2010-09-03 / Columnists

Historical Views of the Rockaways

The Pre-1900 Trolley Terminal, Far Rockaway Station Plaza, 1899
From The Rockaway Museum Commentary by Emil Lucev, Curator Dedicated To The Memory Of Leon S. Locke
Prior to 1886 there was no public transportation through the heart of old Far Rockaway, to the beachfront, for those wishing to cool off and getaway for the day… at the seashore. A train trip via either the old Springfield cutoff or Valley Stream or over Jamaica Bay got you to Far Rockaway Station, but how you got to the beach was up to you from there on! You either hoofed it or took a cab or other conveyance.

Seeing this problem, and how it did affect their business ventures at the Far Rockaway beachfront, two men, Lockwood and Gipson, constructed a horse drawn trolley line from the station plaza to the beach, at South Street and Beach 19 Street (then called Rockaway Turnpike. The new from of public transportation at Far Rockaway was an immediate success, and use by local residents as well as transients to the shore.

As shown in today’s view the trolley track began directly at the front entrance to the station ticket office and waiting room. From this terminal site, so to speak, the trolley car proceeded to Mott Avenue and exited onto the avenue between Beach 21 and Beach 22 Streets, then turned and headed to Central Avenue. At the intersection of Mott and Central the trolley turned south for the run to the beach.

When electrification came to the trolley line in 1899, now owned by the Long Island Railroad, as the Ocean Electric Trolley Company, power line cables were strung on steel poles from the station to the beach. A contact shoe on the end of a slim pole attached to the top of the trolley car, brought power to the trolley motor via interminal wiring!

Electric trolleys and their power systems for trolleys were run to Rockaway Beach, and the beach at Far Rockaway in 1899. For the latter, a new line was constructed by contractor Edward Roche, who lived and did business locally. A change was made at the LIRR Station Plaza, which made the trolleys exit and enter the plaza from the intersection of Central and Mott Avenues, on a northwest spur to the station’s front door, if you will! The track at this switch point continued northwards and connected to the LIRR Main Line at Inwood, so trolleys from Valley Steam could make trips to the beach at Far Rockaway.

In today’s view, Mott Avenue runs in the foreground, and an electric trolley car is loading passengers. A few trolley power cable poles can be seen, but the overhead wires have been washed out for clarity. This photo can be dated at 1899, due to the fact that the trolley’s enter/exit spur was changed, as aforementioned, to run out to Central Avenue-behind the bushes at the right center in today’s view. The slim pole atop the trolley to bring down power is visible at right of center.

The movement of the trolley track enter/exit point also relieved congestion on Mott Avenue and the interior plaza grounds. A look with a strong glass shows the four o’clock train from Flatbush Avenue unloading passengers. The trip over the bay to Far Rockaway took a little more than 35 minutes.

Also, at the time this photo was taken the Katz Castiron Building which contained a hotel, restaurant and bar, and retail stores was to the right on the Central Avenue side of the Station Plaza. This was demolished in 1912, for the construction of the Old Far Rockaway National Bank, a building which still stands today as a memorial to the old glory days of Far Rockaway Village.
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