By SERGEY KADINSKY
Forgotten NY correspondent
On a block of 18th Avenue between 126th and 127th Streets in College Point, Queens, the avenue widens with a green traffic median containing a World War One memorial. Located amid mostly light manufacturers and nondescript rowhouses, this tiny .09-acre park dates back to when this block was the plaza for a railroad station that served College Point. A historical photo of the station was installed in this park by the Poppenhusen Institute, a leading promoter of College Point history.
The station was built in 1868 for the Whitestone Branch, which enabled a quick commute to Long Island City and a ferry to Midtown. At the time, College Point had the appearance of a village, isolated from its neighboring communities by the Mill Creek wetland. The only roads connecting College Point to the rest of Queens were 14th Avenue and College Point Boulevard.
The line’s last train rolled out of the College Point station on February 16, 1932. Long Island Railroad abandoned this five-station branch citing a drop in ridership and the high cost of operation. Its users fought back with a lawsuit and sought to have it converted into a subway line, akin to the Brighton Line in Brooklyn and the Dyre Avenue Line in the Bronx. But the city’s Transit Authority looked at the single-track line and its numerous grade crossings, and refused to accept the rail line. Shortly after its last train, the drawbridge across Flushing Creek was removed and most other traces of the Whitestone Branch then vanished.
The College Point station was a beauty with gable windows, symmetry, and inside it had a waiting room, restaurant, and second-floor residence for the station agent and his family. One can imagine walking out the station here facing a plaza that had taverns and a hotel on its block.
Prolific city photographer Percy Loomis Sperr captured this station nearly two weeks after its closing. The street level windows were boarded up and the station agent was preparing to move out of his residence. Within two years, the local civic association called the station building an eyesore and it was quickly demolished.
Looking north on 127th Street in the same direction as Sperr, there are no hints of the station to be seen, except for the interruption of 18th Avenue between 127th and 128th Streets because there was a station in the way that once stood here. The Q25 bus route approximates the path of this forgotten railway in College Point with a bus stop exactly on the corner of the College Point train station.
A block to the south at 127-11 20th Avenue is a narrow building standing askew to the street grid. Similar to 3030 Jerome Avenue in the Bronx, this building fills up the abandoned right-of-way of Whitestone Branch. Considering the population growth, it would have been nice to access College Point and Whitestone by train from Midtown Manhattan, but unfortunately our leaders did not have the future in mind in the 1930s, unless it involved a nearby World’s Fair.
Next door to this narrow building is 127-03 20th Avenue, with its brick window arches and star-shaped bolts. Kevin wrote about it in 2013 as the former factory of Isaak B. Kleinert Rubber Works. In 2020, the words “Rubber factory” can still be seen on the north face of this building.
Diagonal to this building is the 1941 expansion of Kleinert’s factory, as indicated in the ocrnerstone. This building also stands atop the former railroad. Like many shuttered factories across the city, it functions today as a storage warehouse.
Sergey Kadinsky is the author of Hidden Waters of New York City: A History and Guide to 101 Forgotten Lakes, Ponds, Creeks, and Streams in the Five Boroughs (2016, Countryman Press) and the webmaster of Hidden Waters Blog.
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Excellent as always!
Excellent researcha I did hear about certsin rumors pretaining to a firgitten rail line in Queens. There are others including important subway lines that woulfhave connected areas today that do not have adequate public transit. Trsins are just do superior to buses a day of the week !
Closing the line was a big mistake.
Where the Whitestone branch ran parallel to 154th St from 14th Ave to 10th Ave you can still find Electric insulators and Track Spikes in peoples back yards.
Third rail insulators ?
I’m looking intensely on google maps! And although I cannot see it at the moment it is 100% believable. looking at the geographic make up of the lawns.
Great post Sergey
It shows the short sightedness of our political class.
The station in Williston Park was destroyed only a few years ago
Remember the railroad was built with private enterprise money Abandoned too quickly
It’s important to remember that in 1932 the entire country was in a Great Depression that almost mirrors today’s economic woes. There was no Transit Authority. Had the Whitestone Branch been converted for rapid transit, NYC government would have been required to pay for grade crossing eliminations and a second track. The suburban nature of the route would not guarantee heavy ridership. For operation, the line would have to be leased to the IRT and BMT for operation, because in those days both firms jointly provided Flushing Line service. Neither one would have been anxious to undertake another branch, especially the IRT, which entered bankruptcy in 1932.
There are many differences between the Whitestone Branch situation and the Brighton and Dyre Avenue Lines. The BMT predecessor BRT converted the Brighton route to a four-track grade separated line in 1907 in anticipation of attracting real estate development; the 1913 Dual Contracts agreement sealed the deal with NYC paying for the Manhattan Bridge tracks and Broadway to ensure high-density operation to and from Manhattan.
The Dyre Avenue Line was massively overbuilt by its original owner, the New York, Westchester, and Boston Railroad (NYWB), with four tracks, full grade separation, and electric overhead power. Its traffic was never enough to turn a profit, and when its parent New Haven RR entered receivership it took NYWB down as well. In 1937 the NYWB was closed, making its right-of-way in The Bronx quickly and easily available for subway service in an area that had none. Converting the NYWB for subway operation in 1941 was easy, and in fact was a comedown as wooden el cars from the early 1900s replaced steel commuter rail coaches. Eventually normal IRT subway cars provided the service. One long-lost footnote is that the Dyre Ave. Line was, at least administratively, part of the IND subway division until 1957, when a physical connection at E. 180th St. allowed through IRT train service.
It wasn’t an easy conversion, there was actually a lot that needed to be done before the line was connected such as dismantling catenary towers, redoing bridges, trackwork, and a lot of work on railroad sidings. The connection was actually delayed a full SEVEN years, then things were delayed due to the war before that. That’s alongside the initial issues with the line possibly continuing to go into Westchester County with that having to b e cleared first before a lot of dismantling and reconstruction could commence.
It was a mess, seamless transitions often times aren’t as seamless as they seem
Converting abandoned RR facilities to subway use has never been high on the City’s list of priorities. Even today in 2020, there are a number of little used or abandoned LIRR lines that could be of substantial use to commuters but lie fallow. The most prominent of these is the old LIRR Rockaway line, which is just sitting there since 1962.