Historic Structures

Hudson and Manhattan Railroad Repair Shops, Hoboken New Jersey

Date added: August 30, 2016 Categories: New Jersey Train Station

The Hudson and Manhattan Railroad (H&M) Repair Shops were constructed in 1908 by the Hudson Companies, a subsidiary of the H&M Railroad Company organized in 1905 to manage their real estate properties. The H&M Repair Shops were believed to have been designed by Charles M. Jacobs (1850-1919), Chief Engineer of the H&M Railroad Company during its early years of operation. Jacobs, an expert on the design and engineering of railway tunnels, also designed the tunnels and terminals of the H&M Railroad Company. The most significant feature of the H&M Repair Shops was the rail car elevator constructed in 1907 above Track Three of the H&M Hoboken Terminal Station, about one year prior to the construction of the H&M Repair Shops building. The massive car elevator, cited as one of the largest elevators of its type in terms of size and lifting capacity, lowered the first rail cars into the H&M Tunnels. The elevator was used for rail car access to the tunnel to repair and service H&M Rail Cars until 1911 when the H&M constructed the Henderson Street Shops in Jersey City.

The land at Hudson Street and Hudson Place was first leased in 1904 to the H&M Railroad Company from the Jersey City, Hoboken and Paterson Street Railway Company and the Public Service Corporation of New Jersey. This land was part of the Public Service right-of-way whose trolley tracks to the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Hoboken Terminal were located only several feet south. In 1906 this lease was modified to allow the H&M to construct an "undersurface terminal beneath the lands of Public Service at the Hoboken Terminal, certain stairs, ramps and entrances" and "a portion of the lands of Public Service on the easterly side of Hudson Street with a frontage of 50 feet and a depth of 100 feet adjoining lands of the Lackawanna Railroad".

The modified lease included a rectangular area where a 30 foot shaft was constructed by the H&M to accommodate a large car elevator to provide vertical transport for the H&M rail cars from the tunnel below. The elevator was designed, built and installed by the Cecil McLauthlin Company, 20 Fulton Street, Boston, Massachusetts, under the designs of Martin B. McLauthlin patented February 6, 1884, and March 18, 1899. The McLauthlin Company had installed a considerable number of railroad car elevators in New York and at other locations. The December 28, 1907, issue of the Street Railway Journal described the elevator as "the largest elevator in size and lifting capacity that has been constructed." The elevator had a 50' x 12' elevator platform with 100,000 lbs. lifting capacity that was in addition to the 32,000 pounds weight of the elevator platform. The elevator was suspended by forty three-quarter-inch steel cables of a combined strength of 1,522,000 lbs. and had 63,800 lbs. counterweights.

Provisions for the elevator were made by constructing a wellway with reinforced concrete walls from the ground level to the tunnel. Six steel columns that rested on the side walls of this structure supported steel girders directly over the hoistway; the machine operating the elevator platform was placed over these girders. The elevator, with an electric pilot switch operated by a hand shipping cable, could run at speeds of 10 to 20 feet per minute with the platform stopping automatically at the track levels. The elevator platform was equipped with a third rail that was active only when the platform was at track level.

Prior to the initiation of service on the H&M Railroad, the elevator was used to transport rails, ballast and other tunnel equipment material. The most significant use of the elevator was to deliver all the H&M's new rolling stock to the tunnel in 1908. The electrically-powered passenger cars were 48 feet long and 9 feet wide, weighed 64,000 lbs. when empty and 85,000 lbs. when loaded with passengers. The elevator was used to change motors under the car bodies and also permitted the shop force to bring work cars up from the tracks for loading and unloading of equipment and materials for maintenance work. The elevator was used for the repair of rolling stock until 1911, when the H&M Railroad was extended to Newark and car repair work was transferred to a new shop on Henderson Street in Jersey City (demolished 1994).

The H&M Railroad Repair Shops building was constructed in 1908 by the H&M real estate subsidiary - the Hudson Companies - and included the enclosure of the exterior elevator and shaft. The H&M Railroad Company leased most of the building from the Public Service Corporation, the owner of the land. The lease, for a term of 999 years, included the entire first floor, a portion of the second floor, the car elevator and an exterior overhead access door on Hudson Place. The new three-story brick building provided storage and shop areas in connection with maintenance of the H&M Railroad Company's right-of-way including tracks, ties, ballast and related equipment. The first floor contained a large blacksmith shop and machinery related to the rail repair and other equipment. The second floor of the building was used by the Public Service Railway Company for its School of Instruction with a large space leased by the H&M for storage and lockers for their employees.

The Hudson and Manhattan Railroad initiated rapid rail transit between New York and New Jersey in 1908. The opening of the new underground rail line, connected to Manhattan by a tunnel under the Hudson River, was the culmination of 34 years of intermittent effort and toil. Efforts to construct a rail tunnel under the Hudson River began in 1873 with the founding of the Hudson Tunnel Railroad Company by former Union Army Colonel DeWitt Clinton Haskin. Delayed by litigation in 1874, the project was later resumed but ultimately resulted in failure following a tragic accident in 1880.

The second effort to construct a trans-Hudson tunnel was begun in 1888 by the Hudson River Tunnel Company which was financed with British capital and led by an English contractor, S. Pearson and Sons. In comparison to the previous attempts, the efficiency and safety of this operation was greatly improved due to the use of a British invention called the Greathead Shield. Commonly known as the mechanical mole, this device was successfully used to construct the London Tower Subway. However, financial difficulties forced this effort to a halt.

No further attempts to construct a trans-Hudson tunnel were made until 1902 when attorney William Gibbs McAdoo (1863-1941) became interested in the twice-failed tunnel project. McAdoo obtained financing for completion of the tunnel and founded the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad Company. Efforts of McAdoo's predecessors were not for naught; the original brick tunnel of the Haskin effort, evaluated as sound, was retained and completed, and Pearson's abandoned and rusted Greathead shield, declared in good mechanical order, was used to complete the tunnel boring.

On February 25, 1908, a nine-car inaugural train and a telegraphed message from Theodore Roosevelt marked the formal opening of the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad. The journey, which lasted ten-and-a-half minutes and extended 6.2 miles, began at Nineteenth Street and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan and terminated in Hoboken where a crowd of ten thousand people gathered to greet the first train. In the first 24 hours of operation over 50,000 people rode the line. The New York Times cited the event as "one of the greatest engineering feats ever accomplished, greater perhaps than the Panama Canal will be when opened, considering the obstacles which had to be overcome".

William McAdoo later became a significant political figure serving as President Wilson's Secretary of the Treasury where he was instrumental in the establishment of the Federal Reserve System. McAdoo was named Director General of American Railroads when they were placed under government control during World War I. He had two unsuccessful bids for the Democratic nomination for the United States (U.S.) Presidency in 1920 and 1924. Undaunted at age 70, he served as U.S. Senator representing the State of California from 1933-1939.

In 1909, another agreement was made between the Public Service Corporation and the H&M Railroad Company. This agreement provided for the construction of the new Public Service Hoboken Trolley Terminal, modified stairway locations and escalators. The trolley tracks alongside the H&M Repair Shops were to be elevated and terminate in a large two-story Terminal which was completed in 1910.

The H&M Railroad was a huge success and by 1910, four new stations and several miles of new track and new tunnels had been added to the system. The H&M decided to construct a new, larger yard and shops in a less constricted site than the original Hoboken Shops. A site in Jersey City at Henderson and Steuben Streets was chosen and on November 10, 1910, the Henderson Street Yard and Shops were formally opened. The facility, which contained a large storage yard and maintenance shops that accommodated 119 cars, was a state-of-the-art rail shop facility with an inspection shed, paint shop and repair and machine shops. In the Electric Railway Journal of 1911, the Chief Engineer of the H&M wrote "how absolutely essential it is in the operation of any such tunnel railroad as this to have the inspection and maintenance of cars executed in the open where there is plenty of natural light".

The H&M Railroad was extended to 33rd Street in Manhattan, to Jersey City and Newark and by 1913 about 7.25 route miles in New York, eleven miles in New Jersey and 190 rail cars were included in the system.

Although most of the rail vehicle repair and maintenance functions had been transferred to the Henderson Street Shops, the H&M Repair Shops at Hoboken continued to be used by the H&M for shop purposes and light storage. Eventually, portions of the building were leased to several different manufacturing concerns. From 1945-1949, the third floor was leased to the Vanda Tool & Instrument Company as a machine and assembly shop. At that time, the southeast window on the south facade was converted into a doorway that, as indicated by historic photographs, was linked by a pedestrian bridge to the walkway to the Public Service Trolley Terminal.

In 1949, the Public Service Trolley Terminal was demolished and replaced with a bus shelter. In 1954, the H&M entered into receivership. To assume responsibility for the operation of the H&M Railroad, the Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corporation (PATH) was formed in 1962 as a subsidiary of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

From 1960-61, the third floor was leased to the Lifetime Eastern Company and from 1964-1966, the third floor was used for storage of shoes or shoe manufacture. The plans attached to the lease noted that the elevator lift was in operation and that several improvements were made to the building and the elevator at this time. In 1967, abandonment of ferry service from both the Erie- Lackawanna (former Delaware, Lackawanna & Western) and the CNJ (Central Railroad of New Jersey) Jersey City Railroad and Ferry Terminals greatly increased the importance of the H&M as a principal trans-Hudson passenger link to Manhattan. The original car elevator remained in use by PATH until 1985 when the limit switch malfunctioned, the cables broke and the counterweights sank to the bottom of the shaft.

Currently, the PATH system operates service over fourteen miles of track through four trans- Hudson tunnels to two Manhattan destinations, Thirty-third Street and the World Trade Center. An estimate of fifty-five million passengers use the PATH system annually. The Hudson & Manhattan Railroad Repair Shops are currently used by PATH as a shop facility and for offices and locker rooms for PATH employees. The original elevator has been replaced with a hoist used by PATH to transport materials into the PATH tunnel. The H&M Repair Shops building is currently owned by New Jersey Transit (NJ TRANSIT), a state-wide mass transportation operating system that inherited the facilities of the Public Service Railway Company, the original owners of the building.

Despite its brief role as the only repair and maintenance facility of the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad Company, the H&M Railroad Repair Shops are significant as the original repair shops of the H&M and as the location of the car elevator that provided service for the early years of the railroads' operation. The H&M Railroad Repair Shops are also significant for its historical associations with the H&M Railroad, the construction of the first Hudson River rapid transit tunnel from New Jersey to New York and with William Gibbs McAdoo, founder of the H&M Railroad Company.