photos.

There’s also two stanchions of a future

Pennsylvania avenue bridge being erected.

 

 

 

 Maryland Avenue in Rosebank, 1913.

The large telephone/telegraph pole towards

the right center of the photo indicates

where the South Beach line cut through the street.

All those dirt roads back then! Sheesh!

 

 

 

Pennsylvania avenue, it’s completed overpass

and Maryland avenue in 1931.

 

 

 

Three candid shots of the trestle at

St. John’s Avenue on December 2, 1936.

 

 

 

 

 

Travel ahead some seventy five years- and we find a

piece of what once was- the lonely St. John’s Avenue trestle stanchion.

This is all that remains of the trestle.1936 was one of the years

in which the S.I.R.T. spent elevating and depressing the entire system. The stanchion pretty much stands in someone’s backyard and they’ve even added a nice little white fence to perk it up a bit.

I’d love to perform a gig on top of that thing!

In late December 2007, there was a “For Sale” sign

standing directly in front of the stanchion. Woah is me…..

 

 

However!

 

 

 February 2008: the “For Sale” sign is gone

 as is the little white fence. With that,

I figured I’d better get myself in gear….

UPDATE: As of October, 2013, it seems the St. John’s Avenue

stanchion still stands. In fact, the house which borders it seems to have morphed the relic into a part of the backyard by adding a pool and a deck on the top of it! Looks like the St. John's Avenue stanchion could possibly live long and prosper! Good!

 

 

 

As the sojourn continues, we find ourselves arriving at….

 

 

Belair Road

 

 

The Belair Road station was located at Belair Road (Duh!)

(2.5 miles).  This was an intermediate stop that also served the

US Quarantine Service, which was about one block east.

 

 

 

The following two photos show us that

the original wooden Belair Road station

was a serene place to be on August 31, 1934.

 

 

 

 

 

A glimpse down the tracks at the old wooden

Belair Road station in May, 1935.

 

 

 

Approaching both the St. John’s Avenue trestle and the “new and improved” Belair Road Station on December 2, 1936.

 

 

 

Ladies and gentleman! I give you the

new and improved’ Belair Road station in 1936!

 

 

 

The Belair Road station during the late 1940’s. Notice the entrances to the underground access walkway on both sides of the station. In the distance we see the Hope Avenue and Fingerboard Road overpasses.

 

 

 

Standing on the St. George bound platform

of the Belair Road station facing South Beach on May 21, 1936.

 

 

 

The not-so ‘new and improved’ Belair Road sign

now resides in a railroad museum in Connecticut.

 

 

 

 

 

Down the line we go and up ahead we see…

 

 

 

Fort Wadsworth

 

 

The Fort Wadsworth station was

located at Fingerboard Road (2.7 miles)

 

 

 

 

A steam engine stops at the Fort Wadsworth station in 1923. Photo taken two years before the S.I.R.T. electrified all three lines and more than a decade before grade crossing elimination began.

 

 

 

The original wooden Fort Wadsworth

station on August 31, 1934.

 

 

 

At Tompkins avenue, grade crossing elimination begins (1935).

 

 

 

 

 

 

The construction of the Fingerboard Road Bridge

And the Fort Wadsworth station in 1936.

This was during grade crossing elimination.

 

 

 

The original Fingerboard road bridge on August 31, 1934.

 

 

 

The “new and improved” Fingerboard road bridge with the unfinished

Fort Wadsworth station lurking in the background.

Notice the South Beach bound tracks have not yet been placed.

Photo taken June 4, 1936.

 

 

 

S.I.R.T. workers placing the support piers

for the South Beach bound platform of the Fort Wadsworth station.

Photo taken from the Fingerboard Road Bridge in 1936.

 

 

 

Tompkins avenue.

Looking east bound towards South Beach

During grade crossing elimination.

Photo taken June, 1935.

 

 

 

Tompkins avenue in Fort Wadsworth shortly

after grade crossing elimination began in May, 1935.

The large building on top of the hill is St. John’s Villa Academy.

The S.I.R.T. South Beach right of way is at the left.

 

 

 

Same place but with construction of

both the Tompkins Avenue Bridge

and the Fort Wadsworth station.

Grade crossing elimination. May, 1936

 

 

 

August, 1936. All done!

I remember seeing that coal silo

from the Verrazano Bridge toll plaza.

 

 

 

Looking back at the Tompkins Avenue Bridge

from a temporary walkway over the tracks.

August, 1936

 

 

 

A view of a South Beach bound train

stopped at the Fort Wadsworth station in 1950.

Photo taken from the Fingerboard Road overpass.

 

 

 

A South Beach bound train stops at the

Fort Wadsworth station in 1952.

The stairs lead up to the Fingerboard Road Bridge.

Photo taken a few months before

the line was abandoned.

I’ve gigged in that tall building.

 

 

 

Two views of the dead

Fort Wadsworth station in early 1977

 

 

 

 

Here’s a shot of the Tompkins Avenue Bridge

taken from Fingerboard road around 1999.

This was where the Fort Wadsworth station once stood.

The powers that be were clearing the way

for the housing that stands there today.

 

 

 

The view in September, 2004.

Notice the cut through the trees in the background.

This indicates the original ROW.

 

 

 

A South Beach bound train travels

beneath the Tompkins Avenue overpass.

 

 

 

Here’s a cool shot that I took from beneath the Tompkins Avenue Bridge. It shows an abandoned truck lying on what once was the South Beach right of way. You will also notice an awkward

shaped house that marks the path as well.

If you look beyond the house, you can just make out

the Lily Pond Avenue overpass which lines up perfectly with the ROW .

I’ve been told this ‘wide’ overpass was built ‘just in case’ the S.I.R.T. were to reactivate the South Beach branch. So much for that.

 

 

 

The Tompkins Avenue Bridge today.

This is actually a newer and wider bridge built in the 1980’s -1990’s.

It may have replaced the original crumbling overpass but it still proudly spans a short remnant of the South Beach right of way. It’s kind of an eerie place to visit. I have no idea why…it just is.

 

 

 

A St. George bound train approaches the Tompkins Avenue overpass

with the Fort Wadsworth station just beyond.

 

 

Just beyond this point is where the Verrazano Bridge toll plaza stands. This destroyed a large portion of the South Beach ROW but not the setting for the next stop on our journey to South Beach.

To continue the journey, click on the link below.

 

 

Gary Owen’s S.I.R.T. South Beach Line Page Part Two